I tried to piece my daddy back together after he died. At least the best parts of him. I looked for him in others.
I suppose it’s only natural, trying to find substitutes for things you lack—and people you miss.
People like Lyle, who lived not far down the road. Folks called him Smiley. He was the same age my father would’ve been. We became friends.
Once, he asked me to watch the World Series with him at a local bar. I hadn’t watched the Series with a partner since childhood.
A fella at the bar asked if we were father and son. Before I could answer, Lyle had his arm around my shoulder, saying we were. Then he ordered chicken wings.
I ate until I got sick.
Jim was white-haired, and old enough to be my grandfather. He was from lower Missississippi and talked with a soft-drawl. He introduced me to tomato gravy on biscuits.
He was the first man other than my daddy to tell me he loved me. I didn’t know how to answer, so I said nothing.
Jim has Alzheimer’s now. I visited him a few months ago. He doesn’t remember me.
Davey—the alcoholic. Once upon a time, he taught music theory at Auburn University. He smoked Winstons, and a tobacco pipe.
He lived on Campbell Street, in the woods. His apartment was nothing but walls of books and ashtrays. We worked construction together, painting houses.
Once, during a drunken episode, I found him crying on his porch.
He said, “I want you to go to college and make something of yourself, Sean. Promise me you’ll do something with your life.”
I enrolled the next morning. When I earned my degree, I thanked Davey publicly. They buried him in Opelika.
My father-in-law. He had a loud voice and a perpetual grin. He gave me things—drills, lawnmowers, ratchet sets. He took me fishing. He told fantastic jokes which are not fit for repeating.
Once, during a hurricane, when the world felt like it was going to explode, he sat beside me and sang “Up From the Grave He Arose” to take my mind off the weather.
It was him who once told me, “You should be a writer, you know that?”
“I’m no writer,” I explained.
“Then hurry up and become one.”
Well, I don’t know exactly what I am today. But whatever it is, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this without the kindness of people like him.
I’m talking about complete strangers. Those who were not kin to me, but treated me like we were blood. Men who, right now, lay beneath the dirt of Opelika, or under a headstone in Brewton. Who had the gall to tell me they loved me even though I did not return the favor.
I could give a damn about money.
My greatest aspiration is to live long enough to watch the World Series with some kid who feels alone.
Nedra Tucker - April 2, 2017 11:58 am
Paying it forward.
Jan - April 2, 2017 12:13 pm
You never fail to touch my heart … you are a writer … the very best kind!
Camille Atkins - April 2, 2017 12:32 pm
I love you, Sean Dietrich!
Laura Young - April 2, 2017 12:55 pm
Oh Sean, You did it again. Had me bawling on a Sunday morning! You ought not to do that- it’ll take me awhile to get the red and puffy eyes ready for church. This post made me think about Daddy, dead 14 years now. I guess I loved him better than anyone until I had a son and grandkids (yep, including the now ex). I saw bits of Daddy in so many, especially my brother, Bob (even wrote a poem for Bob about how like Daddy he was). My mother ‘s memory at almost 92 fades more everyday with her even asking me at times if I have any children (this after we have been discussing grandkids). But she still remembers most everything about Daddy. Finding pieces of him in others makes me smile in remembrance. My problems is I can’t find the whole to fill the hole.
Buck Godwin - May 22, 2017 8:47 pm
You, my dear, have the makin’s of a fine writer within yourself too. I’ll bet you have some fine stories you could tell also.
I wish you were my daughter.
Buck Godwin, aka Pop
Barbara Buckner - April 2, 2017 1:16 pm
I only found you last week, but now I look for you everyday. I love the south, and I love a writer who can paint a picture of places I’ve never been while bringing up memories in my mind of similar places and people and dogs. See you tomorrow.
Cherryl Shiver - April 2, 2017 2:28 pm
I have to share this with you….you have become my morning brother. I look so forward to being with you, you bring out the best in folks. You remind me,there is still good out there. It’s just me and you and my first cup of coffee, what is funny is after I read your story,…I usually tell you one right back. That’s why my husband got me a house dog, when our sons got grown and left I guess I talked to him way to much, so poor ole Sprocket,the schnauzer, sure does hear a bunch……..
Mary Collett - April 2, 2017 2:43 pm
Thank you for sharing your daddies with us,God bless you.
Carmen - April 2, 2017 3:14 pm
Wow! I just discovered you a couple of weeks ago Sean, and now, each day, I look forward to your story’s.
I’m from the south as well, born in Brewton, Al. Grew up in Pensacola, Fl.
Ended up in Birmingham by way of UAB 35 yrs ago.
Keep on painting the south with your words.
Susie Munz - April 2, 2017 4:11 pm
Family is not just blood relatives, but the people close to you who have impacted your life, as you so well expressed.
Sandra Lee Van Dam - April 2, 2017 5:04 pm
Yes, you are a writer and a damn good one!
Adrienne - April 2, 2017 5:25 pm
Made me cry, too. Reminds me of Mrs. Henry who was my adopted grandmother. She was a neighbor who didn’t really have grandchildren (she did get one later) and I was a kid whose grandparents were absent for the most part- they’d send a card for my birthday, but we had a limited relationship and didn’t see them much. I used to visit Mrs. Henry every week when she was in assisted living and she’d share stories about her youth with me. I loved that woman so much. She left me all of her furniture, which I didn’t expect. Whether it’s my first choice or not, I will probably always have a lot of dark wood furniture b/c I just can’t give Mrs. Henry’s stuff away- not unless it’s to a very special person. Love your stories, Sean.
Lizza - April 2, 2017 5:51 pm
A life lesson.. sometimes it only takes kindness to help each other through this cruel world, and it means even more, when given by strangers.
Sallie - April 2, 2017 10:20 pm
Yes, I look for people too. The last one died.
Brenda Laurence - April 2, 2017 11:51 pm
Your stories touch my heart and warm my soul.
Stephanie Mobley - April 3, 2017 4:31 pm
Thank you, Sean.
Jeannie - April 3, 2017 5:33 pm
You are indeed a writer! One who touches hearts with the simplest of stories, one that reminds us of how important people are in our lives, one that remembers what we, the people of the United States of America are all about Thank you for sharing your gift.
June RouLaine Phillips i - April 3, 2017 7:06 pm
You’re more than a writer.
Lilli Ann Snow - April 4, 2017 1:27 pm
How can I thank you for becoming yourself?
For sharing your soul?
Deanna J - June 2, 2017 12:15 pm
Best writer I know!!! Thanks for sharing!!!!!
Timothy - June 2, 2017 2:32 pm
You always challenge us to be the better person. You help us piece together more of our better moments into a consistent fabric of life.
G.mitchell - June 2, 2017 2:36 pm
Sean, I feel your heart. I was always in search of mother figures for comfort, love guidance/direction. Its a true blessing to have them in our lives to know we are loved, to find direction and to gain the confidence to live our true lives. So grateful you had these men in your life to grow you into the Sean you are today. Stay kind, you are inspirational and have a loving heart. Have a beautiful day. gmm
Kathy C - June 2, 2017 3:02 pm
Beautiful work. Thank you.
Scott Gardner - June 2, 2017 4:18 pm
Thank You Sir! Me too!
Debora L Bettis - June 2, 2017 5:18 pm
You touched a place in my heart that not many folks have access to. Lost my Dad when I was two…and although I cannot remember him, I have always, always longed for him. There have been men who stood in the gap for my missing father, and I adored them for it. Many were relatives….but the ones who surprised me the most were those who were not. They wrapped me in bear hugs and blessings, and my heart will never forget!
Michelle Gilliland - June 2, 2017 6:26 pm
Sean, I don’t know if you really read the comments, but I wanted to tell you something. I’m sitting here in the Home Depot parking. My three blessings wanted to swim today, and by God, it was gonna happen come hell or high water. Except that they are little kids, and they do what little kids do. Act absolutely insane inside the store. So anyway, I had to get some pool chemicals, so off we went. And I don’t care what the weather apps say, it is hotter than August on this June day in Georgia. My temper got as hot as the weather inside that Home Depot. I’m talking Southern Mama ill as a hornet. God bless sweet old lady cashiers. She looked me in the eyes and said it all passes so quickly, and know it does, and we hear it all the time. But today she had a sad face when she said it, and I could tell something else was behind those sad eyes. She was looking for something. Maybe someone that she missed, or a time that she missed. I smiled and thanked her for her kindness.
So today I’m thanking you for your kindess as well. Kindness to care for others enough to write about them for all of us to read.
P.S. To your illustrator: I love the illustrations as well.
Ben Smith - June 3, 2017 2:00 pm
Karen McNeese - June 4, 2017 8:18 pm
Thank- you for sharing your stories with us. I know personally for me the people who have been there for me the most in life have no genetic link to me. From the great uncle who was the best grandpa a girl could ask for, to my foster son who has grown into an amazing man. Family is so much more than blood.
Charaleen Wright - April 27, 2019 4:47 am