How Sweet the Sound

“So, we’re having a baby,” he said.

My friend told me this while we were eating breakfast in a crowded place. I looked at him and almost dropped my fork.

He started happy crying.

“You’re having a baby?” I said.

He nodded, then cried even harder.

The number one rule of manhood is, you are not supposed to cry. I don’t know where this rule comes from, but I think it’s in the Boy Scout manual somewhere. As men, our fathers were stalwart examples who taught us to be stoics. Like like little John Waynes, minus the hats.

So you can imagine how uncomfortable I was when my friend covered his face with a napkin and sobbed in a public place.

Soon, the waitress came. “Is everything okay, sir?”

I sniffed my nose manfully and said, “Pollen.”

You’d have to know my friend to understand what a big deal this baby is. He has had an uphill battle for most of his life.

For starters, he has a speech impediment, which has always been a challenge. When he gets stressed, he has a hard time making words happen.

We once took a community college class together, epochs ago. I sat beside him in class. Whenever the teacher would call on him, he would look at me and say, “Tell her.”

Thus, I was sort of his mouthpiece. I guess he’d been made fun of too many times to risk speaking in a classroom. As I recall, I made a D in that class.

I always loved his mom. His mother was one of those exceptional kinds of women you read about in “Guideposts” magazines. She gave birth when she was 17, in a home for unwed mothers. Then she lit out on her own and raised her only son in a 22-foot camper.

She worked in a salon by day; she attended GED classes by night. They lived in squalor with a capital S.

In grade school, he dressed in garage-sale clothes that smelled like mothballs, with other people’s initials written on his clothing tags. His diet consisted of spaghetti and Colonial bread.

For yearbook pictures the local church purchased new clothes so he wouldn’t be forever immortalized wearing a hole-ridden T-shirt.

But that is not where his story ends. That is merely the beginning.

Because eventually, his mother earned her college degree, then a nursing degree. And after that, their lives became so wonderful that Robin Leach could have narrated their afternoons.

His mother got a job as a traveling nurse, and if you’ve ever known a traveling nurse, you know what a sweet job this is.

One year they lived in Houston, the next year they were in some little town named Loma Linda, California. They hopped around island resorts, they lived in the Florida Keys. They once lived in Alaska, where my friend learned to catch a salmon on a fly rod for his 15th birthday.

My friend wiped his nose and said, “I wish my mom would have lived to see my baby.”

His mother died from pancreatic cancer in 2009. Her last words were: “I love you so, so, so much.”

The funeral was private. Just family. They played a Patsy Cline tune for her homegoing, which was the song “Crazy” (1961), penned by none other than Willie Nelson.

Which is probably why my friend is such a diehard Willie fan. I should know, we used to play in a band together a hundred years ago, and our professional repertoire consisted of 98 percent Willie songs and 2 percent Skynyrd.

But then, this was back in the days when our youthful lives revolved around $5 pitchers. We played six nights per week, slept four of them, and had a great time from what little I can remember.

Eventually, our band tired of playing bar gigs for faux cowboys in $1800 boots, and we aimed higher. We bought secondhand tuxedos and began playing 50th birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, and—God help me—Florida snowbird conventions.

The snowbird gigs were the most difficult. Imagine playing “Come Fly With Me” for 70 retired brake-pad salesmen who take the dancefloor with 70 gals who have all recently undergone hip surgery. (“Do you play any cha-chas, young man?!”)

After breakfast, we said goodbye. We hugged. We clapped each other’s shoulders hard enough to induce wheezing.

“We should do this again,” we both said.

Even though we know we won’t.

I wandered to my truck and sat for a while in silence, thinking of my greatest memories.

Memories I made playing music with the guys.

My memory of walking down the aisle with a brunette who was generous enough to marry the village idiot.

The memory of this breakfast.

It’s strange. I am not often aware that I am happy. I can remember that I’ve been happy. But only after the fact. I wish it were different, but there you are. Why is it that it’s difficult to see how truly beautiful life is until years later?

Before I left the parking lot, I removed my phone and looked at the photo of my friend’s sonogram again. I thought of how frighteningly short, but how incredibly rich this life is.

And I broke the number one rule of manhood.


  1. Suellen - February 20, 2022 11:42 am

    Thanking God this morning that He gave you as his friend. My oldest son has a severe speech impediment. Even family has a hard time understanding him sometimes so he basically just quit talking. Oh how I wish he had a friend like you.

  2. Betty Martinez Lowery - February 20, 2022 11:59 am

    There must be a lot of pollen in the air as now my eyes are watering too. Beautiful.

  3. Barbara P Dawson - February 20, 2022 12:37 pm

    What a man you are, Sean … and what a writer. You bring me to tears or hysterical laughter every day, and I cherish both.

  4. Keith - February 20, 2022 12:55 pm

    The world needs more friends like you.

  5. Paul McCutchen - February 20, 2022 12:57 pm

    This is the very reason I keep tissue next to my computer, that and the fact I have a cat in my “man cave”.

  6. Linda Lewis - February 20, 2022 1:21 pm

    I loved this beautiful story. It touched my heart. Thank you.

  7. Shelton A. - February 20, 2022 1:56 pm

    Congratulations to your friend and ex-bandmate! Fantastic news! I ask for God’s blessings to always be with this special family. Man rule number one is like all rules, it has exceptions. Thanks for sharing this great news and story. My best to you and Jamie, as always.

  8. Kathy - February 20, 2022 2:07 pm

    You are such a hoot! Love reading your posts in Neighbors, just finished reading Breakfast! How funny you make all your stories and we can actually relate and remember some of the same customs when we were growing. Of course you’d have to be from the Silent Generation or Baby Boomers to experience that kind of hard/wonderful/family oriented times of growing up. My most cherished memories are growing up during those hard times when family came first and everyone of your family members and neighbors and even strangers pitched in to help each other out. Love Love Love your stories and humor!

  9. Becky - February 20, 2022 2:24 pm

     Your stories touch me daily, but the following passage deeply resonated with me. It perfectly described my state of mind the past few years and let me know I’m not the only one who just “remembers” happiness. I’m working very hard on being “in the moment” so I can recognize and celebrate happiness as it happens.

    “I am not often aware that I am happy. I can remember that I’ve been happy. But only after the fact. I wish it were different, but there you are. Why is it that it’s difficult to see how truly beautiful life is until years later?”

  10. Kathie J Kerr - February 20, 2022 2:28 pm

    God bless the folks who foster and adopt older kids!

  11. Charlotte Virginia McCraw - February 20, 2022 2:37 pm

    Just when I think that you cannot possibly top that day’s post, you do it again . . or better. I will ponder this post all day long, remembering moments in my life and the people who populated those moments with me. Thanks again, Sean.

  12. Stacey Wallace - February 20, 2022 2:52 pm

    Sean, my Daddy, the strongest, manliest man I‘ve ever known, once told me it takes a real man to show tears. So there you go. Love to you and Jamie.

  13. Liz - February 20, 2022 2:52 pm

    How do you know you won’t do this in see him? Steely Dan comes to mind…”reeling in the years” and “do it again”.

  14. Carol Watson - February 20, 2022 2:57 pm

    Well Sean, as usual you made me cry, but then most the time you do. Loved this story & could identify with some parts as I can see myself in one the characters. Needless to say you are still one my hero’s! Much love to you & tell Jamie I love her

  15. Marlene - February 20, 2022 3:34 pm

    Thank you. I will pay attention to the beauty in today. God bless you!

  16. Nancy Carnahan - February 20, 2022 3:40 pm

    Touching story, but you didn’t finish it. Where and when did the wife come into the picture?

  17. Beverly Wynn Bua - February 20, 2022 4:23 pm

    “… frighteningly short, but incredibly rich life is..”. I needed to be reminded of that today. Thank you..☮️❤️

  18. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 20, 2022 4:32 pm

  19. Diane Toth - February 20, 2022 5:24 pm

    Cry when you need to, there are no ruled

  20. Bobby Roberts - February 20, 2022 6:19 pm

    Another great one Sean!! I’m 66 and I don’t know where you get these memories and they remind me so much of mine. I love reading them and remembering times that I’ll cherish until the day I’m called home. You’re a blessing to all of us my friend and I hope you never loose the gift God gave you.

  21. Cathy M - February 20, 2022 6:59 pm

    I love men who are moved to tears. It shows sensitivity and that is a trait that I admire in anyone. I have thought about the word happy a lot since Covid came into our lives. I am content with my life. More content than ever. That alone makes me happy. I have made a conscience effort to simplify my life and lower my expectations . I think that word happy is overused. I say count your blessings and then you will feel content. Hey, don’t lose touch with your old friend. He met with you personally to tell you he was going to be a father. You knew his mother and that may be just one reason he let his guard down and cried. Stick with him. When are you coming to B’ham? Folks are getting restless. ❤️🙏🏻

  22. MAM - February 20, 2022 7:43 pm

    I agree with Cathy M that the word happy is overused. Being content is much more realistic and realizable. And stay in touch with your friend. Even though you’re moving, call him once in a while or go back to visit him and the baby. And tears that flowed, when you broke that ridiculous man rule, ARE happy tears, you know. So happy is not just euphoria, but it’s feeling pleased for someone and remembering important memories. And we are getting into allergy season.

  23. Anne Arthur - February 20, 2022 8:07 pm

    Thanks, yes, life is beautiful. And so are tears that prove this truth.

  24. Heather Miller - February 20, 2022 8:19 pm

    I’m not a man, so I can break your rule any time. Women can have eye floods anytime, and no one says a word. I’m 84, and I understand completely what you said. I have gone through days of my life , and at the time, they were just that, days of my life. When I look back years later, I was so happy when whatever event I see happened. I’m also very happy for your friend, and hope you two do get together again. You’ll have to see the baby pictures when he/she arrives!!

  25. Kim Kennedy - February 21, 2022 1:32 am

    Chills. Life is precious!

  26. Romulus Martin - February 21, 2022 4:04 pm

    Once heard my favorite pastor say:”A man’s tears keeps him humble” and that is the way GOD likes us.

  27. Donna Parker - February 21, 2022 9:27 pm

    Fantastic story,

  28. Belinda Byrd - March 1, 2022 4:13 pm

    I broke that rule too…. and I’m a woman!

  29. Sue Ellen - March 4, 2022 11:53 pm

    I love your stories.


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