Imaginary Daughters

“Tag! You’re it!”

I’m watching several kids play tag in a neighborhood. Eight children scream: “Jon’s it! Jon’s it!”

Jon is “it.”

Their high-pitched laughter is followed by the sounds of tiny feet running upon grassy earth.

Jon is a second-grade redhead who chases his friends like his reputation is on the butcher block right now. Because in Kid World, it is.

I was walking my dog when I came upon them. But now I’m a spectator at this fracas, along with two moms who shout idle threats between their conversations.

And I’m remembering when I was “it” during boyhood games of tag.

When I was in fourth grade I had red hair and I looked like Danny Partridge with a serious carb addiction. Our games of tag were intense. SEC rules. It was a full-contact sport.

One time, Katrina Hoskins was “it.” Katrina was three feet taller than the entire fourth grade. She could pick me up and twirl me overhead like she was a shooting guard for University of Kentucky.

Katrina thought I was cute and often proclaimed that she was going to marry me. But when I told Katrina that I was keeping my nuptial options open, she used an Encyclopaedia Britannica to dislodge my jawbone during a game of tag. She selected “Volume 3: Bolivia—Cervantes.”

“Tag! Jon’s it!”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

Someone starts crying.

“Hey!” shouts a mom. “Don’t hit your brother, or so help me, I will come over there and…!”

I wasn’t lucky enough to have kids. We wanted them. We tried for them, but it didn’t happen. Even so, I always imagined what my own children would be like.

I had it all planned out in my imagination. If we had a boy, he would’ve been named Lewis. If it were a girl, I would have remortgaged our home to spoil her and make her queen of the United States. And she would have been called Benny.

But some things aren’t meant to be.

Still, there was that one time when we thought my wife was pregnant. I got so excited on my way home from work that I bought flowers and pink bubblegum cigars.

I found my wife sitting on our sofa, caught in a serene glow. My wife took my hand and placed it on her tummy. Tears swelled in my eyes.

“I’m scared,” I told her.

“Of what?”

“That I’m not gonna be a good dad. I’m gonna screw this up, I know it.”

She touched my cheek. “People have been screwing this up for thousands of years. Now it’s our turn.”

But it didn’t work out. We had no babies. And our childless lives went on. My wife became a preschool teacher, then a high-school math teacher.

Her students worshiped her because she was one of those teachers who called your house on your birthdays and sang to you. She gave students tens and twenties at graduation ceremonies, and she applauded harder than some kids’ parents.

Jamie Martin Dietrich would have left a grand mark on the tradition of motherhood.

“Jon’s it!”

“C’mon, Jon!”

“Ow! Taylor hit me!”


“Listen up!” yells a bloodthirsty mother. “If you don’t quit slapping your brother I’m gonna pull your pants down right here in front of God and the State of Florida, and…!”

What a blessing.

I still think of Benny often. Her imaginary red curls. Her mama’s hickory eyes. Her proclivity toward third-degree sunburns, just like her old man.

I would have taught my daughter how to dance in our living room, with her little feet standing on mine. Girls need dads to teach them to dance.

I would have carried Benny on my shoulders in public and reminded her how much Daddy would always love her. Even if she grew up to make the same kinds of nonsensical decisions her Daddy was infamous for.

I would have assured Benny that Daddy would never attempt to hijack her life plans. Daddy would not interfere, not even if we disagreed, and he would not judge. Daddy would let Benny be Benny.

Daddy would try to go along with every weird haircut, every vegan diet, each odd ideology, and awkward romantic interest.

And if Benny ever found herself stranded at a wild party where inebriated teens were acting like jackasses, her father would only ask that she not drive or ride in anyone’s car, but instead call her old man.

And just like magic, Daddy would appear in his truck to carry her home safely. He would not embarrass her, he would not make a scene, he would not sermonize. He would only be her taxi. He would even let her choose the radio station on the ride home.

As long as it wasn’t modern pop-country.

He would have given Benny a string of pearls on her 12th birthday. All girls deserve pearls, or at least decent fakes.

And Daddy would have rented a tux for when he gave her away. He would have done his level best to make her proud when he waltzed at the wedding reception, her head against his chest. And yes, Daddy would have most certainly done the Cha-Cha Slide.

Her curly copper hair would have been my gift to her. My mark. The mark of a painfully average but earnest man.

And no matter how far away Benny’s life journey would carry her; no matter how many times she might mess up; no matter what her age; within her Daddy’s feeble heart she would have always been “it.”

At least that’s the way I imagined it.


  1. Cheryl - May 17, 2021 7:33 am

    That was lovely.

  2. Jennifer Campbell - May 17, 2021 8:50 am

    Simply choked up. What a blessed little girl Benny would be

  3. Laura - May 17, 2021 10:03 am

    Benny would have been the second luckiest girl in the world, but only because I was lucky enough to have had the best dad ever.

  4. Ann - May 17, 2021 10:26 am

    This is heart wrenching and beautiful…..Jamie is blessed to be part of your life🥰🥰

  5. Lisa - May 17, 2021 10:46 am

    Beautiful; you are a gifted writer. I look forward to reading your stories each day.

    • RETA WASHAM - May 25, 2021 5:36 pm

      I agree with Lisa – that this is a beautiful post and that you are a gifted writer. Just curious…why Benny?

  6. Heidi - May 17, 2021 11:05 am

    I fully believe that Benny is waiting for you, for another time. But at this time & place you and Jamie are making such a difference in so many lives. You are both so loved.

  7. Barry Surratt - May 17, 2021 11:39 am

    Some of the best parents never had kids… thank again for stories that tug at heart strings!

  8. Susan Norman - May 17, 2021 11:46 am

    Thanks for another heartwarming story to start my day😘

  9. WKevin Dougherty - May 17, 2021 11:53 am

    You brought a tear!

  10. KAY JENKINS - May 17, 2021 11:54 am

    And Benny would have been blessed beyond all measure.

  11. Norbert Sprunger - May 17, 2021 11:58 am

    There are times, Sean, I would have paid you to take my children. But that was only fleeting. You hit the nail square on the head about Daddy’s and children. children. I would sell my life for mine……….

  12. Anne - May 17, 2021 12:04 pm

    You have such a way with words. “When I was in fourth grade I had red hair and I looked like Danny Partridge with a serious carb addiction.“ You have me laughing and crying within seconds.

    It’s not too late to be parents. There are older children who need the love that you have. I know you’ve read and written about it.

    Your stories often bring tears. My Dad died by suicide when I was eight. Mom was pregnant with child number six. Our house was filled with so much love. The love of a Mom who tried to be Father and Mother started in 1958.

    I’m thankful for your big heart. Keep on writing.

  13. Becky Kaufman - May 17, 2021 12:08 pm

    Love is all there is.

  14. Annie Sommers - May 17, 2021 12:17 pm

    You would have been an awesome Dad for either Lewis or Benny. Have a Blessed Day my friend.

  15. Cathy Moss - May 17, 2021 12:21 pm

    I had a dad who thought I hung the moon. I give him credit for anything good about me. You would have been a fabulous dad but maybe your calling was to lift each of your followers up every day and inspire them to be better people. I have close friends who were not given the gift of children and they have been involved in many of their friends journey in raising their children. It takes a village to raise children and I welcome my friends guidance and support. I bet you and Jamie have some relationships like that. Spread the love🥰

  16. Debbie g - May 17, 2021 12:34 pm

    Amen to Cathy s note. We love y’all 🙏🙏🙏

  17. Maggie Priestaf - May 17, 2021 12:37 pm

    You may not have had biological children but you nailed the experience. Mine are pushing 50…

  18. Robyn - May 17, 2021 12:45 pm

    I don’t have any children either and totally understand todays column. i am so glad you are a writer. You make my day everyday! Seems i laugh or cry or both most of the time. Thank you Sean for sharing your gift!

  19. Sharon Brock - May 17, 2021 12:48 pm

    A girl’s relationship with her Dad determines how she views men for the rest of her life. I am 68, never married, and never will be. Which should tell you something about my relationship with my father. If anybody deserved children it is you and Jamie. Beautiful story Sean. I wish you were my Dad.

  20. Beverly Tsapralis - May 17, 2021 12:53 pm

    I was one of those that went through tons of tests and meds trying to have kids with no luck. It’s very frustrating and sad at the same time. Then I went in a different direction. I became a foster parent and two years later, ended up adopting one of my foster kids, a 6yr old boy. It was the best thing I ever did and know now why I could not have kids. I was supposed to adopt my son and give him a happy and safe childhood. My son just turned 32 last week. I’ve always told him that some times kids need an extra set of parents. Maybe there are some in your area that need an extra set?

  21. Jan - May 17, 2021 12:55 pm

    You and Jamie would be great parents and I suspect you use those attributes with the children you encounter in your lives … Thank you for sharing your hopes, dreams and life lessons Sean. You make every day special!

  22. Mike McKay - May 17, 2021 12:59 pm

    My hope is that when my name is called the statement afterwards is ‘he was a good dad and Bailey knew she was loved’ you might be childless but y guy ou will always be remembered as the ‘father teacher of the century’and my I say thank you for that!

  23. Karen Holderman - May 17, 2021 12:59 pm

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  24. Shelton A. - May 17, 2021 1:05 pm

    Sean, sounds like you would have been a good dad and Jamie would have been a good mom. Sorry you couldn’t have kids but no one can break your heart more. At least you know where to draw the line…modern pop country is horrible and it sure isn’t country.

  25. Butch Veazey - May 17, 2021 1:12 pm

    Sean and Jamie,
    My wife and I were in the same infertility boat after her breast cancer treatment with high dose chemo and a stem cell transplant when she was 33. We were later richly Blessed by a young college couple that were expecting, but weren’t ready for marriage. This birth mom had a choice and she chose love. Today our daughter Anna is 24, married with a masters degree and a new job in logistics. Adoption or even foster parenting is the best decision I ever made. Your touching heartfelt story is why you are my favorite writer. It is never too late for Miss Benny to make her Mark on this world like her Mom and Dad have made a difference and a little bit better for all of us readers.
    1 Samuel 1:27 – For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him:

    • Louis “Butch” Veazey - May 17, 2021 3:27 pm

      Sean I forgot to mention that my real first name is Louis…

  26. Sandra Krug - May 17, 2021 1:24 pm

    Imaginary Benny would be so lucky to have you for a dad, my dad too let me dance with him on his shoes

  27. Sarah - May 17, 2021 1:40 pm

    You write with such bravery. It encourages me to be honest about my existence on this planet.

  28. Rose White - May 17, 2021 1:42 pm

    You brought me to tears on this one! You and Jamie would have been fabulous parents. But you have brought joy to thousands of others. Your description of Benny was wonderful and poignant! Sean, you truly have a gift for words! You bring joy to the life of this old lady every day! I wish you joy!

  29. nebraskannie - May 17, 2021 1:43 pm

    Kids can break your heart even if they don’t exist. I don’t know which one of us was luckier.

  30. Patricia Harris - May 17, 2021 1:53 pm

    Sean, I’ve said it before though it’s none of my business. You two should adopt an older child or two. You would be great parents.

  31. MARGARET NAYLOR - May 17, 2021 2:00 pm

    I’m a lab tech in a rural town in West Virginia. I know how you like colloquiolisms, here’s one from a patient. Tougher than a woodpecker’s beak. My husband also heard it as harder than a woodpecker’s lips. We love you❣

  32. Dee Thompson - May 17, 2021 2:03 pm

    As the mother of two adopted children, your post fills me with sadness. There are beautiful children in foster care who desperately want loving parents. Trust me, you can and would love them every bit as much as biological children. A “real” father is one who loves and cares for his child, and that has nothing to do with biology.

  33. Suzanne Cahill - May 17, 2021 2:05 pm

    Crying in my coffee at 8 a.m. reading this. You and Jamie make the world a better place by being here, in the moment, and sharing your stories. Thank you both for that.

  34. Margaret Cade - May 17, 2021 2:11 pm

    I think there is a little girl waiting to be in your life. Look for her! ❤️

  35. 5bysmom - May 17, 2021 2:19 pm

    This was so poignant and really touched my heart. Some things in this life are just not fair. People have children they don’t want while others would give anything to have just one. Thank you for opening your heart to us.

  36. Helen De Prima - May 17, 2021 2:50 pm

    My heart aches for you and your wife — you would have been awesome parents.

  37. Christina - May 17, 2021 3:59 pm

    I remember those long years of dreaming about my imaginary children and aching when they were not coming to life. Even as my story turned out differently from yours, I appreciate you naming both the beauty and pain of that deep longing. It’s a no brainer that Benny would have been the subject of your columns (so good to meet her today, she is quite a delightful girl). Thanks Sean, for inviting us into this tender space of your heart!

  38. Sue - May 17, 2021 4:23 pm

    I love your writings ,Sean.

  39. Linda Moon - May 17, 2021 5:30 pm

    I know and love some former fourth-graders who fit your “Danny” description, Sean. One of my best friends from fourth grade shared your friend Katrina’s name…almost. My friend was Katrine, and I dated her gingerhead cousin long after fourth grade. Many years later I married a different gingerhead. His namesake grandson is his spittin’ image….ginger-red hair, green eyes, and freckles. So, with all my memories of gingerheads I’m now attached to your imaginary Benny, Sean and Jamie! Please give us readers a novel about “Benny”. I would see Mama and Daddy and Daughter on every page.

  40. Melanie Johnston Levy - May 17, 2021 5:31 pm

    Thank you, dear Sean…

  41. Chris Spencer - May 17, 2021 5:33 pm

    I think that by now I know you well enough to say that your naming your son Lewis would have been for the late, great Lewis Grizzard.
    But Benny for a girl? Sorry, I don’t think I have ever known or known of a female named Benny. Who was her namesake?

    And I am sure that you and Jamie would have been great parents. Love to you both.

  42. Jerry - May 17, 2021 5:51 pm

    I look forward to reading your daily articles, especially the Q & A article yesterday. We have a very similar sense of humor. Keep them coming Sean and don’t let the unhappy people of the world deter you from sharing life with the rest of your readers. You are loved.

  43. Nora - May 17, 2021 6:36 pm

    You made my eyes leak.

  44. Joan Lewis - May 17, 2021 9:58 pm

    You made me cry. That was just so sweet.

  45. Kathleen McAbee - May 17, 2021 10:34 pm

    One of the most beautiful columns you have written. I have been reading every story for as long as I can remember, I know Mr. Dietrich, inside and out,

  46. Sandy Burnett - May 18, 2021 3:10 am

    The beautiful ache in your heart put into words is an amazing inspiration which reminds us how important it is to know the hearts of others in order to love them just as they are.

  47. Nancy - May 18, 2021 7:20 am

    Thank you for this beautiful piece.💗Benny & Lewis would’ve obviously been so loved & perfectly imperfect like we all are. Nothing more meaningful than sharing our hearts, and as I have found, nothing means more than lifting others up or getting them through their own struggle. One of my songs about losing my 2nd child has been shared & reshared by moms who also lost children. Their messages mean the world & its why I write. I’m absolutely sure it’s what you were born to do. You’ve moved me with your gift of writing. Thank you, Sean & my love to you & Jamie💕

  48. Sheri K - May 19, 2021 2:54 pm

    Absolutely beautiful! My heart is hurting for you and Jamie. I’m so glad tho that you haven’t wasted all the love you would have bestowed on Lewis and Benny but have showered it on everyone you meet! God bless you both and thanks for your love!!

  49. Allison Hoge - May 19, 2021 5:57 pm

    Funny…..I was just wondering several days ago if y’all had children! Funny thing you wrote this now….You would have made a terrific Dad!!!!!!

  50. Chasity Davis Ritter. Freddie’s daughter - May 24, 2021 1:02 am

    You always make me cry but this time you made me cry even more so than usual. You’d have been a good dad. If y’all ever decided to adopt you still could be but that’s not for someone else to say or choose for you. I’ve read some of your really great stories and I know sometimes it’s chosen for you.. an imaginary child becomes real through a set of circumstances beyond your control that I like to call Devine inspiration. Knowing your and Jamie’s big hearts IT might happen one day. But the bigger reason for my tears today is remembering my own Dad. The times he was there for me. Now that he’s gone maybe I glamorize him more than what was real but he was still a good Dad. He had whole other lives and wives and families but there was a time when I was his IT. There were those undeniable moments when he was there for me and would have done anything for me. A time at age 20 in the middle of the night that I showed up at his house crying because some Jack wagon broke my heart and we loaded up in the car and my dad was Gonna whip his ass for me lol. And my dad might not have worn a rented tux to give me away but he walked me down that aisle and did it all the same. And when it was getting close for my dad to walk into that white light he told my husband (at that time of 22 years be 25 in July) to watch out for me. And he was there 22 years and 5 months ago today when my own daughter came into the world. I squeezed his hand so hard I bent his ring. I know how you “imagine” you would have felt for your daughter because I feel that way about mine who is at this moment wondering what I’m typing as the tears are rolling down my cheeks. I know how much my Dad loved me and he still leaves me signs everyday. My daughters name is Sarah… just like your sister’s name. She didn’t have her daddy to give her away but I think I read you did that for her? And you were there in a lot of the capacities of more a dad than a big brother as she grew up. You gave her some of that amazing love that I know is on your big heart and I know you still do today. You give it us on paper everyday as well. Yeah you made me cry Sean. My Dad still does too from time to time. You’d have made an amazing one. And who knows…. maybe somehow some way some day you will. (Sarah in the Bible was pretty old when she had her baby… God has amazing and mysterious ways!!)

  51. Pam Barnes - June 3, 2021 4:11 pm

    I am an email subscriber and sometimes let a bunch of your columns pile up before reading them . Anyway, I just read your May 17 column, Imaginary Daddy, and it moved me to tears. I think you and Jamie would have been wonderful parents. After all, none of us are perfect but most of our kids turn out ok-if not great. Pam Barnes.

  52. Steve Imrie - June 19, 2021 1:19 am

    We enjoy your Facebook posts every day. Love your writing style and the way you spin a tale. Charmingly witty and captivating. I’ve read this one three times and cried no less with each reading. I’m blessed to have help raise two wonderful daughters. You remind me to be thankful everyday for what I have been so fortunate to experience.

    I know you would have been a wonderful dad…..

    I pray God will bless the works of your hands , the words you speak and each step that you take.

    Love ya man!

  53. Gaynell - March 16, 2022 4:32 pm

    A friend sent me your love letter. To Benny . I call it that because a good daddy is a
    Little girls first love. He can have an affect on how she loves and who she loves. That is why i chose to marry a man like my dad. My father past 43 years ago , I miss him terribly still and his kindness and words still warm my heart and are a strong factor in my decisions


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