Old Times

Long ago, somewhere along the line, I realized most of my good friends were fatherless.

I ate with friends I haven’t seen in a million years. I ordered a New York strip. It was overcooked. But the beer was cold.

Long ago, somewhere along the line, I realized most of my good friends were fatherless.

When I discovered this, it sort of confused me. It’s not as though I ran an ad in the Thrifty Nickel that read: “Looking for friends without dads. Apply today. Must like beer.”

I first realized this as a young man, during a camping trip with a few friends. We sat around a campfire in Andalusia, Alabama, on a Saturday night. The stars were doing what they do best. And I’ll never forget this: one of my friends was trying to cook a ham sandwich on a long stick held over the campfire.

The bread caught fire and his dinner turned into an inferno. So he flung the flaming ham sandwich into the dry field. It set the grass on fire, which was soon creeping toward our trucks.

After several minutes, we finally got the fire extinguished. When all was said and done, we were out of breath, and we even laughed about it. Then we fell silent.

“You think you’re ever gonna have kids one day?” one of us said.

Silence.

“Yeah,” said another. “I wanna prove it can be done, my old man left before I could walk. I’m gonna be the best dad you ever saw.”

Another chimed in: “Me, too. I want lots of kids. I’m gonna take’em all over the world and stuff, and take’em to Disney World.”

Disney World.

More silence.

“I ain’t never been to Disney World. You?”

“Disney is for babies.”

“Who’d ever wanna go there?”

“I ain’t been, either.”

That night, we discovered that none of us had ever been to Disney World. During the summers, when other local families would travel to the Most Magical Place on Earth, we didn’t.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Big hairy deal, so you never went to Disney World.”

It wasn’t about that. Not really. This was several boys admitting to each other how lonely they were. Disney World was just a disguised way to do it.

Decades later, I finally went to Disney World with my wife. I got sick on the teacup ride. I ate a horrible bratwurst that, to this day, is still lost somewhere in my lower intestines.

Anyway, tonight I arrived at the steakhouse before anyone else. I found a table in the corner. I saw families come into the restaurant. I hardly recognized them. Middle-aged men. There was gray in their beards. Big waists. Lines on their eyes.

They all had kids.

Soon, the table was on fire with rosy cheeks, braces, glowing cellphones, and wild eyes. Children. Everywhere.

A five-month-old named Jared, with a round belly, chubby thighs, and what appeared to be Easy Cheese on his face, wore a onesie that read: “Lock up your daughters.”

Our wives were strangers. Our conversations were awkward. When the subject of the weather came up, everyone was grateful because anyone can talk about the weather with authority.

And when it was time to say grace, the little girl named Riley folded her hands and spoke in a loud voice.

“Dear God,” she said, wedging a crayon behind her ear for later use. “Thank you for my mom and dad, and for their friends, and food…”

And I thought about a flaming ham sandwich, and a bunch of young men who were directionless in life, but aren’t anymore.

“Amen,” we all said.

Andrew pretended to go to the bathroom, then tried to pay for everyone’s supper. But someone else had already beaten him to it. And when we all shook hands in the parking lot, we agreed we ought to do this again.

We won’t, of course. Life has taken us in other directions. But that’s okay. Because we don’t need the things we used to. Not anymore. We are living beautiful lives. Wonderful, rewarding, simple lives. We are rich men.

“Hey,” I yelled to one friend who crawled into his minivan. “You ever make it to Disney World?”

“I get season passes every year,” he said.

18 comments

  1. Susan Parker - August 10, 2018 7:53 am

    You and each of your friends have blessed lives. The blessings differ, but they are there, and they shine.

    Reply
  2. Glenda the good witch. - August 10, 2018 8:27 am

    An extended three week trip from Flawda to Missouri to visit Mom, who is terminal, has precluded my daily read. There’s ten thousand unread emails in my inbox. However, I elected to treat myself this morning to a “”Sean of the South” read. This entry is as real as you are, love it and in a Whitney Houston wanta be voice I’m singing “I, I, I, still LOVE you”, ijs

    Reply
  3. Susan Swiderski - August 10, 2018 10:22 am

    Way to start a gal’s morning with tears in her eyes. Such a beautiful story, and you guys proved that a boy who grows up without a father CAN grow up to be a good father himself.

    Reply
  4. LeAnne Martin - August 10, 2018 11:20 am

    So good! I love the last line. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Judy - August 10, 2018 1:11 pm

    I have a special group of friends that meet together once a year for brunch at a Cracker Barrell. One travels all the way from St Simons Island to meet with us in Prattville. We were a core group of young mothers who were raising preschoolers and working together in our church. Those children are all grown and have families. But their mothers meet to share stories, “catch up”, give hugs and pray together – all in about 2 hours once a year. Last year we agreed to make it twice a year – but it didn’t happen. We started out with just the women, but now the husbands are welcome – but they sit across the restaurant at their own table. 😂 I am excited about that brunch because we are meeting tomorrow!

    I heard it said recently…”You can’t make old friends”. New friends are wonderful but old friends are beyond wonderful.

    Reply
  6. Carol - August 10, 2018 1:15 pm

    Sean your a perfect person for a big brother person!
    Have you ever thought about checking on some organizations that you could be a friend to a fatherless boy!
    Take him or them to Disney World. They’ll never forget it and neither will you !
    Wishing you Happy Trails!!
    Love ya!

    Reply
  7. WB Henley - August 10, 2018 2:02 pm

    Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Jack Quanstrum - August 10, 2018 2:11 pm

    Interesting story! Reading it turns me to being introspective! Righ now in deep thought……

    Reply
  9. Edna B. - August 10, 2018 2:14 pm

    What a wonderful story. A lot of awesome moms turned out some wonderful new fathers. I agree with the other reader, you would be fantastic as a Big Brother to a fatherless boy. He would absolutely love Thelma Lou too! You already brighten so many of our lives every day with your stories. You have an awesome day today Sean. Hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  10. Jack Darnell - August 10, 2018 2:28 pm

    Good read. Hey, I went to Silver Springs once with my mom and dad. There was no Disney World. I haven’t always been thankful I had a dad, you make it much easier to be thankful.
    I did enjoy the story and your logic. I am glad for you and your life, hounds aren’t so bad when you remember two rebellious teenagers. hahahaha, Imma tell you several times I wudda traded, boys for hounds!

    Reply
  11. Ava McCurley - August 11, 2018 3:51 am

    My dad died when I was eight and my younger brother was five. One day he went to the little country store with a neighbor. When he got home, he ran to Mother shouting that he met a new kid and “he doesn’t have a dad either”. Mother had no idea that he thought he was the only one.

    Reply
  12. Sue Cronkite - August 11, 2018 2:01 pm

    Wonderful story. Lucky kids to have fathers who care.

    Reply
  13. Carla Dillenburg - August 11, 2018 2:31 pm

    A clear and vivid reminder to all of us that whatever is going on in our life now, things change, and we may be very surprised by how the future shapes up.

    Reply
  14. Jody - August 11, 2018 3:49 pm

    Thanks ❤️

    Reply
  15. Dr. Rex D. Bushong - August 12, 2018 5:21 pm

    Thru trial and error, I have learned that unless one is partaking in a too expensive restaurant and ordering a much too expensive prime steak, it is much better to cook your own over your mesquite fire. In most joints, a medium rare steak will likely be served one of three ways – well done, very well done or charcoal. That’s just the way it is buddy. Thank God for my parents. This was a great article.

    Reply
  16. James inman - October 6, 2018 9:08 am

    I’m sorry for you and other folks that grew up without their daddy’s or mothers. Mine are still with us at 81 and 78, I don’t know what me and my brothers are going to do when they’re gone. Love ya work, bless ya brother

    Reply
  17. Melissa Mikkelsen - October 6, 2018 12:29 pm

    This brings back a memory of our neighbor when I was small, Mr Grant. He was a retired merchant marine and he loved me more than anyone in the world. He would always be up on Saturday mornings and I would slip out and visit. He would pour me a half and half coffee and let me ride my inchworm up and down his driveway while he worked in his shop. He taught me how to tie knots and to this day if I want something tied up its not going to get loose. Just know there are fathers of all kinds.

    Reply
  18. Betty - October 6, 2018 1:26 pm

    Getting together Tuesday for lunch with a bunch of old friends! Try to do it about this time each year. That group includes your “Aunt Cat”! TRM C/O ‘65!

    Reply

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