Sleepless in New Orleans

“It’s my birthday,” the email said, “and my dad forgot me…”

The young man writing to me just turned 14 years old. We’re going to call him Mark.

Mark lives outside New Orleans. His parents are divorced. Mark lives with his mom. Mark’s mom had to work late this year for his birthday.

Last night, Mark’s father was supposed to cover for her. His father was supposed to swing by and pick up Mark to hang out. They were going to celebrate the big One-Four together. See a movie. Get some pizza. Do guy stuff.

But Mark’s dad never showed.

It was a Tuesday evening. Mark got dressed up for his birthday. He sat on the porch, waiting dutifully. Mark was wearing his nice clothes. He kept checking the time on his phone. He kept peering down the street, to see if his father’s car was coming. But no cigar.

Finally, at sundown, Mark went back inside and watched some television. Then he wrote to me because—you have to worry about this boy—he likes my writing.

“My dad doesn’t love me,” his message began.

Well, Mark, before I say anything else, let me wish you a happy birthday, kiddo. Congratulations. Fourteen is a huge birthday. It’s the period of life when you’re not quite a man, not quite a boy.

At age 14, you exist in a phase of life we call “Man-Boy Phase.” It’s a phase where you are keenly aware of things like newly sprouted body hair and armpit odor, but you also still unwind at the end of a long day by using fresh boogers to terrorize your little sister.

You’re still a kid who loves Legos. But on the other hand: You currently spend the same amount of time fixing your hair as it took to complete the Sistine chapel.

Fourteen. A heck of a year.

I remember when I turned 14. What a tough year for me. My family was living outside Atlanta after my father passed away. My family resided in a small triangular bedroom on the topmost level of my uncle’s house in Jonesboro.

That year, my mother took me to see the Cyclorama Civil War Museum, which was about as much fun as elective surgery.

Still, my mother was doing the best she could. The problem was, we were still new in town. I had no friends in Atlanta. So nobody cared that it was my birthday.

After the Cyclorama, my mother took me to eat fried chicken. Then we went to see a dollar movie. Big whoop.

The movie was at one of those dollar-movie houses which played black-and-white classics for Atlanta societal outliers who all dressed like hippies and smelled so strongly of patchouli that you developed a contact high whenever they entered the room.

The theater was crowded. The movie was “Casablanca.” I didn’t get it.

A few days later, I was back in that little upstairs bedroom, crying. Feeling sorry for myself. I confiscated my uncle’s copy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper. I read some of it.

I only cared about three sections of the AJC. The comics. Sports. And Lewis By-God Grizzard.

I’ll never forget the Grizzard column I read that night. It made me laugh. It made me feel a little better. I read it maybe 12 times. It was a brief moment of relief for me.

Mark, you’re going to swear that I’m making the following statement up. But I’m not. I remember thinking to myself on that night, so long ago:

“You know what? If I ever have the chance to become a writer, I’m going to write this kind of stuff exactly. I’m going to try my absolute darndest to make 14-year-old boys feel better about their crappy lives.”

So, even though you thought you were writing to me for consolation, the truth is, you gave me a big gift, today.

It’s been several decades since that crummy birthday long ago. But I still remember it. And I always will. Because deep inside, Mark, I will always be you.

Also, your father does love you.

Go to your grave believing that.


  1. Gigi22 - March 16, 2023 12:13 pm

    Happy Birthday to this special young man🎉🥳🎂!

  2. David in California - March 16, 2023 12:46 pm

    I, too, can relate to Mark’s situation. I, too, can confirm Sean’s words to be true. Happy Birthday, Mark. May you be blessed to grow up to be a good man and a great dad.

  3. JonDragonfly - March 16, 2023 2:29 pm

    Happy Birthday, Mark!

  4. Brett Campbell - March 16, 2023 7:43 pm

    Happy birthday, Mark! And thank you, Sean, for sharing this!

  5. Cathy M - March 16, 2023 9:36 pm

    Happy Birthday Mark. Sorry your dad let you down but pls. Don’t let it Keep you down. Believe in yourself and make good choices. I pray that you can do that. Maybe one day you can be like Sean. This world could use more good writers. Be safe❤️

  6. Denise Burgess - March 17, 2023 10:15 am

    You’re marvelous! Finding your writing and podcast helps to make uo for the loss of Lewis Grizzard (two biscuit loving guys are you) and the immortal Erma Bombeck. Keep doing your incredible work.

  7. stephenpe - March 17, 2023 11:42 am

    I see Lewis in your columns each day. I found an old paperback by him the other day and spend a little time laughing. The things parents do to their children is mind blowing sometimes. We love you, Sean. Keep your day job.


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