The Big Solo

I was maybe ten or eleven. I was invited to try out for the Christmas community choir. A lady visited our church to conduct the auditions.

I had been practicing for three weeks, learning the lyrics to “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

My father, the welder, took me to the audition after work. Before it was my turn to sing, he gave me a pep talk.

“Knock it outta the park,” he said. “Like Mickey Mantle, you hear?”

I sang for the lady in the wire-rimmed glasses who held the clipboard. She was less than impressed with me.

“Stop singing!” she shouted, interrupting my song. “We’re looking for something else, I’m sorry. Next please?”

My father stormed forward from the back of the church. He looked like he was on his way to pick a fight with an umpire.

“Now wait a minute, Lady,” he said. “I demand you let my boy finish his song. He’s been working on it for weeks. What kind of heartless woman doesn’t let a kid finish his song?”

The woman’s mouth dropped open. She looked at my father like he’d lost his mind.

She sat down and asked me to sing it again. I cleared my throat. I sang. I did much better than before. It wasn’t a home run, per se, but more like line drive to centerfield.

I got the part.

I was fifteen feet tall. Until that day I’d never done anything special with my life—unless you counted the noises I could make with my armpits. I was a chubby kid with awkward features, I was neither handsome, nor athletic.

But now I was a soloist.

It took months of preparation to get it right. Each day after school, I would rehearse for my mother in the kitchen while she made supper.

On the night of the performance, my father arrived home an hour late. He wheeled into our driveway, kicking gravel behind his tires.

My mother flew off the porch, carrying my choir robe on a hanger. “You’re late!” she shouted at him. My mother gasped when she saw my father.

“And you’re filthy!” she said. “You can’t go like that!”

His denim clothes were stained, he smelled like diesel, his skin was painted with soot.

“The boss made me work late,” he said. “Ain’t got time to change.”

My mother wished me luck with a kiss on the forehead and stayed behind. My father sped through the night.

We arrived at a Presbyterian church with lots of cars in the parking area. Families were walking into the chapel dressed in Christmas finery.

“I think I’m gonna be sick,” I told Daddy.

“You’re gonna be fine.”

“But what if I mess up?”

“You won’t.”

“I gotta puke.”

“Listen to me,” he said. “Singing is just like baseball, you stand at the plate, you relax, you hit the ball. Now you’re gonna go knock that ball outta the park, got it?”

I almost lost my lunch on his boots.

The chapel was ornate. I have never seen so many people crammed into one place, there must’ve been three counties in attendance. A small community orchestra played. The choir sang. Then came my solo.


I choked.

I missed my cue. Maybe it was because of the large audience, or the three-story stained glass, or the beautiful choir. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

The music came to a screeching halt. The choir director almost passed a kidney stone. Everyone knew something was wrong. The silence of the hall was deafening.

This is how I would die, I thought. On a stage, wearing a starched robe.

Then, I saw him.

He was in the back of the room, a mile away. The sooty man, sitting in a pew surrounded by people in fancy clothes. People who had scooted away from him.

And that look he wore. It was pride. His boy was on the platform.

Suddenly, I was less worried. I forgot where I was. The audience disappeared. The next thing I knew, I was singing.

By the second verse, every voice in the audience had joined me. Hundreds of voices, following mine. And from the back of the chapel, candles were being lit, one by one, until the place was illuminated with a million lights.

When the concert finished, my father met me backstage. His eyes were raw and red. There were tear trails on his dirty cheeks.

The choir director congratulated me. Then, she shook my father’s filthy hand.

“Merry Christmas,” she said.

But he couldn’t seem to speak. All he could manage to say was, “This is my boy.” Then he said it again.

He took me into town to eat a chili dog. We ate on the tailgate. We stayed up late. We laughed.

That was our last Christmas together.

If you get a chance today, tell your kids know how proud they make you feel.


  1. grantburris - December 17, 2019 6:46 am

    I really liked that one, Sean. I’ve worked late on welding projects. I’ve been pretty dirty. I hope my kids will be as proud of me as you were of your dad. Great story. Made me cry.

  2. James e inman - December 17, 2019 6:56 am

    Did that very thing not two hours ago. God love those children and the Papa’s that loves that child. Bless ya Brother and God bless ya Daddy. MERRY CHRISTMAS from another Son of the South

  3. Karen - December 17, 2019 7:25 am

    I don’t think I have words to express how this breaks my heart.

  4. Gloria Ann Collier - December 17, 2019 8:54 am

    You hit it out of the park with this one, Sean!

  5. Steven Paul Bailey - December 17, 2019 10:41 am


  6. Elizabeth - December 17, 2019 11:28 am

    Oh sweet sSean. Hug that little boy for me! Your daddy loved you very much.

  7. Steve - December 17, 2019 12:18 pm

    I think I’m starting to understand how your fathers death wreaked you then, and still now. I assumed given the method of his death, he was unstable and mentally ill. I still believe those things, but he was also a great Dad. What a wonderful memory and what a beautiful message.

  8. Ann - December 17, 2019 12:19 pm

    Heartwarming and tearfully beautiful….I am so proud of my children and will remind them….
    Merry Christmas and thank you for the gift..

  9. Phil S. - December 17, 2019 12:24 pm

    This was one for the ages, Sean. You hit it out of the park back then and again today. Keep swinging for the fence.

  10. Marilyn - December 17, 2019 12:39 pm

    Your father left you too soon, and in a traumatic way, but there is no doubt how much he loved you! Even though it hurts, at least you had your father’s love, which many children have never known. You brought tears this morning while thinking of my dad who would sing “You Are My Sunshine” to me many years ago. Your stories warm the heart. God Bless…

  11. Dianne - December 17, 2019 12:41 pm

    A beautiful and heartwarming way to begin my day, Sean. I can only imagine how proud your Daddy was of you that night and every night he was with you. As a mother of two sons, I was and am always proud of them and what they have accomplished in their lives and with their own families now. We always need to let our kids, both small and adult, know how proud we are of them. Thank you for sharing this wonderful Christmas story!

  12. Kay Britton - December 17, 2019 12:46 pm

    What a beautiful memory! I know he was proud of you in so many ways. I’m proud of you. Everyone needs a Cinderella story, and I think that was definitely yours.

  13. Alice Roose - December 17, 2019 1:04 pm

    Oh Sean what a sweet story it brought tears to my eyes God bless you love you Merry Christmas ❤️

  14. Karen Good - December 17, 2019 1:32 pm

    I wasn’t expecting that ending. Your Father’s death has left a gaping hole, even after all these years, in your heart and in your soul. I have no experience with that kind of loss, but it helped to form you into the caring and loving man you must be. I wish you Happy Holidays with peace and comfort, Hope and Happiness.

  15. Connie Havard Ryland - December 17, 2019 2:03 pm

    I can’t see to type. You have a gift Sean. You make us see your life as if we were there and you make us feel our lives more intensely. I always tell my kids how proud I am and how much I love them but the main thing is – I show up. That’s what your dad did for you. He showed up and gave you his spirit. You still have it. Love and hugs

  16. BJean - December 17, 2019 2:18 pm

    God made sure you had a good stock of precious priceless memories. Thank you for sharing this one. 🙂

  17. Cathy Boswell - December 17, 2019 2:34 pm

    Dear Sweet Baby Jesus, you made me cry with this one….

  18. Sandi B - December 17, 2019 2:38 pm

    Such a beautiful memory Sean. I know you will cherish it forever. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  19. Steve Winfield - December 17, 2019 2:40 pm

    I saw my dad cry twice his whole life. First was when he saw me in my Navy uniform at boot camp graduation in Orlando. Other time we were on the way to the B’ham Airport when I was leaving for the Persian Gulf during the Iran Hostage Crisis. I was bawling my eyes out. Had just got married & knew I’d be gone 7 months.
    Your dad really loved you. I think he saw something special in you. Took you a very long time to realize it. You are a big deal now & loved by so many.
    Merry Christmas to you & your whole family.

  20. Denise - December 17, 2019 3:22 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story Sean. Merry Christmas!

  21. jack - December 17, 2019 3:32 pm


  22. Beth - December 17, 2019 3:53 pm

    This holiday season, I’m fortunate to be able to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip with my family… but I’m borderline dreading it because of the likelihood of too much togetherness and the conflicts that can bring. Thank you for the much needed attitude check! Merry Christmas!!

  23. Susan L Parker - December 17, 2019 4:20 pm

    Merry Christmas, Sean! What a beautiful memory of your father. Thank you for being generous enough to share it with all of us.
    Please know that your Heavenly Father and your earthly father are always proud of you and are always encouraging you to “knock it out of the park”. Just like you did with this story.

  24. Linda Moon - December 17, 2019 4:24 pm

    My father, the salesman with cigarette-stained hands often showed up for me because he loved me. No matter how sooty or stained our daddies were, Sean, they LOVED us. Mine was gone two weeks after my 18th birthday, one week after what would be our last Christmas together. The last Post Card he sent to me sits in a frame beside my reading chair. My own clever and creative kids have always made me proud, and even though they are all grown up, I’ll be sure to tell them today!!

  25. aleathia nicholson - December 17, 2019 5:20 pm

    This is what real fathers do. Mine did nearly 80-odd years ago.

  26. Mermaidgrammy - December 17, 2019 5:44 pm

    Dear Sean, I know you will have a blessed Christmas, just because that’s the kind of man you are. Just think what a blessing you and Jamie could be to your own children – especially during this season! You think you’ve had it bad? You have, but there are many, many children who would see your young life as a trip to Disneyland, compared to what they’ve had to live through! They will bless you tenfold what you will bless them. Make 2020 the year to save a child!!

  27. Margaret C - December 17, 2019 5:47 pm

    Your father loved you and was very proud of you. I believe he struggled to love himself, and the ability to believe he made anyone else proud. A lot of really good people struggle with depression and simply cannot rise above it. Cherish the good memories and continue to honor his life by sharing the love he had for you. Make this Christmas a special one for the ones you love. Merry Christmas.

  28. Edna Barron - December 17, 2019 6:02 pm

    This one is super beautiful. I tell my kids every day that I love them. That’s how it should be. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  29. Rebecca Souders - December 17, 2019 6:38 pm

    He would be proud of the fine words you give us, Sean! They lift me up just like your voice must have lifted him up that night. Bravo!

  30. Carol - December 17, 2019 8:06 pm

    ALWAYS 🙏❤️
    Love ya!
    Merry Christmas 🎁🎄 🙏

  31. Harriet - December 17, 2019 10:21 pm

    I hope I can write as well as you one day. I wasn’t expecting that ending. It makes me so sad your dad left you way to soon.

  32. Martha Young - December 17, 2019 11:13 pm

    You knocked it outta the park with this Christmas story. Tears, not in sadness but tears of pride.

  33. Jenny Young - December 17, 2019 11:20 pm

    My son is 26 yrs old. He works nights in a bakery. He’s married & has a two yr old son. His wife works days in the same bakery & their shifts overlap by about two hours so every morning either I or my husband get up at 4AM, drive to their house & sit in the dark while the baby sleeps…so she can get to work on time. Then she comes home & bakes cookies to sell…the whole family smells likes Christmas all the time.

    This morning was my turn. My son comes in smelling so sweet….seriously, the factory he works in makes snack cakes….he smells good enough to eat when he gets off work.

    We never separate or end a conversation without saying I love you. When we hug, I never let go first. I hold on until he lets go & sometimes I hold on some more.

    This morning as I put my coat on to leave we’re talking about different things, sometimes talking at once. I mention that his wife looked tired this morning with all the extra baking she’s done for Christmas. I was a little worried about her. I showed him where the laundry was that I’d finished for her & told him I didn’t get the dishwasher emptied this time (they always tell me not to do housework but how can a grandmother not do housework?!) He interrupts me, grabs my arm…turns me to face him & looks directly into my eyes. ‘Mom’ he says, ‘I mean it, I really appreciate you.’

    I’m not sure if he’s ever done that before. He’s told me thank you many times but as I walked out into the dark, damp morning I was so proud of him. Does he realize that I do it for him? As much as I love his family & adore my grandchild I really do it all for my son. I hope he never ever has a moment where he wonders if we love him. I definitely tell him often!

  34. Sue Riddle Cronkite - December 18, 2019 11:38 pm

    Wonderful memory of your father and love.

  35. Perri Anne Bentley - December 19, 2019 1:05 pm

    Beautiful – thank you for sharing.

  36. Susan McCall - December 19, 2019 8:25 pm

    What a precious memory 🥰

  37. Paula - December 20, 2019 7:03 pm

    Oh Sean! What can I say. Beautiful. I’m glad you got to have experience that with your Dad. Gave me chills. Paula

  38. Linda Allen - December 22, 2019 5:58 am

    Your stories come straight from the heart. This one was particularly beautiful. I felt like I was right there. I could see you as a little boy and your Daddy standing in the back, so proud of you. You have my deepest condolences on the loss of this special man.
    Merry Christmas to you and your precious family. And here’s to a wonderful 2020…


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