The Graduate

He bought his son a new truck for a graduation gift. Well, actually, the truck isn’t new, it’s a 2008 Silverado 1500, lightly used, with only 72,000 miles. Not a bad deal.

As soon as they bought the vehicle the first thing they did was take it for a long ride along the smooth, scenic rural highways of Alabama. Disney World for Chevy and Ford owners.

The graduate and his dad piled into the front cab and tore out for the hinterlands. Graduate at the wheel; Dad in the passenger seat, gripping the chicken handle. University of Alabama sticker on the bumper.

The graduate did all the things guys are supposed to do when they purchase a truck. He lightly let go of the wheel at medium speed to make sure the steering didn’t pull. He gave the gas pedal a workout.

He made sure the radio was working, although they couldn’t find any theme music. American radio went downhill a long time ago. There was a time when you could hear Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, or Spade Cooley on the airwaves. Today, nobody even knows who those guys are.

The graduate kept his window down. The fields of peanuts and cotton whipped by at fifty-five. The kid draped his hand out the window and made an airplane with his flat palm.

They stopped at a gas station. His dad got pork rinds and coffee. The graduate got spicy ghost-pepper beef jerky, the kind that will wreck a man’s bowels for the next nineteen years. Young man’s food.

“Can I drive?” said Dad, sounding like a young man himself.


So they switched places. Dad took the wheel and draped his flat palm out the window and made an airplane too.

And he thought about the graduate beside him. A boy who is older than the others in his graduating class. A kid who finished school much later than scheduled because of a traumatic brain injury during his freshman year, from an accident

The doc said the boy would probably never complete an education. The boy had to relearn to walk, to eat, and to use the bathroom. He relearned how to speak, too. And it was Dad who retaught him.

“After a TBI, it’s not just the big things that change,” Dad told me. “It’s little things.”

The graduate’s brain was suddenly overwhelmed by the smallest stimulation. Ceiling fans, fluorescent lighting, and distant sounds could cause near panic attacks. Sleep terrors became a thing. Many nights the kid woke up screaming for his father.

But enough about that. Because that’s over now, and everyone is feeling good.

All the physical therapy, all the rehab, all the emotional rises and dips. Now he’s in the saddle of a Silverado. A graduate. Unbelievable.

The sun blared through the windshield. The view was perfect. The backwoods of the Yellowhammer State are among the best kept secrets in the U.S.

Dad didn’t want the ride to end, so he took a few backroads to prolong it. He doubled back. Tripled back. He cut through hayfields, carved through forests, and zipped past cattle pastures where several pretty gals were standing on a hillside, chewing cud.

Eventually Dad pulled over at a familiar spot. Father and son leapt out of the truck, removed fishing rods from the truck bed, and they were doing the Andy-and-Opie stroll.

The kid jogged up the hill to the bass pond while Dad trailed behind. Three years ago, this kid was still using an aluminum roller walker. But now he’s jogging.

When Dad reached the pond, his son was there waiting, cheeks red from exertion, a little out of breath. The glory of youth shone about him, with hardly any evidence of trauma. They hugged. Not dramatically. These are guys we’re talking about.

But the point is they can hug. Not long ago, they couldn’t. It was too uncomfortable for the boy. Dad pressed his nose into the boy’s hair and kissed his head.

Dad knows that one day his graduate will be forced to navigate backroads by himself. Someday, this boy will have his own graduate to care for. And by then Dad will probably be playing the harp with Moses, Elvis, and Paul Bryant.

But that day is not today. Today they fish. Today they drive. Today they work on developing beautiful sunburns.

“Thanks, Dad,” the graduate says, mid-hug, his young voice muffled against his dad’s T-shirt. “I love my truck.”

Only 72,000 miles. Not a bad deal.


  1. oldlibrariansshelf - May 24, 2021 6:28 am

    Thank YOU, Sean Dietrich, for sharing the joy after the pain. You are one awesome journalist!

    • Eileen - May 24, 2021 7:04 am

      There is always a spark of familiarity in your stories. My oldest brother also was a TBI survivor from an auto accident. Doctors said if he lived that he would be nothing but a vegetable. Glad my mother didn’t believe that or give up on him. After being in a coma for months, he also relearned all those things we take for granted. After recovery he lived independently for another 28 years. Missing my big brother now going on five years, but so grateful to have had him for another twenty-eight.

  2. Liz Hoyt Eberle - May 24, 2021 7:17 am

    Thank you, Sean for sharing your words that help us be better people, or make us determined to try harder. Please don’t stop. Our tired souls need the sunshine you give us. May sweet Blessings fall on you.

  3. Debbie - May 24, 2021 10:16 am

    Wow, you’re good! Keep on sharing your sunshine, Sean….we need more stories like yours to remind us of the good in life. God bless you and yours.

  4. Christopher Spencer - May 24, 2021 10:42 am

    He wasn’t the valedictorian or salutatorian of his class. He didn’t make the Honor Society. He wasn’t a letterman on any sports teams at his school.
    But he overcame more than all those people combined did.
    May God bless him with a long, healthy and happy life.

  5. Tammy S. - May 24, 2021 10:53 am

    Love this one. Big Congratulations to this young man, and so many others like him, who overcame such odds to finish HS strong. And what a grad gift!! Really love this one!

  6. Bob Brenner - May 24, 2021 10:56 am

    The “love” of a parent is a special thing! Congratulations young man you will do just fine. Great job dad ❤️❤️

  7. Dee Jordan - May 24, 2021 11:05 am

    This one really tugged at my heart. Very good, Sean!

  8. Connie Wood - May 24, 2021 11:12 am

    You did it again, Sean! Excellent, touching and heartwarming. Thanks!

  9. Becky Kaufman - May 24, 2021 11:22 am

    I love his truck too.

  10. Susan Corbin - May 24, 2021 12:02 pm

    Sean, I wish you could hear my applause every day. I start my mornings with you and my coffee. And sometimes my box of tissues.

  11. robnrockin - May 24, 2021 12:23 pm

    I luv you Sean….thank you for todays column

  12. Jan - May 24, 2021 12:45 pm

    Another beautiful story … you make me believe life is full of beautiful stories! Thank you, Sean!

  13. Bobbie - May 24, 2021 1:29 pm

    Beautiful, sweet, sincere….tho all your stories are different, they have these qualities in common. They come from the heart, and yours, Sean, is over sized!! The comments too, are beautiful. They speak volumes about your readers. Love especially what Liz said…”may sweet blessings fall on you”. and I agree too ‘our souls are tired,’ Thank you for the refreshing and the lifting of spirits this Monday morning. So needed. God bless you❤️

  14. Molly - May 24, 2021 1:32 pm

    Your words paint beautiful pictures. Thank you!

  15. alisonbaird765 - May 24, 2021 1:48 pm

    You do know how to make me cry! Beautiful story!

  16. Jed Dillard - May 24, 2021 2:06 pm

    Thanks for that

    I had a concussion that led to fluid on my brain my freshman year in high school. Surgery was successful and I was generally unaffected.

    I had another much more serious TBI at 40. One that temporarily affected my cognitive abilities and leaving almost continual doubts of whether I’m really OK. Stock reply, Back to normal? At least back to how I used to be.

    Each time I read of those whose recovery was less total than mine I realize again how fortunate I have been.

  17. Brenda Petty - May 24, 2021 2:29 pm

    Thank you for helping us to see beyond the story… that love transcends all and is critical to healing and growing! May the Lord continue to bless you and yours!

  18. Christina - May 24, 2021 3:52 pm

    I can smell the deep joy and tender love in the air! Congrats father and son!

  19. Katherine D Jones - May 24, 2021 4:47 pm

    Wow! Once again, Sean, you’ve done it. As a TBI survivor, (Traumatic Brain Injury) myself, I can say how wonderful it is to have this story to relate to. THANK YOU, Sean – for so tenderly and Completely sharing this sweet story with us all! You have no idea what it means to have someone share this with others. Thank you, Thank you, and Thank you again!

  20. MAM - May 24, 2021 4:59 pm


  21. Linda Moon - May 24, 2021 5:14 pm

    Rural scenic highways from central to north Alabama are some of my favorite roads most travelled. I listened to those radio airwave guys, but I didn’t know that Spade Cooley came to a bad end until just now after a brief internet search. Old waves for listening are better than digital sound, but the necessary search served its purpose. Let’s keep those roads a secret to keep too many other drivers away, o.k.? But, I will be happy to share Alabama roads with the graduate and his dad any time! What a story of hope you gave us today, Writer.

  22. Tom - May 24, 2021 5:27 pm

    This made my eyes leak. This young man is a fighter. I can relate to the dad, boy, and truck scene. I raised 2 and ain’t nothing better than a boy getting his first used F-150.

  23. Blake - May 24, 2021 5:48 pm

    My allergies just suddenly got a lot worse. Especially around my eyes.

  24. Larry Wall - May 24, 2021 8:02 pm

    A true American dad who knew where to focus his love and attention. And, boy, it paid off and will continue to pay off. Not only for that family but for us all. Hope that the fishing was great at that pond.

  25. Steve McCaleb - May 24, 2021 9:13 pm

    I had gotten to the point that I just couldn’t watch the news or read the paper anymore. Bad news, shootouts, child abuse, animal cruelty, dang Emus trying to sell me insurance and a commercial where 20 people all say”Free…free…free til my gourd is about to ignite. Lord help us all. Then I started reading you every …EVERY day. My attitude has improved and I haven’t threatened anybody with a firearm in weeks. Thank you for reminding us that there’s still some humanity out there. We just got to dig a little deeper for it these days. Keep digging son, keep digging. Please


Leave a Comment