The letter came via snail mail. It was postmarked Richmond, Virginia. It was penned in a childish hand.
“My teacher reads your stories to our class sometimes and I wanted to know, can you write about me? If it’s not too much trouble for you to do?
“I am 8 years old. I don’t really have anything cool about me. I have red hair. But you can probably come up with something cool. My dad died this year the same way yours did, so my teacher said you are the same as me. It’s okay if you can’t write back.”
To the little boy in Richmond: Red is the most prestigious hair color in the world. That is not an opinion.
Fifty years ago, experts estimated that redheads made up approximately 8 percent of the earth’s population. But the percentage of redheads sharply decreases each year.
This year, the percentage is at an all-time low. About 1 percent of the world’s population have red hair. Ours is the rarest hair color in the solar system. So welcome to the club, friend.
Our red hair is caused by a gene called the MC1R gene. Genes are microscopic very scientific things in the human body. They float around in your bloodstream, wearing little lab coats and carrying around tiny clipboards and pocket protectors.
A gene is something your parents carry around with them, all the time. Sort of like auto insurance, only more dependable.
So if both your parents had the MC1R gene, this means that you have a 25 percent chance of being born with red hair.
Congratulations, your parents both had the MC1R gene. You’re a ginger. May God have mercy on your soul.
I got my red hair, personally, from my dad. My dad had the MC1R gene. He was a redhead. He came from a long line of redheads. Although when he got older, his hair became more auburn.
That’s something they don’t tell you about red hair. The pigment changes throughout your lifetime. In fact, red hair will never go gray. The pigment will only fade over time and appear white, or even blond. My hair has change shades thrice in my lifetime.
Of course, my father didn’t live long enough to find out what his hair would do.
My dad was very special. Everyone liked him. He was a good man who loved baseball, old movies and jokes. He had a prodigious memory when it came to jokes. He had a million of them.
“Yesterday, I went to buy camo hunting pants, I couldn’t find any.”
“When life gives you melons, you might be dyslexic.”
“Adam was a Southern Baptist, because only a Baptist could stand next to a naked woman and be tempted by fruit.”
“What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.”
My old man would have my little friends rolling on the ground. He was pretty great.
My dad coached our Little League team. He showed up to every practice with a World-War-II era duffel bag, filled with bats and balls and gloves. Our team was made up of a bunch of underprivileged kids. My father sought these unfortunate boys out.
Daddy would recruit kids from the sticks, boys who came from families without squat. Each year, our team would hold fundraisers so that every underprivileged boy had a nice, brand new uniform. My father gave them all free baseball gloves and free bats for Christmas.
This kind of thing was important to my father because he, too, grew up underprivileged. He knew what it meant to have nothing.
Before every practice, my father would drive his Ford all over town, picking up youngsters from squalid homes that featured blue tarps on the rooftops.
We boys rode in the bed of his F-100, happy as larks. Afterward, we all ate ice cream from Dairy Queen. Daddy paid for the ice cream. Because that’s the kind of guy my paw was.
I’ll bet your dad was pretty great, too.
So don’t remember your father by the way he died. Don’t let your dad’s life be defined by the word “suicide.” Your father was much more than an ugly word. Your father was a great man.
Today, your father lives with God himself. Just like mine. Your daddy was awesome. He carried some pretty great genes, too. We know this to be true because he helped make you.