The Letter

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.


  1. Trish - January 14, 2023 7:02 am

    A perfectly wonderful way to answer that child.

  2. Debbie j - January 14, 2023 7:41 am

    Beautiful words and encouragement Sean
    Loved your definition. Of a southern Baptist in the garden of Eden
    Love you and Jamie
    And love to all
    From a fellow raised southern Baptist 😂😂😂

  3. Steve Winfield(lifer) - January 14, 2023 9:44 am


  4. Julia - January 14, 2023 10:01 am

    Thank you Sean.

  5. Trish - January 14, 2023 12:08 pm

    I’m printing this for my red headed (no longer red) husband — he has gone through similar circumstances. Thank you for the uplifting words this morning!

  6. MR - January 14, 2023 12:34 pm

    Sean, today, you made the life of this 8 year old and everyone who read your words a little better. Thanks for honoring him and your Fathers. That was totally cool.

  7. Karen Liner Perry - January 14, 2023 1:20 pm

    I know your response meant the world to that little boy. Thoughtful & beautiful as always.

  8. Carolyn Allen - January 14, 2023 1:33 pm

    Sean, I love when you talk about how good your dad was! There was probably no one
    that he ever thought he was better than! That’s a great legacy to leave! I pray that this young boy will remember the good things about his dad!

  9. mccutchen52 - January 14, 2023 1:39 pm

    Way to go Sean…Makes me wish I was a redhead.

  10. Lynn B - January 14, 2023 2:08 pm

    I knew your dad had to be a truly great guy for you to miss him so very much! Those jokes! That heart! Wow! Thanks for keeping him alive for us to get to know him. He would be SO proud of you!!!

  11. Stacey Wallace - January 14, 2023 2:27 pm

    Sean, I love you. Thanks for making that sweet little boy feel special, just like your Daddy did for all those other little boys.

  12. Ruth - January 14, 2023 3:02 pm

    I second all these lovely comments!

  13. David - January 14, 2023 3:13 pm

    From one ginger to another, thank you for all you do. You are a great man!

  14. Sean of the South: The Letter | The Trussville Tribune - January 14, 2023 3:19 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South  […]

  15. Gigi - January 14, 2023 3:27 pm

    I’m a “chestnut”(almost auburn) and I love red hair. My favorite teacher was a redhead, and I married a redhead.
    Your response to the little redhead boy was perfect ! I hope he remembers his father with wonderful memories like you have of your father, who was obviously a great man !!!

  16. Barbara - January 14, 2023 3:36 pm

    God bless your sweet heart!

  17. Pam smith - January 14, 2023 5:12 pm

    Sean Dietrich, you’re the best❤️

  18. Sherrie Britton - January 14, 2023 5:27 pm

    What a beautiful way to help the little boy remember the goodness of his dad rather than the way he died. I too lost my dad to suicide. Yet I only remember all the wonderful things he did. Raising a family of 12 kids. Giving me the youngest just as much love and attention as his first born. My dad was a wonderful man whose heart broke over the death of his firstborn. Nothing to be ashamed of. He loved us all so dearly.

  19. Peggy M. Windham - January 14, 2023 6:14 pm

    LOL!! You made my day with your daddy’s jokes!! I love the southern Baptist one!! What a great message to this young boy!

  20. sjhl7 - January 14, 2023 6:52 pm

    What a beautiful message for your young friend and for us all. By the way, I learned that my red hair, which is no longer red, will never be the beautiful silver I wish for but will remain the pale yellow / dirty white I currently possess. Oh well …

  21. Marty Vredenburg - January 14, 2023 7:13 pm

    I love your heart and your way with words. God bless you.

  22. Barbarann Beckett - January 14, 2023 7:27 pm

    My mother was a red head. I am not. Too bad for me. But when she got older and her hair was “graying”, it turned blond, just like you said. People always wanted to know what she used on her hair to make it so blond. It was beautiful.

  23. Maggie Priestaf - January 14, 2023 8:07 pm

    God bless you, Sean…

  24. MAM - January 14, 2023 8:45 pm

    I laughed and laughed at the Southern Baptist one. My mom was Southern Baptist, and I think even she would have found it humorous. Good one! Thanks, Sean, for making us cry, laugh, or just think about things every day. And be happy that we live in the wonderful country with wonderful people that we must remember to appreciate.

  25. Joyce Hooper - January 14, 2023 8:56 pm

    Oh man!! You have done it again…touched the heart and soul of a child! You are definitely one of God’s angels! I was in education for over 34 years! I know that kids need a good education, but they truly need someone who sees them for their specialness! For that, God sent people like you!

  26. Susie - January 14, 2023 9:37 pm

    Awesome, Sean, and sweet.

  27. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - January 14, 2023 10:13 pm

    God bless you Sean. That little boy needed to hear that about his dad!

  28. Doug - January 14, 2023 10:24 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us, Sean. I hope the kid
    takes it to heart. It may help him. Wonderful column in any case. I
    hope it helped YOU to write it.

  29. Diane - January 14, 2023 11:35 pm

    Beautiful on SO many levels! But…red hair does turn gray 😅

  30. Helen De Prima - January 15, 2023 2:40 am

    Another straight-from-the-heart masterpiece.

  31. AlaRedClayGirl - January 15, 2023 2:59 am

    Wow, just wow, what a letter!

  32. Patricia - January 15, 2023 7:43 am

    Precious words for this precious little eight year old! You made his day…his life! You changed his mindset…your words made him feel special! Thank you for sharing your heart with him and with us! You are a special person!

  33. Annie - January 15, 2023 11:39 pm

    I love you.

  34. Lois Murr - January 16, 2023 12:49 am

    Beautifully said, Sean. Thank you!

  35. Barbara Rivers - January 17, 2023 7:09 pm

    I love this sweet note to this little guy! Thank you!

  36. denise - January 20, 2023 2:37 am

    As always thank you for a story well written, especially to a child. God bless you. B7sy MO

  37. Ginny Andersen - January 20, 2023 5:25 pm

    Hi Sean,
    I’ve been reading your column for some time now and have never commented. Every time you talk about your dad and the circumstances of his death, I think, “I really need to say something to Sean”. I do not know the statistics, nor do I want to, but you seem to research things like this and it has to be mentioned in the area of suicide. Not all suicides are successful. The aftermath can be anywhere from minor to major with consequences that leave people permanently affected. My father attempted suicide several times and the last time left him with some serious physical consequences that also affected his mental attitude. It was sad. I so appreciate your tone and approach to this subject. Thank you, Sean.


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