The Soloist

I was 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 an outfield triple.

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.

“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.

And…

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, “That’s 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 how proud they make you.

39 comments

  1. Bkr - December 10, 2021 3:41 am

    Whoa. That was a gut punch. Point well made. Thank you and have a really really good Christmas. All year long.

    Reply
  2. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - December 10, 2021 3:47 am

    That’s a wonderful memory for you. Your dad was proud of you. Don’t ever forget that!

    Reply
  3. dianakinser55 - December 10, 2021 3:56 am

    And tell them no matter how old they are! They will always want to hear it. I think I’ll call my son who is 36 and helping his GF raise her five kids…..

    Reply
  4. Sheri - December 10, 2021 3:58 am

    Wow! Sean you knocked it out of the park! Your dad loved you so very much – always remember that! Merry Christmas to you and Jamie and the furry kids!

    Reply
  5. Lisa K Riley - December 10, 2021 4:07 am

    Just when I think I’ll make it through one of your stories without losing it, you throw a curve ball like the next to last sentence. Dadgum it, Sean. I don’t care if you’re 15 or 45 like I was, losing your daddy hurts. My kids are struggling with that now. Their daddy’s been gone 7 weeks. Praying for all to find peace this Christmas.

    Reply
  6. MAM - December 10, 2021 4:29 am

    Your last Christmas together, but you still remember how proud he was of you! And it was your father being there, and God helping you sing that made you YOU. That was a curve ball you threw at us. But you knocked this story out of the park. Merry Christmas, Sean, and remember always the pride your father had in you. He’s still looking out for you, you know. And you bat 1,000 with your writings! He’s proud of you for that, too. He knows!

    Reply
  7. Sandra - December 10, 2021 5:22 am

    I count my blessings everyday for my children and grandchildren. When I talk to them or text them, the last thing I say is I love you. I am so proud of all of them. We have always been so close. Thank you God. And thank you Sean . Hope you and Jamie have a blessed Christmas. ♥️🙏🏻

    Reply
  8. Karen+Erwin-Brown - December 10, 2021 11:25 am

    Merry Christmas

    Reply
  9. Shirley - December 10, 2021 12:13 pm

    Sean
    Tears flowed with this one. You’re the gift this Season. You light the way for me to keep singing no matter what happened or is going to happen. Words are more powerful than guns and money and please keep putting words together that inspire us who read your blog to keep singing no matter what.
    Thank you so much.
    Shirley

    Reply
  10. stephenpe - December 10, 2021 12:22 pm

    Your daddy sounds like he was a good man. You certainly appear to be a good man. You bring us a lot of good will with your writing. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. Karen Snyder - December 10, 2021 1:23 pm

    ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  12. Paul McCutchen - December 10, 2021 1:36 pm

    Ya’ll have a great holiday

    Reply
  13. Judy Smith - December 10, 2021 2:27 pm

    Thank You so much. Your Dad was and still is a true man who knew how to love with a Father’s heart.
    I wish there were more Fathers like him.

    Reply
  14. Jeanette - December 10, 2021 2:40 pm

    Dammit Sean!!! Merry Christmas

    Reply
  15. Gayle Dodds - December 10, 2021 3:16 pm

    For someone who went through hell you write the most beautiful emotional remembrances

    Reply
    • Debbie - December 15, 2021 2:45 am

      Best comment I’ve ever seen here! Perfect truth!

      Reply
  16. Cathy Boswell - December 10, 2021 3:19 pm

    Oh, right in the feels…. now excuse me while I text my grown kids and tell them how much I love them and how proud I am of them

    Reply
  17. Deborah Guttridge - December 10, 2021 3:21 pm

    Well Sean I only knew about your articles several months ago from a dear friend and she said I’d laugh hysterically at your articles or cry like a baby. Both have been so true. I loved Lewis Gizzard, and you remind me of him. I love that you write from a southern perspective. I’m originally from Mars Hill, NC right up in the Blue RIDGE Mts. But have lived in Central FL for years. I’m a southern woman thur and thur and was raised up to love America, family and faith.
    However I also had a dysfunctional family, but also taught the right things. I have heard you speak so fondly of your Dad, even thou you were devastated as a young boy of your Dad’s passing and how he passed. Suicide leaves you feeling so helpless.

    At the young age of 21, I lost my step mother and my Dad to a homicide and then suicide of my Daddy. He drank, but would still give you the shirt off his back and was known for that more than his other mistakes thur his life.. Your never the same after experiencing that for sure, but with God’s grace and Jesus in your life and other family members helping you, you can become a successful, caring human being to your children, grandchildren and others. My heart goes out to you, but you as well have become successful, loving, kind, seems like you adore your sweet wife…..and have sense of humor which in itself helps us to survive. I’ve never commented on this site, hope it will encourage someone else. May God bless you and your family with peace, love, as you continue to bless people and make us laugh. I can’t wait to read your article everyday and have told others about you.

    Reply
  18. Joni - December 10, 2021 3:31 pm

    I read your articles everyday. This morning’s made me cry. You are talented and you see the beauty that’s left in the world. Thank you for showing it to us. I got rid of my news apps and read this instead. No regrets.

    Reply
    • Karen - December 10, 2021 3:46 pm

      That is love.

      Reply
  19. Joy Jacobs - December 10, 2021 3:35 pm

    Wow. So glad for good memories you can have with your dad. He’d be proud of you! ❤️

    Reply
  20. tckk - December 10, 2021 3:43 pm

    Wow!!

    Reply
  21. Cindy Foster - December 10, 2021 4:11 pm

    Awwwwwe precious memories!

    Reply
  22. Tom Wallin - December 10, 2021 4:18 pm

    Sean, he was proud of you and even more proud od you today and what you have become. Merry Christmas.

    Reply
  23. Clara Martin - December 10, 2021 4:41 pm

    This came after an wonderful high school Christmas concert where my friend’s great niece sang a solo instead of the planned duet because the other singer had to be in quarantine for COVID symptoms. She did a fantastic job all by herself and we were so proud of her to be brave and do this on her own. I sent her your column and told her what a small world it is to have this come out right after her performance. She is having some family issues at this time and feels very unloved, but we keep telling her this will pass and it will make her stronger. Thank you so much for a timely and special piece today!

    Reply
  24. Stacey Wallace - December 10, 2021 5:05 pm

    God bless you, Sean. I know that your Daddy is still very proud of you.

    Reply
  25. Pingback: Sean of the South: The Soloist | The Trussville Tribune

  26. Linda Moon - December 10, 2021 6:17 pm

    My son’s father (who was his coach) often tried to dispute the umpire…and that’s all I’ll say about that. I’m glad you gave us a glimpse of your father’s pride. It would’ve been worthy of of Ms. L’engle’s penning, but all it’s all here in your words. You’ve made your daddy proud. And another 11-year old boy who’s all grown up now is making his daddy (who was like yours) proud, too.

    Reply
  27. Gayle Wilson - December 10, 2021 6:21 pm

    Sean, you continue to bring us to the highest of heights and then to our knees. Today was a knee day. In its own way you took lemons and made lemonade. Thank you.

    Reply
  28. Fran Jackson - December 10, 2021 6:50 pm

    Thank you. You are so special. My son died seven months ago today. I miss him so. Reading your blog every morning helps get me through the day. G-d bless you.

    Reply
  29. Patricia Gibson - December 10, 2021 8:15 pm

    A wonderful memory❤️❤️

    Reply
  30. Suellen - December 10, 2021 8:23 pm

    I was 36 when my Dad passed away from a massive heart attack. I had just gotten a new job that week. He was far from demonstrative but his last words to me were “show them what you’re made of, girl!”. Something like that sticks with you. Makes you want to work harder to make them proud. Now my kids are going to think I’m crazy for sending them “I LOVE YOU” texts today for no reason.

    Reply
  31. Susie - December 10, 2021 8:42 pm

    Sean, not only was your dad proud of you, we, all your fans, are, too!! You have had to overcome so much sadness and hard times. We agree with your dad; you’ve hit it out of the park….again and again, with all your sharing of love and such helpful words to us, just at the right times!! Love to you, Sean, and your family.

    Reply
  32. jstephenw - December 11, 2021 6:02 am

    Thank you Sean once again!

    Reply
  33. Christina - December 11, 2021 7:15 am

    Oh Sean, your dad must be so proud of you now as back then!

    Reply
  34. Kate - December 12, 2021 1:46 pm

    Sean, I have been reading your columns for several years now, and you have written so many I love, but this might be my favorite because of your Dad’s actions when the lady cut off your song. I love the fact that he loved you so much, it didn’t matter what he wore or how he looked, he loved you so much and he was going to support you come “hell or high water”. And he was going to protect you and encourage you and show you how proud he was of you. Love is always better demonstrated than spoken.

    Reply
  35. Dennis - December 12, 2021 2:51 pm

    Wonderful writing, and story … love how you described your Dad ! … just curious why your mother did not attend your performance? Maybe a subject for a follow up to this story. I would think a mom would never miss such an event.

    Reply
  36. marthajanecassidey9526 - December 13, 2021 7:08 pm

    Sean, I am so sorry that this was your last Christmas with your father. He sounds like he loved you so much! He must have been in tremendous pain to leave this world when you were so young.

    Reply
  37. Sallie Alston - December 16, 2021 1:13 am

    You were blessed to have your dad that long.. my dad was killed in a tank accident when I was 8 years old.. he loved me and I could feel it.. you knew he loved you too ! Merry Christmas Sean,
    Sallie, Aliceville

    Reply

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