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?”
“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 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 know how proud they make you.
Brenda - December 11, 2018 6:54 am
I needed this, I have 2 great children, and I need to tell them. Thanks for reminding me, and Sean I am proud of you also.
N Allison Nist - December 11, 2018 7:39 am
I think this is your most humble, and beautiful, of all your columns so far. Your Dad would be- is, (I can feel him) so proud of you, his son, Sean.
Kristine Wehrheim - December 11, 2018 8:31 am
Pamela Verbel - December 11, 2018 9:04 am
Thank you for sharing your beautiful Christmas memory. Truly a heartfelt gift to me and all your readers. Merry Christmas, Sean.
Camille Atkins - December 11, 2018 9:39 am
Sean, in case you didn’t already know, you had a terrific father who loved you unconditionally. I wish he could see you now and in case he can, he just said, ‘that’s my boy.’
Marilyn Ward Vance - December 11, 2018 9:48 am
You knocked this one out of the park, too…..
GaryD - December 11, 2018 10:45 am
Your father was proud of you. Don’t you ever forget that. Merry Christmas!
Ella Herlihy - December 11, 2018 10:55 am
❤️ That was my dad too. Stood up for me when I needed it, was always there, and I knew I was loved and he was proud of me. Miss him so. This time of year we all need somebody who makes us feel loved. Let’s be that somebody for somebody today. Thanks for inspiring me.
Nancy Rogers - December 11, 2018 11:26 am
Oh Sean, this was truly the best memory of your Father yet. Bless him. Bless you.
Karen - December 11, 2018 12:25 pm
I can’t imagine how hard it must be to reconcile his death, knowing how very much he loved you. There are some things we are unable to explain. May you find joy and love in all of your Christmas celebrations in your present and future.
Rhonda - December 11, 2018 12:46 pm
What a precious memory! Thank you for sharing your dad with us. Merry Christmas.
Elizabeth Edens - December 11, 2018 12:49 pm
Wow! Wish I had heard it more. Now I’m gonna go tell my kids! Thank you for the reminder:-)
Liz Watkins - December 11, 2018 12:55 pm
Your Dad must’ve been super proud of you that night, and I suspect he’s smiling down on you saying, “That’s my boy!”
Merry Christmas Sean??????????
Susan - December 11, 2018 1:17 pm
Tears are flowing. Great story! Thank you for sharing and I agree with Liz Watkins. He is totally smiling down on you!
Jo Ann - December 11, 2018 1:33 pm
Thanks, Sean. What a great memory of your dad. Apparently, a sad, sad man, but he sure did love you. Merry Christmas to you & your family, including the dogs, of course.
Lylabeth King - December 11, 2018 1:58 pm
Sean, your stories never fail to bring a smile or a tear or both. But always hope and joy. This one brought an ugly cry. And continued thankfulness for you and your writings and the way you bless me everyday.
Shana - December 11, 2018 2:03 pm
Best memory of your father yet. Thank you for sharing it with us. Merry Christmas to you and your family!
MermaidGrammy - December 11, 2018 2:36 pm
We’re all SO very proud of you. You have blessed my life
Connie Havard Ryland - December 11, 2018 2:39 pm
I love this memory. Thank you for sharing. Love and hugs.
Donna Harvey - December 11, 2018 2:43 pm
How wonderful a father’s love, just like our Father in Heaven. He was also proud of His Son, our Lord and Savior. Always make sure your family, friends and the Lord knows how much you love them, our time on earth is short. Don’t leave anything unfinished or unsaid.
That was a very beautiful story, Merry Christmas!
Debbie Britt - December 11, 2018 2:52 pm
Sitting here with tears in my eyes!
John Paschall - December 11, 2018 2:53 pm
A very touching story, to me.
Ruth Betts - December 11, 2018 3:18 pm
Peggy Savage - December 11, 2018 3:21 pm
That memory…your Christmas blessing.
Patricia Gibson - December 11, 2018 3:31 pm
Merry Christmas, Sean!
Steve Winfield - December 11, 2018 3:35 pm
I’m glad I’ve gotten to know you a year or so before reading this. Sure puts a lot of other things in perspective.
Raised by my dad & a nanny I was a wirey little kid. Scared to death of a baseball & sucked at music. I became a pretty fair magician & dad liked to show that off. I sure loved that.
What a great story today. Thanks for sharing your life.
Bev deJarnette - December 11, 2018 3:41 pm
Sean, your father is still so proud of you!! May I add that all of us who read your wonderful stories are proud of you also and a Merry Christmas to you and all your family-especially the dogs-and always remember those precious memories of your father. The one thing I know is that from your memories he loved you in abundance and his loss makes us all sad ?. But you are blessed with some precious memories of his love❤️❤️
Laurie Wasilewski - December 11, 2018 5:37 pm
Oh, Sean, how I wish your daddy was with you much, much longer. I’m so glad that you heard the words of pride from him. They will be with you forever!
Terri Butts - December 11, 2018 7:09 pm
Sean, you unfailingly cause me to choke up and even cry a little. This is a beautiful essay. I am so very happy that you have this amazing memory of your father. God bless you at Christmas and always for the lovely gifts you bestow on your readers.
Margaret Cade - December 11, 2018 7:18 pm
Sean, your father was proud of you, maybe not of himself. I don’t know. You honor him by keeping his memory alive, and that love will remain with you forever. Merry Christmas.
Edna B. - December 11, 2018 7:19 pm
That did it! This one brought tears to my tired old eyes. God bless that Daddy of yours! I try to tell my kids often how proud I am of them and that I love them. Sean, you have a blessed day, hugs, Edna B.
Cheryl - December 11, 2018 8:09 pm
Gordon - December 12, 2018 12:36 am
Beautiful Sean. Simply beautiful! Your life stories truly touch so many folks. I am thankful that you so freely share your life and life lessons with us. Merry Christmas
Eiizabeth - December 12, 2018 3:06 am
Beautiful story…made me cry.
Robert Chiles - December 12, 2018 3:33 am
Out of the park…
Fran Dean - December 12, 2018 5:13 am
You lost your father at a young age and in such a tragic way, but the precious memories you have stored away are priceless. Some people have their fathers into old age, and never have a closeness with them or happy memories of being loved by them.
Minnie Tate Bourque - December 17, 2018 1:29 am
Amen, Sean, amen! Remember the good memories. Love….
Catherine - December 19, 2018 2:43 pm
Your dad gave you the most beautiful gift he could have possibly given you that Christmas~a memory that can never be taken away and that is forever tucked away in that huge heart of yours…