Too Young

And he was a blue collar man. It’s impossible for me to tell you much about him without highlighting that. His uniform was denim.

He was outdoorsy. More outdoorsy than me. Don’t get me wrong. I love the outdoors just as much as the next guy. Sometimes, I spend all day watching movies that were filmed entirely outdoors. But he was different.

He smelled like the outdoors. That’s what I remember most about him. It was a leathery smell. Like soot, and foliage, and dirt.

He smelled like this because he worshipped his lawn. The man could waste entire weeks obsessing about one little brown spot in his yard. And he would work in the flower beds more than most peoples’ grandmothers ever did.

He was a blue collar man. It’s impossible for me to tell you much about him without highlighting that. His uniform was denim. He wore it every single day. Except Sundays. He was an ironworker. A union man. I never saw him sit in anything but a Ford.

On weekends, however, he was a certified nutcase.

Once, he had the bright idea to conduct a controlled burn on our land. Thirteen acres of tall, dry grass. His friends told him it was a bad idea, but like I said, he was a nut.

On Saturday morning, he drove the truck around the property; his buddy rode on the tailgate, dumping gasoline onto the grass. They spent half the day saturating the land. Then he parked near the house and lit a match. One match.

Boom.

Thirteen acres exploded. The fire department was called. The police were called. I think he even made the paper.

It took a full day to put the fire out. And when it was all said and done, my father was covered in black soot, head to toe. He said, “Well, that was a bad idea.”

I remember those words exactly.

Another story I remember. He was driving and he saw this man on the highway whose car broke down on the side of the road. He stopped.

My father hopped out of the truck. He told the man to pop the hood. My father labored for hours. When he finally fixed the car, the man offered to pay him. My father was offended. He held up his hands and said, “I don’t want your money.”

So the man offered him an unfiltered cigarette.

My father didn’t smoke. He had quit smoking a long time ago. But didn’t want to be rude. So he accepted.

He smoked a cigarette with that man and shot the breeze. Then the man said, “How about a few more for the road?” The man gave my father the entire carton of cigarettes.

My father took them. But he never smoked a single one.

He said to me, “Sometimes you just gotta let them give you something, makes’em feel good.”

There was the time he bought my first piano. It was on my birthday. He placed it in the basement and surprised me with it. He refused to buy me lessons. He believed that if I wanted to play piano, I simply would.

So I practiced for hours. And years. And decades. Soon, I was playing in church every Sunday. Much later in my life, I would play in rundown beer joints for extra money. It was not a glamorous life, but I liked it. And it was all thanks to him.

When I was in my twenties, I thought I was good enough to get into college on a piano scholarship. I wasn’t. Not even close. They turned me down because I couldn’t read music.

Sometimes, I wonder how my father would have reacted to the new world. What would he think of cell phones? What about IPA beer? Or online shopping?

His world wasn’t high-tech. The life he knew was slower. Radio was still important, newspaper was king.

He was the kind of man who loved books. He read so much that he ruined his eyes. I still see visions of him in my memory. Lying in his bed. A book in his hands.

Twain. Doyle. Michener. Ludlum. Clancy. Steinbeck.

I wonder what it would have been like for him to read one of my books? Would he have liked my writing? Or would I have bored him to death? Like I’m doing to you right now.

Would he have thought much of the man I became? Would we have gotten along? Would he like me?

I’ll never know because I grew up without him. He is a memory to me. I think that if I were to meet him today I would have discovered that we weren’t anything alike. I don’t look at life the same way. I don’t care about my lawn like he did.

Certainly, I try to stop and help people on the side of the road, but not as often as he used to. And I don’t think I could handle an unfiltered cigarette.

He was only a few years older than I am now when he died. When I look in the mirror, I think about that. He was a baby. He was too young. He didn’t even have gray hair.

I remember so little about him that sometimes he seems more idea than person. Even so, if I close my eyes I can still smell him. He smells like soot. And leather. Like foliage, and dirt. Like being outdoors.

And I will forever be sorry that he chose to die.

Happy birthday, Daddy.

50 comments

  1. Donna - September 11, 2019 8:03 am

    What a lovely tribute. He would like you Sean, he would definitely like you.

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - September 11, 2019 6:21 pm

      Amen Donna. Amen.

      Reply
  2. Michelle - September 11, 2019 9:30 am

    My daddy was also a union man. He was a blue collar worker, as well. Daddy was born and raised on a farm and could fix anything. He could not understand the grown men that did not mow their own grass and change the oil in their vehicles themselves. He asked for very little for himself. He loved Jesus, his family, this country, and Alabama football. He has been gone a little over a year now and I miss him everyday.

    Reply
  3. Nancy - September 11, 2019 9:55 am

    Sean, you never, ever bore us and I believe your Dad would have loved your writing. He would have been so proud of the man you’ve become in spite of and because of life’s circumstances. This one was beautiful. Happy Birthday in heaven Sean’s Daddy.

    Reply
  4. GaryD - September 11, 2019 9:55 am

    Your stories are always entertaining, never boring.

    Reply
  5. Trudy Innes - September 11, 2019 10:07 am

    You are special and are loved. He would know both of those things and be so proud of the man you are. Thank you for sharing your life with us every day. It is lovely.

    Reply
  6. Jennifer Hill - September 11, 2019 10:20 am

    I am forever grateful I found your writing. Thank you for making my days better! ❤️

    Reply
  7. Jean - September 11, 2019 10:46 am

    You are never boring….I lost my dad at 64 to pancreatic cancer. Far too young and I will always miss him and wonder what could have been. Happy Birthday to your Dad.

    Reply
  8. Jill - September 11, 2019 11:46 am

    I will raise a toast to your Dad today while trimming a shrub today, and watering my humble garden. In salutaton for his big heart. Lovely story, Sean.

    Reply
  9. catherine Deloney - September 11, 2019 11:59 am

    Your father reads your every word. He in every word and thought you speak and have. He’s absolutely proud of you. It’s very sad he chose to leave life so early. I don’t think he had much control over that, but he lives on through you. Love the memories.

    Reply
  10. sparkerlpc - September 11, 2019 12:04 pm

    Hugging you today, Sean, from way over here in Texas. Your Daddy would love you today, and would most certainly like you. From your writing, you seem like a very likeable person, to me.
    And your Daddy, unfettered by the depression that plagued him, would see you and himself clearly. And he would respect you both.
    More hugs!
    Susan

    Reply
  11. Dee - September 11, 2019 12:15 pm

    Your dad sounds like a unique and wonderful man. I am sure he is always with you. Death is simply a doorway. I lost my father to cancer when I was 34. I still think sometimes “Boy Dad would love that!” I still wish I could call him. Sometimes, when I am stressed out or upset, I smell his aftershave. He is still with me. I’m sure your dad is with you. Hugs.

    Reply
  12. MermaidGrammy - September 11, 2019 12:17 pm

    Oh! He loves you. He’s so proud of you. He wishes he were a grandpa and he’s not only read all your books, but every column, as well.

    Reply
  13. Karen - September 11, 2019 12:31 pm

    It always breaks my heart when you write about your father. Sending you love today.

    Reply
  14. Sandi. - September 11, 2019 12:50 pm

    Sean, without a doubt your daddy would be very pleased and proud of how your life has turned out and the many books you’re already authored. I didn’t realize he was born on the same day as the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks on American soil. I know your heart is thinking of him more today than that other news from long ago. Keep his memory alive by sharing details about his life. Don’t you just know he would adore Jamie?

    Reply
  15. Karen - September 11, 2019 12:50 pm

    Good morning Sean! I share your sweet daddy’s birthday, and also lived with losing a granddaddy by suicide when I was eight years old. It is hard living life after a suicide of someone close. But God provided a strength and peace like I never witnessed in my family’s life, which drew me, and others, to come to know HIM, and for this I am forever grateful. I’m pretty should that you and your daddy would be like two “peas in a pod”, if he was still on this earth. But I believe in my heart and soul, that he is tending God’s beautiful garden, with my granddaddy, on this Birthday! Thank you for all you write, speak and do with you blessings from God!

    Reply
  16. donna - September 11, 2019 12:58 pm

    This one really got me. My Dad was an ironworker too, he had a massive heart attack at 43. I had just graduated high school so I often have the same thoughts – what would he think about life today, about me and my choices. I know we would have butted-heads many times but I will always honor his memory and follow his teachings. We have very similar memories of our Fathers, thanks for sharing yours.

    Reply
  17. Connie Havard Ryland - September 11, 2019 1:14 pm

    I love this. I agree. He was too young. A friend of our family just lost a person to suicide. It just breaks my heart for the family and for the person himself. Sending extra love and hugs today from Alabama.

    Reply
  18. georgedu - September 11, 2019 1:28 pm

    Your writing paints memories in such a beautiful way. Your dad’s humility and graciousness are a needed example.

    Reply
  19. That's jack - September 11, 2019 1:33 pm

    All I can say from my lofty age perch in life is YES! THAT WAS TOO YOUNG! But you have memories, we have memories ant they can ‘ruin’ us or brighten our life. I think his memory (on the whole) brightens your life. It is the GOOD, son, the Good to try to look at….
    Sherry and jack out in Barney Fife country!

    Reply
  20. Dianne - September 11, 2019 1:34 pm

    Happy Heavenly Birthday to your Daddy. Today is my birthday. I am glad we can share!

    Reply
  21. P - September 11, 2019 1:39 pm

    And he told you to keep running your mouth and write it all down. I am thankful for that gift he gave you as well. I believe he’d love your stories.

    Reply
  22. Mary Williams - September 11, 2019 1:40 pm

    We understand our parents more as we get older. You either emulate the lessons you learned from them, or you do better. Your father sounds like he was extremely bright, extremely troubled, a deep thinker, and extremely loving in all the ways that count. He would be so proud of you.

    Reply
  23. Sal - September 11, 2019 1:43 pm

    Thanks Sean for sharing these reflections of your dad. His legacy is being lived
    Out though you. Keep
    On sharing your thoughts in your unique style.
    Sal

    Reply
  24. Karen Murphy - September 11, 2019 1:53 pm

    Such a gift of words. A great tribute to your father. I think he would be proud of you. Proud of your loving and generous spirit. Proud of the way you use words to impact others for the better. Thank you for making my days brighter, with laughter and tears. Hugs on your dad’s birthday.

    Reply
  25. Bette - September 11, 2019 2:18 pm

    What is the drawing today??

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - September 11, 2019 6:27 pm

      Boots..Probably Dad’s. And Sean has more than filled them!

      Reply
  26. Shelton A. - September 11, 2019 2:21 pm

    God will watch over your father until the day comes that you join him. I think he will love you and like you. You’re a good man Sean and there aren’t enough like you to go around.

    Reply
  27. Julie P. - September 11, 2019 2:35 pm

    Your father would be so very proud, Sean. Sending hugs.

    Reply
  28. Laurie Ann Wasilewski - September 11, 2019 2:42 pm

    My heart aches for you and for your dad, Sean. He has missed out on witnessing a wonderful and talented man!

    Reply
  29. Denise Clarke - September 11, 2019 2:46 pm

    He would be so very proud of you!

    Reply
  30. Emjay - September 11, 2019 3:08 pm

    Like Marigold and Ruth/Maggie you feel the connection deep in your soul. And I believe you know very well your dad would be so proud he’d be busting his buttons over the man you’ve made of yourself. That’s what parents want most: to start a child off right so he can triumph over all that life throws at him. You are a blessing to so many people – and that I believe is what most of us want from our lives.

    Reply
  31. Annette chandler - September 11, 2019 3:11 pm

    He would be proud of you!

    Reply
  32. Lisa Perkins - September 11, 2019 3:25 pm

    I’m absolutely sure he would be proud of you. He’s smiling down on you from Heaven right now! 🤗🌟💕

    Reply
  33. Linda Moon - September 11, 2019 3:40 pm

    You had me at “Too Young”. I knew this post would be about your dad before I began to read it. “And I will be forever sorry that he chose to die”. These are the most poignant words I’ve ever read or heard to describe suicide. Those of us who have lost someone we love to suicide love know the sentiment of those words. Happy Birthday to your dad, Sean, and keep telling his stories!!

    Reply
    • Linda Moon - September 11, 2019 3:45 pm

      I made a couple of gaffs in posting my reply above, through misty eyes as I typed. Survivors of Suicide understand exactly how you feel, Sean.

      Reply
  34. Dawn A Bratcher - September 11, 2019 5:03 pm

    The choices we make can effect everyone close to us. It is a ripple effect. You are the most wonderful, caring, sensitive, thoughtful, humerous, joyful human being God placed on this earth to do the best you could in whatever situation you found yourself in!
    Your daddy did the best he could. Happy Birthday.

    Reply
  35. Janie F. - September 11, 2019 5:05 pm

    Happy Heavenly Birthday Mr. Dietrich! Those of us still here on earth are blessed by your talented son every day. He has a talent for writing from the heart that few have. You are at the core of some of his best writing. We feel as though we know and love you too.

    Reply
  36. Cathy Moss - September 11, 2019 5:33 pm

    Hey Sean, I think your dad is smiling down from heaven bursting with pride over the wonderful man you have become. My died 50 yrs ago from s massive heart attack. He was 49 and it was just before my 21st bday. My life has never been the same even though I am blessed with a good husband. Three well married children and eight wonderful grandchildren. Something has always been missing. His love for me was deep. They will always be with us. Every day. Whispering in our ear when we need them. Trust me, he is so proud. Happy birthday to your dad. You are the bomb❤️👍🙏🏻

    Reply
  37. Susan Harris - September 11, 2019 6:10 pm

    Your Dad would be proud of who you’ve become and he would love your writing!

    Reply
  38. Darren Gusnowsky - September 11, 2019 6:13 pm

    Sean. You are a story teller, sometimes wandering (that’s what makes a great story teller imho) but never boring. Happy Birthday to your Dad.

    Reply
  39. Edna B. - September 11, 2019 6:33 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to your Dad. He would certainly be proud of you Sean. You have a super day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  40. Edy - September 11, 2019 7:12 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss.

    Reply
  41. Naomi - September 11, 2019 7:43 pm

    I wrote this very long reply this morning and it just disappeared. My parents lived in Birmingham, Alabama, where I was born and raised. When I got married, my husband and I moved to Illinois for his job. My husband and our 5-year-old son and 2 year-old daughter spent Thanksgiving, 1968, with them. Thanksgiving night, my father had a heart attack but we didn’t know it was a heart attack at the time; he was complaining about his left arm hurting so we called his doctor, who made a house call and gave him an injection for pain. We couldn’t stay; we had to get back to Ill. for our jobs and both of us were going to college. A few weeks later my brother called and told me that our father had another heart attack and was in the hospital. I kept trying to call him but he never answered the phone. When I finally reached him, I asked him why he was never in his room. He told me that he was sitting with other patients who didn’t have visitors. I told him that I loved him and he told me he loved me. I got another call on New Year’s Eve from my mother telling me that my father had died. That was in 1968, just two weeks after his 65th birthday. I was a daddy’s girl and I thought that my world had ended that New Year’s Eve so many years ago.

    Reply
  42. Nita Risher McGlawn - September 12, 2019 12:18 am

    Dear Sean,

    My only sibling, Nora, was born on September 11, 1949. She too, is no longer with us. They both shared Coach Bryant’s birthday.

    Reply
  43. Darla - September 12, 2019 12:27 pm

    Yes. Yes and yes. Your dad would be very proud of the human you have become and the life you live. Your dad would enjoy reading your written word and undoubtedly you would be his favorite author. Not because of blood, but because of the uncanny way you describe Southern life. You are everything that is good about Southern living. Lastly, he would genuinely like and respect you. I am sad you never were able to experience those things first hand.

    As a side note, as someone who has struggled with suicide, I want to tell you suicide has nothing to do with a lack of love for those closest to us. Suicide also has nothing to do with death. Suicide has everything to do with constant or long standing pain, generally emotional, that is unbearable. Suicide or a suicide attempt seems to the person to be the last available coping strategy in the tool box at the time. The deeper the pain and the longer it continues, the less clear the individual is able to think.

    You are a good man Sean and a damn fine wordsmith.

    Reply
  44. Christine Twiss - September 12, 2019 1:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing your loving heart with us. You are a gift to us.

    Reply
  45. Steve Winfield - September 12, 2019 2:39 pm

    Dad raised my brother & me solo. Canned bisquits with Parkay & Yellow Label Syrup. He hauled gas for Standard Oil / Chevron for 39 years. 3 years Army during Korea. Witnessed the nuking of Bikini Island.
    Been gone since 9/16/98.

    Reply
  46. Lynn Reese - September 12, 2019 2:48 pm

    Sean, I think you remember some really important things about your daddy. And that he would feel honored to be your friend as well as being your dad.

    Reply
    • Lainey - September 13, 2019 4:50 am

      My best friend growing up took her life when we were 20. She was a gifted musician. We often entertained at local events. She could hear a song on the radio, sit at the piano and play it in whatever key fit my voice range. She was gifted and she loved largely. All I have left is one photo of us and the unforgettable privilege of knowing her. She lead me to Christ.

      Reply

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