All Parents are Terrible

Parents are terrible. You know this incontrovertible fact if you’ve ever read any published memoir about growing up. There’s one universal theme to all of them: the parents should be arrested and the key thrown away for the cruelty they inflicted on their progeny, the writer. If you were a space alien and the only thing you knew about the parenting practices of earthlings was what you read in books like The Glass Castle and Running With Scissors, you’d be justifiably horrified and immediately set about liberating the youth of the world through abduction (wait a minute, you don’t think…?). In fact, for a lot of coming-of-age memoirs, that literally is what the book is about: all-time, world class, terrible parenting. It’s the very best revenge anyone ever devised against all the therapy they had to shell out for later: immortalizing the parental misdeeds in print.

I suppose there’s a universality to that experience, and it certainly makes for good copy, but it’s pretty far from my own experience and, at the very least, the experiences of most people who belong to the same Church I do* (aka the culture I’m most familiar with). I tend to think there are more decent parents out there than bad, and I’ll hold up my own as a good, if imperfect, example.

*I say this having conducted no studies and done no polls, so I’m speaking mostly from experience and observation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church teachings provide a solid foundation for highly functional families. Any parents who draw from that deep, deep well are bound to get it more right than wrong.

Which brings up a good question: If I’ve written an entire book (tentative title: The Other Side of Fear) about my own growing up and my parents are a big part of it, how is the story I’m telling in any way interesting or exciting?

I guess it’s not. Save for a handful of chapters, my parents and I largely get along.

So, boring book.

I’m being a little facetious. Once you throw in the shootings, the murder, the bullies, the helicopters circling our house at 1am, the flooded city, the thief my dad runs down, the missionary tales, and everything else, you don’t really need to ladle bad parenting on top to have an interesting and exciting story. But bad parenting? No, that’s not really one of the ingredients I’m cooking with. My story is about growing up through through difficult things with good parents.

People clamor for good, clean, positive stories, but they flock to conflict and the controversial. These types of stories are not mutually exclusive, but they can be difficult to bring together, depending on the market and the audience, and, most importantly, the writer. Those who traffic in positivity can be afraid to let the real world in for fear they’re not being positive or uplifting enough. Their stories, consequently, can be, yeah, super boring. Meanwhile, those who focus mostly on conflict and controversy can easily choke out anything positive, or simply dismiss such notions altogether for fear of “watering down” or because their worldview doesn’t allow for it in the first place. I’m talking extremes here. The pendulum doesn’t only swing one way or the other, but I would argue that the mainstream creative world encourages a more cynical form of storytelling than not, and for good reason: it sells. At least, that’s the current thinking.

And I think it’s that kind of thinking that leads mainstream publishing towards bad parenting and cynical, isn’t-life-horrible? narratives, and away from any kind of positive, uplifting, religious narrative, even when done in a way that’s inclusive (another topic for another time).

I am not a fan of extreme positivity or extreme cynicism. Speaking of religion, I think good stories are like a religious life well-lived: accepting of the reality of the actual world we occupy while acknowledging the hope and reality that is above this world. It’s only when you combine the two things together that you get a story that is truly true and resonates and moves and uplifts and entertains and enlightens and encourages. You get your conflict and your controversy, and you slam it up against hope and positivity, and you end up with something that is dynamic. That isn’t so one-note and serves a defensible purpose.

My parents are both very human in the telling. They have flaws and foibles and quirks and maybe do not-so-great things because they are not perfect, godly beings. But, if I’ve done my job correctly, it all makes them more endearing than anything. There to prove them real and relatable, not to take them down. I can’t present them as real people if I only speak of them positively. And being real is the only way to get at the truth.

***

In other news…I’ve done a lot of the homework publisher Cedar Fort assigned me to get the book ready for publication. Writing my bio, submitting my author photo, etc. One of the big tasks that will take months to complete is reaching out to people for “endorsements.” These are the blurbs you read on the backs of books from people with some reputation whose praise you can trust. It’s a huge favor to ask someone of influence to read your book and appraise it, so I was a bit nervous to go out and ask. I hate asking for favors.

But, I’ve already gotten three “Yes” responses back! I can’t wait to share with you who they are (they’re very, very cool), but that feels premature right now and there’s always the chance they could read the manuscript, not like it, decline to offer their endorsement, and ask for monetary compensation for time wasted (wait…that’s not a thing, right?). But still, they’re willing to take a shot. Which is awesome.

Photo by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels

 

A Brief History of Mother’s Day Drawings – 2020 Edition

There’s only one compulsory gift I give to my wife, and this is it. Thankfully, I only have to do it every 3-4 years, on Mother’s Day.

I don’t know why she likes it so much. If I was married to me, I’d be sick of my art by now, but so long as she continues to love these “couch drawings,” I’ll continue to do them.

If she had her way, I’d do one every year, but the trick for me is to wait long enough that we have gone through some significant changes and I can represent that change in some way through the drawing. Otherwise, what’s the point?

What follows is a brief history of Mother’s Day drawings, going all the way back to 2007, and concluding with this year’s latest.

For the curious, though the drawings have changed, the method for creating them has remained the same: a rough pencil drawing turned into a more fleshed out pencil drawing, followed by an ink drawing done using a lightbox on smooth Bristol board. I use Microns: 005, 01, 05, 08, and 1. That ink drawing is then scanned in, brought into Photoshop, cleaned up, and colored in three layers: flats, shadows, and highlights. I’m not really much of a colorist, really. I have one method and I stick to it.

* * *

2007:

MothersDay2007

Full disclosure: this drawing makes me cringe. Literally, the only thing I think I pulled off well was my own face. Everything else is garbage. My opinion.

Subsequent Mother’s Day drawings would stick to a “sitting on the couch” theme (my wife calls them “couch drawings”), but with this first one I didn’t have anything like that in mind. I just wanted to do a drawing of my family and I wanted it to be simple and I wanted it to say something.

2007 was a rough, rough year for my little family. Cami, our youngest, was just 2-years-old. Very shortly after she was born in 2005, we discovered she had some severe physical and mental disabilities that, honestly, still do not feel totally real.

In 2007, Erin, my wife, was not okay. It would be another three years before she could totally accept Cami’s differences and in the meantime she filled her days with doctor visits, physical therapy sessions, trips to specialists in San Francisco, battles with the school district, and just trying to remain positive and healthy in the face of the realization of her greatest fear. We just wanted to know what was wrong with Cami. We wanted a diagnosis because the limbo of not knowing is a true, ugly, tear-filled Hell. We never got that diagnosis, and it took a long time to come to terms with that. This drawing was made when we were still in the thick of the pain.

I drew us happy and smiling. I drew Erin and I protecting and encircling our two girls. Our world was small at the time, and intentionally so. The more we kept to ourselves and away from the reminders of how different and disabled Cami was (i.e. all other typical children and their parents), the happier we were.

Cami did this thing back then where if you asked her how big she was, she’d raise her arms up high. Elora, our oldest, was an adorable, typical four-year-old with one killer dimple. Erin, apparently, had anime eyes. I had a big, floppy wave of hair. A lot of that would change.

2011:

MothersDay2011

This is a bit more like it. The first “couch drawing” came just after we had finally become the family we were supposed to be as Violet’s arrival that year opened up the world in a way we didn’t expect. Suddenly, the family and Erin’s attentions weren’t all about Cami anymore. This was needed. The hyper focus on Cami and her needs left little opportunity for Erin to actually be a mother like she wanted to be. Violet, a bright, sparkly breath of fresh air, gave Erin a chance to step back from Cami and get reconnected to her as a mom and not just as her doctor or therapist or teacher or lawyer or any other of the thousands of roles she was asked to play for Cami’s sake.

I decided to depict both Erin and Cami, 6,  as extremely happy. Cami had just gotten her haircut and donated her hair to charity, so she had this crazy cute short cut. In her hand is a duck toy she played with constantly… whose name I can’t remember now. Cami is a champion fidgeter and always needs something to whip back or forth or she’s just not happy.

Erin is holding Violet, 3 mo., who was basically a lump of smiley humanity at that point. She didn’t give me much to work with. I generally try to depict us in the actual clothes we wore at the time, but for some reason I chose to have Erin wear the shoes she was wearing when I first met her back in 1998. Somehow, I still remembered what they looked like.

Elora, 8, was big into peace signs at the time, and a fashion style we not-so-lovingly referred to as “hobo chic”. The child had nice clothes, but she refused to wear them in nice combinations. Since I was the artist, I chose to put her in the most fashionable outfit she had, but it certainly wasn’t how she always looked. Now, I kind of wish I had given her something a little more accurate and ratty.

As for me, I look way cooler than I actually did at the time. The frayed pants and sweet shoes are very true to the too-long pants and wife-selected shoes I wore at the time, but I hate, hate, hate clothes shopping. I generally hate all my clothes about two seconds after buying them. So, in this drawing I’m wearing a shirt I have never actually owned. But I thought it would be cool if I did, so…

2014:

MothersDay2014

Everything was going so well that year. In the time between this and the previous drawing, I’d been promoted to Art Director at work, Erin had started doing work as an on camera talent at the same company, we bought a new house, Elora was elected as Student Body President, Cami found a place to call just her own at the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch, and Violet was Violet. And there’s no getting Violet down. Erin and I even got the chance to vacation in Europe, a first visit for both of us. It was an incredible time.

I let Elora, 11, choose her own outfit for the drawing. It’s hard to tell, but her shirt depicts a dog riding a surfboard. It was her favorite. I have no idea why. She was also really into fluffy skirts and tutus at the time.

Cami, 9, experienced a serious growth spurt since the last drawing, and now her fidget toy of choice was a little Brobee (from Yo Gabba Gabba) doll. Her shirt shows off her newfound love of horses after her first year as a regular rider at Heart of the Horse.

I don’t know why I never thought to put our pets into the drawing before now, but I went for it this year. Oz, our dog on the couch, will never stop licking. He’s gross. On the floor, Batman the dog chases King George the cat–a daily occurrence.

Erin is wearing my favorite t-shirt of hers and a necklace with the first letter of each of our kids’ names on it. The necklace is tiny, but if you zoom in you can actually see it. Even though she was working part-time for the first time since Elora was born, she’d really come into her own as a mom and the pains and trials of yesteryear had developed into a strength. She’s an amazing woman.

Once again, save for the pants and shoes, I’m not actually wearing what I wore at the time. Also, I lost a lot of hair between the last drawing and this one, so I pushed my hairline back a bit and shortened it. I’ve also got a bit more going on in the chin–as in, I’m doubling it up a bit. Just a bit though.

Violet was a crazy person two years ago. Still is. She’s a spunky little thing and climbing around on the couch like a little gremlin absolutely fit her.

2016:

MothersDay2016

Hoo-boy. Shortly after the last drawing our world blew up. My wife and I both lost our jobs within 24 hours of each other and this captures us as we were rebuilding our careers and trying to stay afloat financially. It was a struggle that continued long past when the drawing was completed, and even continues to one degree or another today.

This couch is crowded, and that’s even after having taken the dog down from off it from last time. I’ve drawn us more closely together, like we’re circling the wagons a little bit. We endure our challenges and trials together.

Elora, 13, was quite the poised young woman then, and I needed to find some way to represent that, so I gave her a regal pose. She was only an inch shorter than Erin in 2016, and I think you can pretty much tell that just from this drawing. Once again, she picked out her own outfit.

Cami, 11, I chose to keep largely the same, save for a little weight gain. Cami looks like she’s five or six years old. She’s a bit perpetually frozen in time. Her shirt reads “Team Happy” and that’s the effect Cami has on people, and certainly on us. The previous Fall, she donated her hair again, so she’s back to the short hair.

Our pets, after several accidents, were no longer allowed on the couch, so they’re all stuck on the floor. Oz is particularly saddened by this.

Erin has returned to school that year to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s our professional, so now she gets a dark, professional look (this drawing is darker overall, which I think fits with how beaten up we all feel at this point). At her feet is her book bag. Also, after having drawn it on the wrong side for the past two drawings, I finally got the part in her hair going the right way.

I’m dressed like an 8th Grade boy, which is accurate to how I dressed then as I fulfilled my role as a stay-at-home dad and worked on various projects. The hat I wear has the Tremendum Pictures logo on it, where I worked (mostly at home) at the time as a writer (among other things). My shirt is actually a real shirt, one of very few I enjoy wearing. I don’t really care that it says Batman, I just like the fit. My shoes, you’ll notice, are the same from last time. My wardrobe was deteriorating at time because of both my hate for clothes shopping and our financial challenges. Also, you can barely tell in the drawing, but my temples are now gray.

Violet, 5, was just OBSESSED with Star Wars that year, and particularly with Rey. The costume she’s wearing was real and she wore it all the time, and she had the light saber, too. Still does, in fact. Her enthusiasm was adorable. The Star Wars fever extended to Cami as well. They’re the only movies she would ask for and her new fidget toy is a little Stormtrooper.

2020:

MDay2020Smaller

It’s a good thing I drew this before the COVID-19 pandemic, otherwise we might all be wearing masks.

This is the drawing I gave Erin today. This is certainly the BUSIEST drawing I’ve ever done in this series. And for good reason. The last four years have been, hands down, the busiest time of our lives (which is weird to say on Day 57 of quarantine). We have been running far, far away from our lives before the job loss and into something much more rewarding, but also scary. It’s a scary time in more ways than one.

Right off the top, I know what you’re thinking: the color of the couch is different. Okay, so you probably didn’t notice, but we finally switched up our real life couch color, and this reflects that.

Elora is a 17 year old Senior now, class of COVID-19. She dyes her hair black as night these days, and her wardrobe has changed to match. Despite all that darkness, she’s actually a positive, acerbically witty, and athletic (Badminton) young woman who we are trying to convince to live with us as long as possible while she’s in college. Since no actual high school graduation looks to be in her future, she’ll have to settle with the cap I’ve given her here.

Cami, 15, is her usual cheery self. She has grown a bit in the last few years, and we’re not quite sure if she’s done. Now that she’s in high school, I’ve dressed her a little older and little more fashionable. Her see-saw between long hair and short hair continues, but truthfully the long hair is the most constant. Her fidget toy this time around is a silicon potholder, which has turned out to be the most durable and cheapest out of all such toys we’ve ever given her. So, she has a lot of them.

Erin did get that Master’s Degree and has been working as a college professor ever since, at one school or another. Her wardrobe is still professional, but it’s got a little bit more of a casual touch to it than last time, signaling how much comfortable she is with her profession and how much she’s settled in. She’s smarter now, too, with that fancy degree, so, glasses! Around her neck is special necklace with each of our names on one of the four sides. Not readable in this drawing, but she knows what it is. And her hair is now curly. Again, I think it’s reflective of her comfort level with herself and her new occupation; she feels free to play more. Erin is all about purses and shoes, and what you see here are her latest and most prized acquisitions.

I pretty much always dress in black these days because it’s slimming and dieting and I are enemies. My career has taken a much wilder path since 2016, doing a lot of my own things, creating and working in all kinds of media, now with Stellar Lense Productions for some of it, but also as a published author and writer and director of my own films. To reflect that autonomy, I wear no logos now. You’ll also notice I look just a little older as my baby face is finally starting to show some lines, and there’s not even a hint of hair anymore. Underneath that hat is nothing. Male pattern baldness for the win.

Violet is a 9 year old with style to spare, and she’s not afraid to show it. She is an incredibly sweet girl with so, so much energy, so it still didn’t feel right to have her sitting properly on the couch. Her best friend is our new dog, Baxter, who doesn’t understand boundaries.

Our other pets, amazingly, still live. Our little dogs are around a decade old. Oz pretty much lays around all day, but Batman still has the energy and youth of a puppy. I don’t understand it. King George, our cat, is striking his usual pose. He is 80% fur and doesn’t care what you think or do. The house is his.

* * *

I’m so grateful for my amazing wife and for this little family we’ve managed to create together. Giant, giant Happy Mother’s Day to all the women out there! You do a great work.

I get asked all the time what I charge for “couch drawings.” They’re labor intensive and  not cheap. I rarely draw anymore, to be honest, so I have no prices for you! I just don’t do this kind of work anymore. Sorry.

How We Did Prom While in Quarantine

I just had to share this. Thanks to COVID-19 and sheltering, my daughter’s Prom was cancelled along with every other Senior’s Prom in the country. Sensing a need, John Krasinski, through the power of his excellent new YouTube show, Some Good News, provided a virtual Prom with performers like Billie Eilish and the Jonas Brothers. It was pretty freakin’ fantastic.

Here’s a little video I put together of what the experience looked like in our house. (And credit where it’s due: my wife is pretty much responsible for all of this. I hung the lights. That’s it.)

What’s not included in that video is the 2 hours of dancing we did after the show was over. We just didn’t want the night to end.

Huge thanks to our friend Megan who made the corsage at a moment’s notice with whatever she could find around the house and some succulents from our friend Kristie’s yard, and to Katie, Elora’s friend, who lent her the dress (and then just gave it to her when she saw how well it fit)!

The next day, Krasinski put some clips from our experience into Some Good News Episode 4! We show up at 16:15 and 17:53. It was an honor to be included. This show is putting some real positivity out into the world, proving that good news can be incredibly entertaining.

It was an awesome night and far, far more memorable than any traditional Prom would have been. We’ll never forget it.

(Also, given the millions of people who witnessed it, I think this means my daughter has officially been crowned the Prom Queen of the World.)

 

RBDM: Table of Contents (Limited Time Only)

UPDATED: The blogs containing the chapters have been removed, as promised, so the links below will not work. I leave this post up to preserve the reason for the removal at the end of it, and also for those curious about the book itself. Hopefully, I’ll bring the whole thing to you again one day, bright and shiny and new.

ORIGINAL POST:Below is a table of contents for all the chapters. If you haven’t finished yet, you should be able to find where you left off and pick it back up. I’ll leave all the chapters up for another week or so, but after that I think it’s better to take them down, including this post. If you’ve been reading along, I’d love to hear from you. Even if it’s just a “hi.” I miss contact with the world!

RBDM TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue – Ready: The funeral is over and it’s time to go to the cemetery, but before we get there my mother has a striking revelation to share.

I.

Ch. 1 – Shooting: Eight years earlier, two men burst into my father’s store and immediately begin shooting.

Ch. 2 – The Call: Alone and dying, my father desperately dials 911 to get some help.

Ch. 3 – Bullets: While my brothers and I dance in the living room, oblivious, my mother receives a mysterious phone call telling her to get to the hospital immediately. 

Ch. 4 – M&M’s: At the hospital, Mom crumbles and I get a whole bag of M&M’s all to myself.

Ch. 5 – Educated Guesses: My father is in critical condition and no one–not even the doctors–know if he’s going to survive. But I do.

Ch. 6 – Playing the Part: While dad struggles in the hospital, I head back to school to enjoy all the attention thrown my way.

Ch. 7 – A Suspicious Peace: Dad returns home from the hospital and I become a bullet wound cleaning expert.

Ch. 8 – Superdad: Months later, Dad is unstoppable, coaching little league, attending Sixth Grade Camp with me, and running down a guy who steals from him.

II.

Ch. 9 – The Wrong Side of Town: On the night before 7th Grade begins, a FBI sting operation gone wrong in our neighborhood prompts Dad to grab his gun and head out on his own to track the criminals down. 

Ch. 10 – A Friend in Need: When helping one friend comes at the expense of my relationship with another, I’m at a loss for what to do.

Ch. 11 – Fight: A friend turned enemy wants nothing more than to beat me to a bloody pulp. A school yard confrontation leads to big changes.

Ch. 12 – Hollywood: A reality show comes calling and Dad leaps at the chance to reenact his shooting for national television.

Ch. 13 – Talking to a Dead Man: The shooting reenactment airs on television and my eyes are opened to what Dad really went through in a whole new way.

Ch. 14 – Edited for Television: Dad’s rush to the hospital is depicted, and he talks about the shooting and what he was really afraid of in his own words.

Ch. 15 – How It Ends: How Dad knew he was going die young. Plus: The reenactment concludes with my national (embarrassing) debut.

III.

Ch. 16 – The Nerd Herd: A move across town means a new school and new friends. 

Ch. 17 – Breaching Brute Protocol: High School begins and I’m determined to make a new start, but the four bullies picking on me at once have other ideas.

Ch. 18 – Good Intentions: Sick of all the misinformation out there about my church, I’m determined to go to a friend’s church and correct her pastor. My parents have other ideas.

Ch. 19 – Sitting On a Chair with Wheels: Is God real? Is my church true? I honestly don’t know and it’s tearing me up inside. A caustic confrontation leads to Dad trying to talk me down.

Ch. 20 – Flood: Holed up in a church building late at night, my friends and I have no idea our entire town is flooding, threatening to trap us.

Ch. 21 – The Last Time: I finally get the answers I’ve been searching for, just in time for Dad and I to make peace and go on a road trip together.

IV.

Ch. 22 – Speaking in Tongues: My life as a missionary begins, but there’s a catch: I have to speak Spanish. I hate Spanish.

Ch. 23 – Bad News: Ten months into my mission, I receive a phone call from my grandfather with news I do not want. 

Ch. 24 – Faithless Prayers: While waiting for confirmation that I what I know in my gut is true, I pray.

Ch. 25 – Worse Than Death: How my father died and the devastating first few moments after I found out. 

Ch. 26 – To The Lord: The Mission President and his wife come to visit and console me. I’ve got a big decision to make about what to do next.

Ch. 27 – Being a Human Being: It’s the morning after and I want nothing more than to do the missionary work I’m supposed to do. But are my motives less than pure?

Ch. 28 – In the Absence of Kneeling Dragons: I return home from my mission many months early to a very different world.

Ch. 29 – The Shoulders: The house has been overrun with mourners, and I doubt very much all of them are there for the right reasons.

Ch. 30 – Speaker for the Dead: Mom has asked me to speak at Dad’s funeral, but I have no idea what to say. A forgotten recording reveals Dad’s feelings about the shooting in his own words and confuses me further as I wrestle with his contradictions.

Ch. 31 – The Eyes of a Dead Man: The day of the funeral has arrived and it’s my turn to speak.

Ch. 32 – Grounded: It’s Thanksgiving Day and I’m home. Should I stay home and not return to the mission?

Ch. 33 – Life After Death: It’s been a long week. Two moments stand out in particular, putting everything else into perspective.

Epilogue: Decades have passed. What happened to me? To my family? What’s the takeaway?

Why take it all down? Because:

I’m just going to do it. At the encouragement of my wife and a few of you, I’m changing the name of the book to The Other Side of Fear and I’m shopping it out…again. After 7 years.

RBDM CH 33E copy

The funny thing is that The Other Side of Fear is SUCH a better title and I don’t know why I never thought of it. That’s really what the book is about: what is on the other side of the worst thing thing you can imagine happening? This is such a theme in my life (and I’m sure many others). I have faced down my worst fears many times–literally the worst things I could think of–and you know what’s on other side of that? Peace. Quite honestly, it’s peace. The worst thing is never so bad as you imagine it to be, and you can never anticipate the ways you will grow and learn and change from those awful happenings. Calamity is how God operates on us. It’s how He fixes us into who we should be (but only if we allow it). And that’s a good thing. That’s what’s on the other side of fear: good things.

Maybe the syncing up of all this with the coronavirus is nothing, but it feels oddly right and clarifying. I’ve been in the house for two solid weeks now, and despite the occasional passing panic when I give into the temptation, I don’t really have any trouble centering myself. There’s a great freedom in knowing the universe will you up at any given moment and that you can take that beating and emerge victorious.

So, into the world this book goes once more. Maybe it will find a home, or maybe it won’t and I’ll get beat up again. Whatever happens, I’ve certainly got enough time on my hands to find out.

A Big Change for the Heasley Family

We almost moved to Maryland.

My connection to the company was solid and the job was right up my alley. Well, my old alley. It was an in-house Art Director position; the kind of work I’d left behind about three years ago. I submitted my application. I interviewed for it. I got a second interview and my friend already working at the company was enthusiastic. We started shopping for houses and my kids started imagining living in a place with actual snow on the ground (we told them it wouldn’t be that fun, but Violet refused to believe us). It was time to move across the country, a thing we’d never done before.

After Erin got her Master’s Degree, we were faced with the reality of what a part-time professor at a Community College can make (you honestly wouldn’t believe it) and the fact that the well paying, full-time professor positions are in short supply. We needed to explore options, and not just mine. Erin applied for other opportunities, too. One very close to home was looking really, really good. Until it didn’t and disappeared like a puff of smoke from the cigar of one of those derby-hatted cartoon bankers who is evil and you know that because… cigar.

So, yes, I put myself on the job market. After three years of working in film/video and doing freelance jobs, it was time to introduce a little more stability into our lives. Stability has always been the watchword around our house. As long as we could pay the mortgage and the bills and feed our kids and clothe them, it didn’t really matter to either me or Erin how much money we made. Never, not once, has getting rich been a goal (or even, just like, buying a boat). The goal is to do what we are supposed to do: care well for our family, be where Heavenly Father wants us to be, and do what He wants us to do. That’s how we’ve always conducted our life together, through good times and bad. It has served us well.

So, needless to say, we were stressing. A bit. And while all of this was going on, our friend Chris kept promising we’d have that lunch together that kept getting put off.

Waaaaay back in July, Erin and I were reminiscing about all the traveling we used to do back when travel was a thing we could afford, and we thought about Chris and his business of putting luxury vacation packages together and we hit upon an idea that was both ridiculous and too good to not at least pitch to Chris. Maybe he’d laugh at us, but it couldn’t hurt to at least propose it to him. Finally, in December, when we were trying to figure out what to do about Maryland, the lunch happened.

We told Chris our idea: send us on your vacations. Put us up in your five-star hotels, schedule our safaris and zip-lining adventures through jungles, make reservations for us in the best restaurants–do that and we’ll film it all and give you promotional travel vlogs you can use for marketing. And then Erin said, “And we’ll do it for free!”

And I said, “No, wait–wait a minute. It’s a lot of work for me after we get home to edit and put it all together and–”

And that’s when Chris cut me off and said, “I think it’s a great idea. Yes, I need that!”

And I said, “Y-you do? We really thought you were gonna laugh at us for trying to get a free vacation.”

“No,” Chris said. “And I’d like to take it even further. I’d like you to become my partners in Travel is SWELL, and I’d like Erin to train and become a Travel Designer with me and help me sell custom travel packages to people.”

We were floored. We went into the meeting expecting nothing and came out of the meeting with a spring in our step and promised ownership in a business. (And the chance to go to Machu Picchu. I’ve always wanted to go to Machu Picchu. I was pretty sure I’d now found the means to go to Machu Picchu.) We went home, shell-shocked, and immediately set to praying. And talking. And praying some more. Pros and cons were discussed, friends and relatives were consulted, options weighed.

This wasn’t quite the stability we were looking for. Travel is nice–travel is AWESOME (one might even say SWELL)–and we’d certainly be experiencing a lot of it as we went out to get firsthand knowledge of the places we’d be sending people to and filming our videos, but awesome travel is not a good enough reason to not take care of your family properly. Erin would be working on commission and I’d garner some payments for the video work, but nothing was guaranteed. It was another leap for a family that, evidence to the contrary during the previous three years, was more than a little risk-averse. And then we ran the numbers. And then we made a decision.

Three weeks later, we signed papers making us officially partners in Travel is SWELL.

This week, Erin completed her training.

And that, really, is why we’re finally telling you about it. Things have changed for us in a dramatic way and we’re excited to tell people, but we didn’t want to do it until we were ready. Erin is looking for clients. We hope you’ll contact her if you or anyone you know is looking to dream about their next vacation. She can help you in a big, big way.

Pretty sweet logo, huh? Designed by yours truly.

Now, if you know us and I were you, I’d have some questions. So, let’s switch formats. Here we go:

What the heck is a Travel Designer?

Great question. I didn’t know either. A Travel Designer is a lot more than a Travel Agent. Erin’s approach is to talk to the client about the experiences they’ve already had that they enjoyed, what kind of experiences they’d like to have, and where they might like to go. Want to go somewhere where the water is crystal clear blue and you’ll be treated like a queen as you laze about on the sand? Then Barbados might be for you. Want to eat like a king and take a deep dive into history? Hello, Rome and all these cool excursions and sites you might not even know exist. Simply put, a Travel Agent will get you to where you want to go, but a Travel Designer will not only get you there but make sure you have the time of your life. There’s even a questionnaire you get to fill out so Erin can best help you. It’s fun!

What about filmmaking? Writing? Comics? Is all that over with now?

Nope! I’m still in post-production on my newest short (in fact, we just shot some new scenes this past weekend), and I’m exploring other film opportunities that I can’t talk about just yet. I’m also actively shopping around a YA novel, Paper Bag Mask, and The SuperFogeys continues at superfogeys.com. That’s the beauty of working with Travel is SWELL: we get to stay here and, though our time is even more at a premium, things largely get to continue as they were.

For Erin, too?

Yep! For Erin, too. She’s staying on as a professor at Clovis Community, even taking on an additional class this semester for a total of three sections. She’ll teach and then, in her off hours, create travel packages for clients.

Sounds like you’re gonna be pretty busy. Wait… you guys still have kids, right?

Yeah. Three of them. They’re cool with not moving to Maryland, so it’s all good. We also create packages for families and groups, so they’re gonna get the opportunity to explore this world of ours as well. After a decade of never going farther than Los Angeles, that’s pretty exciting. Plus, I like to think we do a pretty good job carving out family time. There’s not a whole lot more important than that.

How much does Erin and Travel is SWELL charge for services?

In most cases, nothing! Some packages will require a small service charge, but that’s not common. Travel Designers are paid commissions by the vendors you book with, not by you. I know! I had no idea either until we got into this.

Why should I use a Travel Designer at all? Expedia exists.

Hey, Expedia is great! If all you want to do is get to and from somewhere, I say go for it. But if you want to explore hotels, food, rentals, excursions, and some really cool places to visit that you might not otherwise know about, then working with a Travel Designer is not only a great idea, it’s really the best idea. You know what I hate about vacations? Figuring out how to get from place-to-place. A Travel Designer takes care of all of that for you. Plus, we have access to online portals and vendors mere mortals can only dream of. We can hook you up.

Is Travel is SWELL only for luxury travelers? 

Not exclusively, but we’re definitely all about the package. We’re for people who really want to explore and experience something amazing, not so much for those who just want the cheapest flight to Florida and a rental car. But hey, if you want to know if we can help you with what you have in mind, all you gotta do is ask.

Sounds pretty cool. I’m going on vacation in the next year. How can I check out what you have to offer? 

That’s easy, just go to travelisswell.com, or email Erin directly at eheasley@travelisswell.com and tell her what you’re thinking. She’ll help you explore.

Eh. I’m not really into travel.

That’s more of a statement than a question, but I’ll address it. Over the past few years, a lot of people have asked how they could help us out. A referral would be great! If you’re not much a traveler, tell your friends.

This gonna be a thing now? You gonna sell me this hard on this blog in the future? Because if so then I’m ou–

Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s not what I’m about. Just trying to share and take this one–ONE–opportunity to try to drum up a little business. This is a big, important change for my family and we’re just trying to get a leg up in the world. The blog will go back to normal after this.

Okay, cool.

We’re cool?

Yeah.

You know I think the world of you.

Yeah… I know…

Be sure and check out travelisswell.com ASAP!

There you go again!

Sorry.

She Told Me My Family Was Afraid of Me

BrockFace

Last week, Erin sat me down on the swing at our back patio and we had a “come to Jesus” moment. She, like a good spouse, chose not the heat of the moment, but a time separated by hours from my increasingly ill behavior. She gave it to me straight: I’m angry all the time, I’m on a hair trigger, the kids are afraid of me, and I’ve made the house an extremely unpleasant place to live in–to the point that sometimes she takes the long way home from dropping our oldest off at junior high just to avoid the scene that ensues daily when I berate our youngest for not knowing where her shoes are and making us late for her preschool.

It was a huge gut punch. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so small and low. I’m not a crier, but I started to cry then because I had no defense to give. Erin was 100% right. I was making our home a miserable place. Worse, I kind of knew I was doing it. She wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know, but I think, in the back of my mind, I had somehow convinced myself I was okay to be this way because a) pressures and b) no one was saying anything about it.

Well, of course they weren’t. They were rightfully afraid to talk to me.

The bulk of our conversation that night dealt with why I was behaving this way. I don’t want to go too deep into that, but suffice it to say that I’m not great at being a stay-at-home dad (Erin kindly reminded me it took her years to be any good at being a stay-at-home mom) and the external pressures that come from work and achievement and failure were getting to me. Or rather, I was letting them get to me. I actually thought that since things were so hard for me right now that it was okay for me to be a bit of a jerk. It was justified.

Which, of course, I was not. I was operating from an incredibly unkind, selfish place, especially since Erin has been working on her Master’s Degree for the past year, a work that requires you to stand on your head and recite the Constitution backwards while cats lick milk off the bottom of your feet. Or something. It’s hard, that’s all I know. I was making things even harder.

My wife had popped my delusional bubble. I recognized my behavior as the sort of thing that would slowly force my family to retreat from me, which, of course, they kind of were doing already. I needed to dial things back in a big way. So, I told Erin the most cliched thing a person can possibly say in a moment like that: I will change. I could tell she didn’t exactly believe me.

The thing is, I meant it. 100%. (This is a common thing: I tend to apologize and change my mind very quickly. If I can see the logic of something, it’s very rare that I wait for my emotions to catch up.) I was sick of myself. I was sick of being angry and I was sick about what I was doing to my girls and my wife. I had hurt them. Not physically, but I had hurt them. I needed to not just turn the truck around, I needed to throw that sucker in reverse and floor the gas pedal until this big heap of selfish garbage I had built up was just a speck through the windshield.

I made a decision to stop letting my emotions–particularly the rage-filled ones–take over. The benefit just wasn’t there. I was able to do this for one, simple reason: my family’s emotions and perception of me is more important than my need to vent or act out frustration. I needed to sacrifice that release of anger on the altar of their precious feelings to give them a chance to like me again, and to not damage them or my relationship with them. 

Basically, even though nothing really changed about my circumstances, I made a conscious effort to let go of my anger over it all.

That has not been terribly easy, but it has been terribly worth it. I’ve gone six days without a blow-up and the spirit in our house is radically different. I think, as fathers, we underestimate our impact. I know society does. But I’ve gotten a crash course in just how much I matter to my family, and how invested they are in my spiritual and mental wellbeing. Everything is different around here now, which illustrates quite clearly that I was almost entirely responsible for the tension in our home over the past couple months. It’s a sobering realization.

I had never thought of myself as a bad father. I honestly didn’t think I was capable. I thought if there’s one thing I can do well, it’s be a father. People have even told me, in the recent past, that I am a good father. I hoped I was worthy of that. I kind of thought I was. But, I was wrong.

I’m sure there’s someone out there for whom their progression is a nice straight line that reaches continually upward, but for me it’s a rocky thing, filled with peaks and valleys. Just when I think I’ve got one thing licked, some other issue pops up and takes the wind out of my sails. This all crept up on me, and none of it fit my perception of myself. I’m still learning all the time, even as I approach 40, who I am and what I’m capable of, for good and for ill.

My prayer–and this is always my prayer–is that whatever my moment-to-moment progression is, the trend, at least, is upwards. I feel better today than I have in a long, long while. There’s still a ton of stuff I need to work on, but, in simply letting go of the justifications and the outsized emotions that have been holding me back in those most important of roles, father and husband, I feel like I grabbed hold of a valuable piece of the happiness puzzle this week.

Pretty sure my girls and my wife would agree.