My dad is a 3rd generation Robert Edwin Chapman. I’m the 4th, and probably last. I seemed to be destined to have only daughters, a fact he reminds me of often. He recently turned 63-years old, and instead of slowing down and planning retirement he works more and sleeps less than anyone else I know. He always has. I wrote my college application essay half a lifetime ago on what he called “sweat equity,” long before it was an overused buzzword.
As my beard gets grayer, my marriage ticks past a decade, and my girls grow way too fast, I look in the mirror and see more of him daily. I have his work ethic, voice, athleticism, passion for the outdoors, and his name. We’ve always had a great relationship, but his style of parenting can’t be found in any books. In fact, as overly sensitive as today’s society is, he’d be wrongly labeled any number of negative connotations. I was the oldest of 4 children, followed by two sisters, and a brother. We respected and adored him, but we also feared him.
We weren’t allowed in our parent’s bed as babies; our pacifiers were thrown away at our one year Birthday party (literally), and we never had an allowance, slept in, or had a curfew. It was simple: just do what’s expected, don’t be an idiot, and all was good. That same thought process held true when I was 16 years old, and when I was just a toddler. My dad never spared the rod. He spanked. He spanked hard. He didn’t rarely had to do it, because it was always in the back of my head. If you screwed up, there was an immediate consequence. It was simple. Why complicate things? That’s my dad in a nutshell. No sugar coating.
He’s as emotional as a robot. I’ve never seen him cry. My family as a whole is the polar opposite of a Nicolas Sparks book.
All four of our wedding ceremonies combined took about an hour. No speeches. No tears. Just another chapter in this thing we call life. Why waste time with sentimentality?
When I’m most self-aware and analyze my strengths and weaknesses, I use him as my barometer for being a father. In reality, it’s totally unfair because he did everything for our family.
He grew up in Oakdale, Massachusetts, and spent his summers on Cape Cod. My namesake, Rob Chapman (the first), who I knew simply as Grumpy, owned a chunk of land on a patch of sand called West Dennis Beach. In fact, they named a street after him – possibly because he ultimately sold the land away before Cape Cod became a world-wide destination. My dad’s parents divorced when he was very young, something he never talks about. Both sets of parents/step-parents were blue-collar middle class that were gracious, caring, and hard working. He loved his Grumpy, who gave me my left-handed gene and by default my first set of golf clubs. He was close to 5’6″tall, and I was closer to 6’6″. I grew out of those clubs by the time I was 13 years old.
When my dad was 13, he was playing every sport possible. He ran cross country, played baseball, basketball, soccer, and whiffle ball – really anything that involved a ball, and ultimately settled on golf, which he played collegiately several years later. He spent every minute, not on the fields, on the water. One of the perks of spending summers on the Cape was easy to access to Swan River and the Atlantic Ocean. His first boat was a rowboat that he would paddle to Rock Island and Monomoy Point catching sharks, bluefish, striped bass, and unsuspecting tourists.
He tells the story every so often about how they’d catch sand sharks, fill the boat partly up with water to keep the sharks alive, paddle way up the river past the crowds, release the sharks, and then scream “SHARK!!!” at the top of his lungs.
He’s still a prankster. Sometimes too much. My oldest daughter, Lilla, has been burned by him so many times hiding in her bed at night, that if he’s in town she checks her bedroom closer than Homeland Security before going to sleep.
Pops/Rob Bob/Grumpy 2.0 was a Biology major and almost scratch golfer at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts in the early seventies. Shortly after graduation he met my mom, and she’ll tell you the first night she saw him she told her friends she was going to marry him – and they married within a year. Take that Nicholas Sparks! Shortly after they tied the knot, they picked out sunny Sarasota, Florida on a map and left everything behind in the cold Northeast. My dad hates the cold. It’s the primary reason they said goodbye to their families and hello to a new life on a random coast of Florida. I think he’s still bitter about shoveling snow for a few decades because he never runs the air conditioner. When we visit his current house in Terra Ceia, Florida, it’s almost like it’s a third world country. All the doors and windows stay open for “air flow” to counter the 95-degree afternoons.
I was born in 1978 at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. The first Chapman born in Florida. My dad taught me his love for sports and the outdoors practically at birth. Baseball gloves, fishing rods, tennis rackets, and soccer balls surrounded me. We spent weekends on the pearly white beaches of Coquina, Siesta Key, and Lido Beach, digging for sand fleas, and swimming in our pool – year round. That doesn’t happen in Massachusetts. We’d fish in Sarasota Bay catching pinfish, whiting, and maybe an occasional flounder. No trophies were caught, but the foundations were being built. He gave up his dreams so that I could chase mine.
He gave up his dreams so that I could chase mine. He coached me in every sport. Find a team photo from our youth soccer leagues, and there’s my ultra skinny dad with his Magnum P.I. mustache smiling at the back of a pile of kids. TheLittle League to All-Star teams and all the way through my senior year of High School. He’d have probably coached me in College if it were an option. He did this for all four of us. He can still remember a soccer lineup from the 1987 Learning Tree squad, but he can’t remember a single thing from a movie he watched the night before. It’s funny what the mind remembers.
One of my most vivid memories was our first trip to Fenway Park.
It’s such a contrast for a wide-eyed young kid to smell the stench of a big city with the concrete, glass, and claustrophobia of it all, to walk into the infinite beauty of a modern day sports cathedral.
I can close my eyes and still remember the second we came out of the tunnel. It was surreal. Dreary grays turned to vibrant greens and the darkness of the graffiti filled perimeter disappeared into a blinding light of sensory overload.
Bats were cracking batting practice balls at lightning speed, fungos were flying in all directions, vendors hawked delicious Fenway Franks, and I was standing there with my dad. It felt like the two of us were standing at the gates of heaven. The Boston Red Sox were playing the California Angels, and I stuffed myself with cracker jacks, cotton candy, and memories. I remember buying a small wooden bat with the Red Sox logo printed on the barrel of it, and I still see that bat every single day 30 years later – I keep it under my driver’s side seat. It was probably just another trip to Fenway – where he had been a thousand times as a kid himself, but I’ll never forget it.
I was almost eight years old when Bill Buckner missed that ground ball. I went to bed without saying a word and didn’t bother watching Game 7. His yelling and disappointment told me everything I needed to know through my bedroom walls. I was in Massachusetts at my Grandparents house for the Super Bowl when the Fridge and the Headband shuffled all over the helpless Patriots. Luckily we had the Celtics because all we had locally were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their brutal orange uniforms. When the Lightning eventually came to Tampa in 1992, and the Devil Rays later in the decade, he arranged for tickets for us, even though he later told me he hated the crowds. Today it would take an Act of Congress to get him out to a ballpark, but he went – over and over again.
He’s not perfect. Not even close. He has a temper that would make a sailor blush when he unleashes a tirade of expletives. I remember our first trip to Disney World as a family; all of the excitement, magic, and energy of the park. We rode Peter Pan’s Flight and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, played with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck, and watched the fireworks light up the night sky. It was perfect. Then we drove through downtown Orlando – completely lost – and tried to find our hotel in a torrential downpour. I remember my dad cussing like John McEnroe at a bad call as we battled traffic with no map, GPS, or Siri to help us out.
He never showed his temper publicly. He treated his co-workers and eventually his employees like gold. He started as a waiter in the restaurant industry, worked his way up to the food and beverage trainer, and eventually manager at the Hyatt Restaurant in downtown Sarasota. Anything they threw at him, he worked like his hair was on fire, learned it, mastered it, and then took on a new challenge. They wanted him to climb the corporate ladder and move to Chicago. The hours were too many, which meant his time with his new family were too few. So, he took his biology degree and started a daycare. He had no knowledge or background about daycares, but he had a dream and a goal. He wanted to be his own boss, but more importantly he wanted to be with his family. Nothing else mattered. Family first, and the rest would work itself out.
I grew up with three other siblings, but in reality it was probably closer to three thousand. My dad expanded the Learning Tree Preschool from one to two to three, and he cared for every single kid like they were his own. He’d take us to school in a prehistoric oversized passenger van, pick us up, and then we’d play on the playgrounds until dark. Summers were even more fun. We’d go on daily field trips from the bowling alley to Adventure Island. Eventually, the van turned into several school busses, and we were able to move from a house that was attached to the daycare to a house with a few acres, pool, and a pond. I spent every minute, not at the ball fields fishing in that pond. Many a shiner, bream, and bass were caught at 2614 43rd St. West. Looking back I thought we were the luckiest kids on the planet.
As Coach Chapman spent countless hours with me at G.T. Bray Park, we soon realized I had a knack for striking batters out and a pretty good bat. So, what did he do? He built a batting cage and pitching mound in our backyard. Keep in mind we didn’t have a lot of money. In fact, he told me recently how much money they made – or didn’t make, during those years. Factor in a family of six, and there were never silver spoons in our house. Somehow he scraped together pennies and installed lights and eventually bought a Jugs machine to give his aching arm a break. I’d take batting practice all hours of the day and night, invite friends over, and soon our entire team would camp out at our house. He practically turned our house into a Dave & Buster’s because we eventually added an air hockey table, ping-pong table, and fuss ball table. As a homeowner now, I can only imagine what kind of a nightmare we must have been for the neighborhood.
Our social time was outdoors. If we weren’t playing sports, we were fishing. We didn’t have cable television, never went out to eat, and my parents didn’t have much of a social life. My dad never drank. Why? It wasn’t for religious reasons. My mom reads the Bible daily; my dad reads the Bible never. I vividly remember the first time I saw a beer in his hand on my senior cruise, and even my buddies commented how strange it was. It was like seeing Roger Clemens put on a New York Yankees uniform. It just didn’t look right.
My dad took pride in trying to embarrass me as much as possible. It started when I was young but hit overdrive when I entered High School. When I was a Freshman (before I could drive), he drove me to school in our Learning Tree Schoolbus. But, this wasn’t a normal bus. This was a goofy, super short bus, and he would pull right in front of the main entrance, and honk the horn for the entire school to hear. Sometimes, as a bonus, he’d even put out that obnoxious blinking stops sign. He’d laugh and smile so big that classmates called him “Smiley.” He said it was to toughen me up, and that it didn’t matter what people thought. I know my skins now thicker than Donald Trump’s wallet because of this “training.”
To be fair, that school he dropped me off in front of was a private College Preparatory High School (Saint Stephens Episcopal School) that was well beyond our income – especially when you factor in 4 of us. As always, he found a way. He coached several different teams to offset tuition, he worked on the fields, he cut palm trees, anything that made it possible for us to receive the finest possible education, he had no pride. He took a newspaper route for extra income, and on Saturdays or Sunday’s if we wanted to fish, we had to help deliver papers first. If we didn’t help on the paper route, we didn’t fish. Period.
When it came time to start searching for Colleges, he was my biggest cheerleader, throughout my schizophrenic search. I was a 6’5″ left-handed All-State pitcher with test scores and grades that were reflective of my hard work at our academic gauntlet. My first college letter was from Duke University, my first phone call from Dartmouth, and my first official visit was to Harvard. He drove me to the airport, and I flew – first class for the first time – to the Harvard/Yale Football game and a weekend in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The head coach at the time let me know they needed a lefty, and that they also needed about $35,000 a year – with no athletic scholarships because they were an Ivy League Institution.
When I returned, we hit the road and openly discussed what options I had. We drove throughout the East Coast; UF, UGA, UNC, Duke, Davidson, Wofford, Georgetown, Wake Forrest, and many more. We had a 5 CD changer loaded with Jimmy Buffet, Alabama, 311, Nirvana, and Toni Braxton (not sure exactly how she fit into that mix), and Rand McNally guided us up and down the coast. I crashed at several campus’s with host players, while he’d find the closest hotel, and we’d get up again and repeat the next day. Mix in a few plane flights, my limit on official visits, and I still had no clue what I wanted to do – or what we could even afford to do. That summer during an American Legion baseball tournament with Post 24 everything flipped upside down.
Stetson University had emerged as my front runner, and we were playing in their backyard – Deland, Florida. I had battled shoulder and elbow problems my Senior year and was finally healthy. My start on that blistering hot day was matched by a well-rested elbow and a hot hand on the mound. I was consistently in the upper 80’s and touching 90MPH, my curveball was Barry Zito-esque (12-6), and I had just started throwing a circle change up. The scouts noticed, and all of a sudden I had a ton of new interest and offers, and the MLB scouts that had cooled off just months earlier with the injuries were in my ear.
Life had thrown me it’s own curveball.
I started my college journey with Harvard, and I was going to finish ultimately with a community college.
Why? I was a dream chaser. My dad supported me the entire way. No questions asked. I later found out he stood up for me with the Stetson coaches who weren’t happy with my switch. Brad Weitzel with the Minnesota Twins told me that to go pro right away; I should go JuCo (With JuCo you can go pro in one year instead of three), and he told me about Lake City Community College.
I’ll never forget the next night when Coach Tom Clark came up to me while I was in the on-deck circle, and told me about his program in Lake City, and the incredible success he’d had with pitchers recently. He didn’t mince words. He said I was way too skinny, I had no leg muscles or “backside”, and he would immediately whip my “backside” into shape. He was direct, honest, and didn’t BS. I was completely sold. He reminded me of my dad. I’m not sure what my dad thought about all of the money he spent on the private school education heading completely away from the typical higher education path, but he was by my side that August moving into the Lake City dorm.
Fast forward five years and a few major surgeries, and I was graduating Jacksonville University with a BFA in Computer Art & Design – and one dead dream of playing professional baseball. I had worked my way from an intern to the Art Director at Fierce Graphics, but I had a new dream. I wanted to be the next Guy Harvey. I had some success designing shirts for fishing tournaments, teams, and sold some original illustrations, but had no clue how to start, run, or succeed in business. That didn’t matter to my dad.
He gave me a loan of $20,000 to start my brand new business, Rob Chapman Art, Inc. That seemed like a million dollars to a kid right out of college who never had more than a thousand dollars to his name. I was so excited. I slept late that first day of my new business, ate a nice lunch, went fishing, had a nice big dinner and accomplished absolutely nothing. Literally. Nadda. I felt absolutely useless. I don’t remember what I told him that night, but I made a promise to myself. I would never sleep past nine a.m. again, no matter what. That promise hasn’t been broken for the last 15 years. I also learned how little money $20,000 actually is for a startup. Between the new website, shirt inventory, and boat/fishing shows I was out $10,000 before I could blink.
I ended up paying the loan back in full within a few years, but that wouldn’t have happened without him. He traveled all over – again – as I was dotting the Southeast U.S. promoting and selling my artwork. Florida Fishing College, Frank Sergeant Show, Tournaments from Canaveral to the Keys, he was there. If you know anyone that travels to these shows to make a living, stop reading, and give them a hug. Seriously. It’s a non-stop grind and is a thankless way to make a living. Our most memorable show was the Miami Boat Show in 2004.
I was fortunate to be chosen by the IGFA to be featured beside two ultra-talented painters, Pasta Pantaleo and Adrian Grey. Mike Myatt treated us like gold, and we ended up staying with several members of the Florida Sportsman Forum in different parts of Miami that I had never actually met. Talk about blind faith. We rented a Uhaul, sold a trailer full of prints and tees, made a ton of contacts, and he did it all without asking for a penny. I couldn’t afford to pay him; he knew that, and he kept showing up. That company is still alive and well, but I’ve evolved, and so has he, but some things never changed.
He gave up his dreams over and over again, so I could chase mine.
Maybe this was his dream all along – to see his kids mature into successful adults, and be the kind of dedicated parents he was for us.
Now it’s my turn. I’ve launched Outdoors360 without any assistance from him. He’ll wear the shirts, read some of the articles, and tell a few people about my newest dream. He’s earned that right. My biggest fan, the best man at my wedding, and the man whose name I carry is everything I want to be in a dad. He’s not perfect, but he’s selfless, dedicated, and completely devoted. He’s now a proud grandfather to 11 grandkids…but it’s not Rob Chapman the 5th. That’s still a pipe dream. He may never show emotions, but I believe Grumpy is now completely happy.