The Build: Designing My Life of Choppers, Family and Faith
:Tells the "behind the scenes" story of American Chopper for all of the show's millions of fans. Also reveals, in an organic, winsome way, the faith of Paul Jr. Now available in trade paper. Paul Teutul, Jr., is arguably...
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:Tells the "behind the scenes" story of American Chopper for all of the show's millions of fans. Also reveals, in an organic, winsome way, the faith of Paul Jr. Now available in trade paper.
Paul Teutul, Jr., is arguably the most creative builder of custom "chopper" motorcycles in the world. His talents were revealed to millions of TV viewers worldwide on the hit cable reality series, American Chopper, as well as later on a spinoff series, American Chopper Senior vs Junior. The Build reveals the untold story of Paul Jr.'s life behind the camera, which included volcanic conflict with his father and business mentor, Paul Sr. Using his own story of improbable success as an illustration, Paul Jr. offers insights on how anyone can find and activate often hidden talents. In a charming, often humorous way, The Build is a rallying cry to unleash God-designed creativity.
Reality or Unreality TV?
It remains humorous to me that after ten years of appearing on a reality television show, the question I am most often asked, by far, is whether what happened on our show was, well, real.
But then again, the dynamic that made American Chopper a global phenomenon did appear unreal, prompting the two to three million viewers tuning in on Monday nights to hope—even pray, for some—that the volatile relationship between my father and me was too bad to be true.
The premise of the show was simple: a father and son work together to build custom motorcycles. American Chopper worked because the bikes and our relationship were jaw-dropping. For 10 seasons and 233 one-hour episodes, my father and I were often a relational train wreck that proved equally as difficult to turn away from as to watch.
And, yes, it was real. In fact, I believe that because of my relationship with my father, American Chopper not only was the most real reality show, but it was the first true reality show that didn’t involve surviving on an island.
The arguments, shouting matches, door slamming, and wall-punching were no different from my life growing up with my father, working for him in the steel business, and then building custom bikes together. The only difference once American Chopper started was that there were cameras around recording our blowups for the world to see.
I also have learned that there are many people with stories similar to mine—people who are part of, or are directly impacted by, an abnormal relationship. I have nodded in understanding while listening to fans of our show describe their relationships gone bad. I have even talked with one man who might have had a worse relationship with his father than I did with mine. I had not imagined that possible.
Those conversations are one reason I decided to write this book. I have been married to Rachael for seven years now, and our strong relationship is one my parents did not have. Our son, Hudson, is coming up on three years old, and our father-son dynamic will be the complete opposite of what I grew up with. I have faith that will be the case…because of my faith. And when the opportunity arose to write a book about choppers, my family, and my faith, I said, “I’ve got to do this.”
Seeing my relationship with my father play out on a reality show for ten years was difficult because our society tends to keep such problems hidden. It has been difficult to detail in this book my bad experiences with my father because he is my dad, and I love him, and I have long desired to have a normal relationship with him.
But I kept it real on American Chopper, and I am keeping it real in this book, because I know there are too many others who will nod in understanding as they read my story. Although I have learned that I cannot make my father love me back no matter what I do, God loves me unconditionally, and from the overflow of His love, I can break the generational curse that has marred the Teutul family.
Meet the Family, the Whole Family
I am not great with dates, but I’ll never forget September 28, 2008. That’s the day my father fired me. Getting fired seemed devastating at the time, but it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to me.
I was less than a week shy of my thirty-fourth birthday when my father, with cameras rolling, fired me from Orange County Choppers. I had grown up under the same roof as my father. I had worked for him for ten years in the steel business. We had built bikes together for almost another decade, with the previous six years marked by the celebrity and contention that came from filming American Chopper in our upstate New York shop.
The day he fired me began a process that allowed me to come out from under the oppressive environment I had always known; I matured mentally and spiritually and flourished creatively. Until then, I had not realized how negative the dynamic with my father was, or how much and for how long he had attempted to control me. We had spent every day together, at work and outside work. It was like an unhealthy marriage.
My father had separated from my mom in 1997, after twenty-five years of marriage and four kids. But until I got fired, there was no separation from my father. I had never imagined how much good could come from something that, at the time, hurt so bad.
I’m forty-two as I write this book, and all my life I have wanted more from my relationship with my father. But I just don’t know if he is capable of giving more. My father is a product of his upbringing. We all are, I suppose, somewhat by nature and the rest by choice.
My parents had been split for five years when we filmed the pilot for American Chopper, so little is known about my mom publicly. But with my father, it takes only one episode, if that much, to peg him for what he is: loud, strong-willed, highly opinionated, and very much “my way or the highway.”
I have a lot of compassion for my father, because he did not grow up with good role models. His parents argued constantly in their home, and he had a horrible relationship with his mother. He’s told me how he did not like his mother, a heavy drinker, because of how bad she treated his father in public. As a result, he did not have a nurturing relationship with her.
My father had an alcoholic mother, and I had an alcoholic father. I’ve thought a lot about this and talked with friends and relationship experts about it, too, and for me, as a man, there is no question that I would rather have a loving, caring mother and an alcoholic father than the other way around. I feel like it’s a game changer when there is strain or an unloving dynamic between a mother and a son, because that son will tend to have pretty big issues when he grows up. That is what I observed with my father.
My father’s name is Paul Teutul, and once our show became a big hit, he started going by “Senior.” I’m Paul Michael Teutul. While I’m not technically “Junior,” I’ve been called that since back in the days when I worked with my father in his steel business. Both of my grandfathers were named Paul, and my mom’s name is Paula.
My parents are native New Yorkers: my mom is from Brooklyn, my father from Yonkers. They met during high school in Pearl River, which is on the New York-New Jersey border, twenty miles from midtown Manhattan. I was born in Suffern, New York, in 1974. Shortly after I arrived, my parents and I moved forty miles north to Montgomery, in Orange County, where my father and a friend started an ironworks company. I have lived in Montgomery ever since, and I don’t see that ever changing.
My mom tells me I was a happy little kid, well-behaved and even-tempered—and quite curious. As far back as I can remember, I enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked and then, for the most part, putting them back together.
The grandparental support every kid needs came from my mother’s side of the family. We were together with her parents for all the holidays and much of the time in between.
When I started kindergarten, I hated it. A kid not liking school isn’t exactly breaking news, but saying I hated school is not an adequate description. I didn’t like riding the bus, either, so I faked being sick to stay home as many times as I could. But the odd thing was that once I made it to school, I would be okay.
I wound up going through kindergarten twice, because I was an October baby and my parents held me back so I wouldn’t be so young compared to the others in my class.
I struggled to stay focused in class and did not do well academically. I had the ability to apply myself, but didn’t. That trait would stick with me for years. Place me in a situation that required mechanical ability or troubleshooting, though, and I did well, because I learned more by hands-on experience than by reading books.
Even as a kid, I was the one in the family who—by choice—put toys together, especially at Christmas. Whenever I read “Assembly required,” I eagerly accepted the challenge. I wouldn’t read the instructions, but I would look at the picture of the finished product and figure out how to put the toy together. There might have been an extra washer or two left over when I finished, but the job always got done.
The early years of school were difficult for me because of the instability in our home created by my father’s alcoholism. I wasn’t old enough then to label that stage of my life, but I was insecure. Kids, earlier than we often realize, have a knack for being able to recognize when relationships are abnormal at home, regardless of whether they can put their finger on the reason or even express it.
I carried a lot of fear, too. I wanted no part of anything that took me out of my comfort zone, including being away from my mom. I think a big reason I didn’t want to go to school was I must have been afraid that I would come home and my mom wouldn’t be there.
When I was in third or fourth grade, I went to a weeklong Cub Scouts camp. I was so excited to go on the trip, but the instant my parents drove away, a debilitating fear overwhelmed me. I was not allowed to call home, which made matters worse. I was so afraid that I slept every night in the same sleeping bag as my best friend. When my parents picked me up at the end of camp, my mother noted that I had worn the same clothes all week. Being away from home caused more fear than I could manage.
Montgomery, at the time a town of about sixteen thousand, presented an intriguing dichotomy. Aside from all the dysfunction at home, my childhood had an all-American feel to it.
I have three siblings: brothers Daniel (Danny) and Michael (Mikey), who are two and four years younger than me, respectively; and my sister, Cristin, who was born when I was eight.
Our family lived on a small block with perhaps a dozen houses, and in our neighborhood there were plenty of kids the same ages as my brothers and me. We played a lot of backyard football growing up, with each of us wearing our favorite team’s helmet. I proudly wore the blue helmet of my beloved New York Giants.
We also played in a cornfield at the end of the street, and there was a nearby pond where we would go bass fishing. We spent hours walking up and down railroad tracks—which I now recommend kids not do—and killing bees in the railroad ties. We rode bicycles on trails through the woods and built tree forts and ground forts; we flew kites on fishing poles as high in the sky as we could get them. An occasional fight would break out, and the football games grew a little rough at times, but overall, we had tons of fun in the stereotypical apple-pie setting where kids could roam carefree.
It was odd how miserable it could be inside our home, and then we would go down the street to play and life could not be any better.
My Father: Working and Drinking
My father was a workaholic and an alcoholic. Actually, I would say he was a raging alcoholic. Because he was self-employed, he would work and drink all day, then drink liquor all night. He would come home for dinner, and if he didn’t like my mom’s meal, he’d swipe the meal off the table or smash his plate on the floor. Come to find out later, my father’s dad had been a great cook and would use meals as compensation for weaknesses in his relationship with my father. My mom, however, wasn’t a great cook, although being Italian and having her signature dishes, like Swedish meatballs, meatloaf, and the most delicious sauce anyone could hope to taste.
Things tended to go haywire most often at dinnertime. My father’s violent reactions at the dinner table were always accompanied by his yelling at Mom. After he’d throw his fit, he would go out drinking. On the occasional nights when he stayed home, he would pass out drunk on the couch.
My father worked hard to make money for his family and drank just as hard. My mother complained about how much he drank, so they constantly argued. I didn’t want to take sides. When parents fight, who is supposed to be the judge and the jury? Even though I felt like my father was bullying my mom, I was a kid, and I couldn’t make the decision of who was right and who was wrong. I don’t think a kid should have to make that determination. So I learned at an early age to manage being in the middle between the two sides.
I didn’t know then that parents yelling at each other was not normal; I had no barometer to go by. When I was at a friend’s house and his parents had a loud discussion or maybe even an argument, the intensity was nothing compared to what I heard at home. But only in retrospect could I describe our home environment as dysfunctional, as anything other than just the way life happens. Parents screaming at each other is disturbing to a developing mind, emotionally and otherwise. My fears came from feeling that instability at home.
Our family desperately needed help, and we attended counseling sessions for what seemed like forever. For me, counseling was kind of a mixed bag. We met with numerous counselors, and I noticed that they sometimes seemed to have their own dog in our fight. It wasn’t that counselors took sides, but in some cases it seemed that their personal experiences affected how they gave counsel. The most productive part for me was that early on the counseling helped me identify struggles I faced—such as anger—and that abandonment issues and broken promises were the sources of those struggles.
One thing I credit my father for is that although he was physically abused as a child, he drew a line and committed to never physically abusing his children. The most contact he would make with us when we acted up would be a smack on the butt, the legs, or the arms. But never in the head or our faces. As far as I know, he never physically abused my mother either.