Listen to the podcast here: https://redcupagency.com/portfolio-item/episode-5-sam-lamott-redefining-dad/
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
LEE SCHNEIDER: Hey Sam, welcome to the podcast.
SAM LAMOTT: Thanks for having me.
LEE: Let’s talk about Hello Humans. What is that and why did you start it.
SAM: It originally was supposed to be something completely different, as all great companies start out. It was going to be a little Kickstarted widget thing that I had in mind. But what happened was life happened. And I was in a four-year wonderful, kind of messy, but wonderful relationship, and it ended. And it was the end of the world. It was the end of the world as I knew it. My first real grownup heartbreak, I’d say, where you think you’re going to spend the rest of your life with someone. It’s over. And I couldn’t find anything quite as crazy as the real story I was living online. So I just started writing about it and I wrote seven part series called The End Of The World Part 1. And people liked it. so I guess Hello Humans started because I owned the website hellohumans.co. The dotcom people will not sell it to me. I’ve tried. I’ve offered them enough money. And it was just that was the web site I owned. So that’s where it went.
And since then at some point other people started sending me stories and being like, “Hey man thanks for your honesty. This is really vulnerable and heartfelt. This is my story.” So we posted their stories. Then I got let go. The company was going under and so I was part of one of the waves of terminations. And I just wrote to the following that I had. And I said, “Hey I’d like to do this professionally or more full time and would you like to support me. This is how you could do it. Enough people jumped in that made it possible.”
I had to scale back everything I do, live off of unemployment plus the generosity of other people’s donations. But it somehow has worked. And it’s since become a podcast. I have no background in this and no idea what I’m doing but I have a ton of people who make me want to keep doing it. And who pitch in enough that I can somehow make it work.
LEE: It’s amazing. I just want to reiterate the name is hellohumans.co. And in it you’re so remarkably open about your life and the people who are posting there are really open about their lives. I really want to know why do you do it — for those of us who couldn’t imagine being so open why what’s good about that. I’m being a bit of a devil’s advocate, but what’s the upside for you and the people around you about just being honest and open and self forgiving?
SAM: The upside for the contributor the person writing is that it’s really rare these days that you actually get an opportunity to be seen.
Yesterday was a really hard day for me. I’m doing quite well. You know, my life is wonderful and it’s tempting to just want to post on Instagram how fun and creative my life can be. But yesterday I was having a hard day. And so I just posted a thing that said, “Hey so if you randomly feel completely fucked and doomed just know you’re probably doing better than you think you’re doing.” And it was just a photo of me.
And then people started writing me. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” So I sat down at a park and I did this funny little fake meditation video where I said, “I invite you guys to come into the room and take a deep breath and want you to repeat today’s mantra. And the mantra was something like: “Not everything is completely fucked and doomed. At worst it is only slightly fucked and doomed.” And people just started doing their own meditation videos and sent them to me and it went nuts.
And a lot more people wrote to say “thank you” than they actually sent videos. I think we’ve probably got about 30 people who recorded themselves so it’s not completely fucked and doomed. At worst it’s only slightly fucked and doomed.
It’s Rare to be Seen and Heard
It’s rare to be seen and heard. We are conditioned to say things. When people say a really lovely beautiful question at its root which is, “How are you?” We’re conditioned to say like “fine” or “good” or “great.” There are weird programs in us. If we’re feeling great and we’re around people who aren’t feeling great we might deaden ourselves just a little bit, just so we don’t make them uncomfortable with how well we feel. And the reverse is true. If we feel awful and other people seem to be doing well we’re afraid to show up and just say, “Hey, you know I don’t mean to be a downer but I’m really struggling here. I really don’t know why I’m here at work right now. I hate everything.” And it’s uncomfortable for some people.
Another unfortunate kind of routine we’re in is trying to fix everything, so a lot of people hear a message like that like “I’m not doing well.” And they want to come up with a solution for you. And they want to say, “Well, have you tried this this or this?” And that’s not what people need. What people need is they need you to go, “Wow. Yeah. I acknowledge that. I see you. I’ve been there. If there’s anything I can do Let me know. And if not, just know I’m here.”
Our life is complex and it’s full of challenges and hardship as well as good times. And we know our own experience quite well and quite intimately because we’re in it. When we look at other people we see their outsides and we see that what they’re presenting to the world and it’s just because. We don’t get to see their dirty laundry per se.
If you go to a friend’s house and there’s a laundry hamper full of dirt, dirty laundry you don’t go, “Oh my god, you have dirty laundry.” But with emotional dirty laundry or hardship, we don’t assume everyone has it. Because what we see is like happy couples and great vacations and. All the beautiful parts of life which I think deserve to be seen and celebrated.
But when somebody says, “You know, I didn’t want to show up to work today. But I’m here and I’m miserable. I’m just going to do the best I can.” Like there’s that kind of me factor where it’s like wow me too you know. It doesn’t need to have a solution like that’s. Whenever we prep somebody who says, “I really feel like I have a story inside of me. Can you guys. Take a look at what I have?” We always say you know, the whole internet is full of gurus who want to talk to you from the podium. And we want you to invite them to walk alongside you and just take them through the story. What’s true. What’s real. Because that’s what’s medicine.
The one you know one size fits all solutions aren’t real medicine. Medicine is to let people walk with you. And see you in your own journey and they can take what they like from that. and apply it to themselves if they need some outside suggestion.
LEE: What you’re saying is really resonating with me because today I got notes back from my editor on a book that I’m writing. It’s a pretty personal book it’s a book about being a parent and she wants more dirty laundry. And I thought holy crap she wants more dirty laundry like I have to go back and dig deeper into myself to do a better job of telling this story more completely. I got kind of depressed for a while. Then said, you know, what she’s asking you to do more work on a project you really love. It’s going to be hard. But there’s a lot of good work to be done there is a lot of self-examination, a lot of good writing. I like writing. So just do it. I went through a couple hours of, “Oh. this is awful. You know it’s going to be hard. But I think I can do this because the project deserves it and it’s going to require more vulnerability from me.
SAM: Sounds like a good editor.
LEE: She gave me twenty-six pages of notes very detailed which I have to digest and you know figure out how I’m going to fit that into two months of rewriting.
SAM: It’s really about trying to capture truth that’s inside you. If you’ve lost somebody and it’s been three months and you feel like everybody’s sick of you feeling sad about it. Well, what’s true is that you’re still sad. If you can try to do some practices that might help with that, like a gratitude list, or trying to change your mindset. But If you’re sad, this is what I was talking about today. If you’re sad you’re doing something wrong. Like life life is really hard sometimes. You know you could be doing everything right and bad things still happen. And it’s OK to be sad. It’s ok to feel your feelings. And you know there’s no real handbook on this and there’s no real appropriate timeline. And so somebody might get over a divorce in three months and that’s OK. Good for them. And it might take someone else like three years or longer.
They just need to be able to to work through it on their own time.
Stomp on the Ground
One thing I’ve been thinking about is because I feel a great deal of pressure, especially on the podcasts because I’m not used to audio. I feel a pressure to censor myself in some way. And because I’m weird and gross and immature and I want to be more refined than I am but I’m not. I’m just who I am. I’ve been doing this little thing where I just go outside and stomp on the ground because a lot of me wants to make sure I don’t upset anyone by being me. And so I feel like I’m like stepping on a lawn, trying very carefully not to bend to any blades of grass.
Sometimes I go out now and I just stomp the ground and remember that this world can support me as I am. And as I walk, bades of grass are going to get bent. And that’s just part of it. I have to trust the the system, to trust that they will heal or not. But if I am an animal running on grass my job is to run. The animals don’t worry about the grass. They just trust that. If they do what they’re supposed to do. Naturally. Things will work out and I think a lot of our problems come from going against that.
Being a Dad
LEE: I want to bring this around to being a parent. This is a good place to jump into that because so much of my conception of being a dad and being a father is formed by other people.
What kind of a father was my father? Should I be like that? And what kind of fathers are these other fathers and should I be like them? I started to think that being a father meant stepping up or stepping into a role, kind of up leveling. “I have to be more than myself.”
It does have something to do with stepping into a better version of myself. But I want to ask you: How can we be fathers without the labels, without the definitions, without what other people think?
SAM: Wow. Well, my journey about being a dad is really complicated. I’m a teen dad. Jack is my son’s name. I got his mother pregnant when I was 18. She was 19. He was born when I was 19 years old and I was a mess.
Not only was I a 19-year-old which — that alone I was not prepared emotionally or experienced to raise a child. I was a total mess. I was a drug addict. I had tons of substance problems. At some point I was meth addict. Speed. And everything else. Alcohol. Anything that would get me out of myself. So I can’t say that knew what I was doing, or doing anything right. Until I really got clean and sober. I was there for the first year and a half. But I wasn’t all there. So that’s part of my story. Forgiving myself for that. And luckily my son doesn’t remember. He’s never seen me like that. He’s only seen me as a strong and sober guy who’s really living a pretty good life.
Getting Clean and Sober
But I didn’t even know how to be human. I had been pretty much stoned or drunk from 12 to 22 so I. My getting sober story was about learning how to be human while learning how to be a father. And it meant making a ton of mistakes along the way. But I didn’t read many books on being a dad. And maybe I should have, but that’s just what’s true. I didn’t read the literature.
I didn’t have a dad. So I didn’t really know what that meant. I just knew that I had a chance to make sure that this kid had a dad. That at least if I was alive and in his life he could have something that I didn’t.
I’ve been feeling it out in a lot of ways right now. I feel like my son needs a lot of structure. And it’s I want to be the fun dad and we have a lot of fun. But I’m pretty quick to be the bad guy. I think that’s that’s just because I’m 29 years old and very much daily learning how to have some discipline in my life. Because it really benefits me. You know, I’m self-employed creative artist weirdo. So it’s all new for me and so just to be able to go recognize that and myself. “Wow, I wish I had done this earlier.” Hey, I can teach this guy this lesson earlier. That’s kind of the attitude I’ve been taking.
The theme that keeps coming up for in this and for me is self forgiveness. You can’t erase the past. You can’t forget the past, but you can forgive yourself for when certain things just went off the rails.
LEE: We’re all figuring our way out and feeling our way through it. How do we tell anybody else how to be a father, or can’t we? Or we just have to say, “Guys just figure it out, just like we’ve had to figure it out.”
SAM: I have a horrible habit of giving unsolicited advice. So that’s something I have to pull back. People ask me. I love to give it. But I try not to give it if it’s not wanted, because it’ll probably be they won’t take me up on it anyway. I’m sure there are guys out there who have raised 11 kids, and they could probably speak pretty well about what works and what doesn’t. But I only have one.
Being an Artist
The main lesson I got from my mom who was my my only parent — single mom, only child — is she sacrificed a lot. And. But she never gave up on her dream. And so I got to watch. We didn’t have any money. None. I got to watch my mom really live in her art form and express herself and work hard towards it. It didn’t matter that we didn’t have a ton of money. And eventually she ended up successful. But that’s besides the point. Because that is the number one thing I want to give to my son, is to show him that that’s possible. That it’s possible to really have the craft that you love most of the time.
And to really you be in tune with that you’re a creator. I think that’s why we use that word to describe God. If you believe in such a thing. But either way we used the word Creator to describe this important power. I think that’s because deep down we know that we’re creators. Doesn’t have to be professional, but we’re supposed to be making stuff and expressing ourselves. I want my son to know that that’s possible. That you get to try new things. We can pick up an iPhone and make bad movies with it one day. It doesn’t have to be good. But if there is one thing that I am focused on as a parent it’s to make sure that he knows that it’s possible. Because that’s the gift that I was given.
I had a bunch of years where I was really scared to be an artist or creative.
So I went to school for industrial design because I thought I was safe. But I never thought in my head that it was impossible and its because I had this example in my life.
The best decisions I’ve ever made as a father I feel like were the best decisions I’ve made for myself. I feel like the better care I take of myself, this may sound backwards, the happier I am. The more capacity I have to be patient and loving with Jax and a great example.
What matters is that he sees me thrive. Because at the end of the day I am this young man’s first role model. He’ll have no way cooler or more impressive role models down the road, I’m sure. But I’m the first one. I’m his template. Essentially, at some point, he goes, “Oh, that’s what men are.” Not perfect by any means. But the goal is to try and be a good role model, and that’s not by being a helicopter dad. When I make a podcast, he always says I want to hear the intro because that’s really where I get to be creative. It’s in the intro. He says, “I want to hear. “
And I go, “Oh man, I say a bad word.
He says, “It’s okay.”
“I know I’m not supposed to say it.”
He says, “I just want to hear it.”
“OK.” When I do a drawing he wants to see it. He wants to know about it. And that’s everything to me.
A Template for Fatherhood
LEE: It’s really this notion of being an example, being a template, and not elevating that. That doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect. That doesn’t mean that we’re the example for all time.
Like you said, your son and my kids, too, may meet way cooler people down the line. In fact, I hope they do. But to show them that we’re being good to ourselves, and that we’re connecting with creativity and work, and that that’s really good.There’s a lot to be had from that. That’s probably a great thing all by itself.
Kids are like video recorders. They’re recording everything that you do even when you think they aren’t. They’re measuring and they’re looking at you as a dad, and me, as examples of something good or bad. Something they can measure their lives against. When I think of my own father, I’ll track back to something he did or said. It’s kind of baked in. It’s part of my body. It’s part of my DNA. So that feels like a pretty big responsibility. But to deliver on it, is really, if you’re going to be a creator be a creator. If you’re going to do what you’re doing really be present.
It sounds hard to express that. It sounds a little bit vague. Love them how you can. Be where you are now. I don’t really have the words for it.
SAM: You mentioned something that I wanted to touch on. It’s just like the purpose of Hello Humans is to show the real side of life that is so important. And so my son’s watching me struggle, really, at times to to take this thing off the ground and make it something which it may or may not ever be. It’s my job to give him the real look at it, of the successes and failures.
I just went to Nashville to do two interviews. And they went great. But when I got back there was a malfunction and the recordings weren’t there. And I wanted my son to see that. I wanted him to understand how painful that is. Logistically it cost a couple thousand. I’m living off a couple of thousand a month you know.
So it was a horrible blow, but an opportunity for him to see the problem solving involved. And if you’re just like trying to be Mr. Superhero Role Model … you don’t want your child to just think that life is all happy all the time, because you’re not preparing them for the world. You need to prepare them for disappointment because that is in its own way just as beautiful and definitely just as much of the experience.
LEE: It’s somewhat about resiliency. We’ve been reading the Dr. Seuss book Oh the Places You’ll Go. My son is going to bring it into school. It has the obvious lessons, there are there’s ups and downs, but it’s the comeback, it’s the resiliency, it’s the needing to keep doing it when things go wrong, especially in a creative life. It’s a great thing for any life. It’s a great thing to show a kid.
I’m a divorced father — remarried now — a father of three. And this third time around the thing that I’ve found the hardest is showing emotions in this whole spectrum. When I started as a dad, and when I think of older dads that I knew, we were sort of rock solid guys. We didn’t cry in front of the kids, hardly ever if at all, and we didn’t get too mad. Now it feels very different, with gender roles changing. and gender equity changing in the family. Everyone’s behaving differently in a family than the quote unquote rules that I learned earlier on. We can show more emotions as dads. It took me a while to figure that out, because I was more intent on curating a life like it was on Facebook or something with a lot of happy smiling people. But of course, like you’re saying, everyone knows life isn’t like that at all.
SAM: No, it’s not. It’s because I didn’t have a dad. I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to cry or show emotions, but I got real, honest talk from my mom.
And so if we didn’t have a ton of money there was no anxiety behind it. It it’s just like,“Hey, we’re going have to wait on anything extra that you want. But just keep note of it. If you want a toy just keep note of it. And when I get paid next we can go get it.”
I am grateful for it. I really am. I felt like I wasn’t sheltered. And I think when they’re really young you want it to be a very safe and stable environment. But at some point you need to start giving them little glimpses of what it’s really like because … hard, unfair things happen every day, and we have become very good at handling them. That’s what our children are going to have to do. They’re going to have to get an unexpected bill.
You know, my fridge broke today. I don’t have my son today. We’re 50/50 custody but my fridge broke today. It’s just — to repair it is eight hundred dollars and I’m probably going to get a new fridge, which might be more. And. I would love for my son to kind of see me work through this.
“It Couldn’t Possibly Survive Down the Mountain It Was Built For”
LEE: I was reading your Instagram. You posted an image of a soap box car and you wrote, “I feel like I’ve been seeking, gathering, and building myself over the past 7 years I’ve been sober. I picture myself like a soapbox car I’ve been working on in the garage. It’s rickety, but it kinda works, and that’s awesome, but it couldn’t possibly survive going down the mountain it was built for yet.”
There’s a lot in there. Life as work in progress, self forgiveness. I thought it was great. Beautiful.
SAM:Thank you. I think in images. That is kind of the theme of the year. I have spent the last seven years really doing a ton of work on myself, but not a ton as much action as I’d like, and I’ve done some really cool things. I’ve been a street artist and that was an incredible chapter of my life. And then I started showing sculptures in galleries. That was great. I got a big kid job at one point, and when that big job ended I started writing and I started doing this and at this point I want to just — really produce.
That means making a lot more bad art than I’m used to I’m used to. And in terms of a fathership, this is what I’m trying to teach him now. because it’s taken me I wish I had learned this younger and so we go watercolor and I am very bad at watercolor and Jax has never done it.
And we make bad watercolors and we don’t tear them up. And for me I try to share them, even if they’re bad. I don’t always have the confidence because there’s that image consultant that only wants you to present the good looking things but I make my son not tear his up either. He’s just like me. He wants to, “I could have done better.”
“Yeah, you could. You totally could have.”
But that’s not what happened. Don’t kill the art. Definitely don’t kill the art. I have lost so many cool projects to my perfectionism. So many. I can’t even count how many projects that I never even started because I knew it couldn’t possibly be executed the way it was in my mind.
The best lesson I got from a mentor — which my whole life, you know since I didn’t have a dad — was all mentors. It was just like, “You know the vision of that art. If you’re an artist or a creative and you have these intense visions. It’s not a blueprint for you to build that exact object. That would be like doing a perfect translation Japanese to English. They don’t have the same words. It’s your job to interpret it.
And so when Jax I sit down to do anything he has very strong vision too. We took a box and we were going to build a little car thing he could hang out in and imagine himself driving. And there’s a million times where he just went he just wanted to give up because he had imagined these semi smooth beautiful fenders of the car and we were building out of cardboard. To get it to make any kind of shape it’s not going to be totally smooth. But I was raised with of our family motto, which I have tattooed on my arm. It says, “We never give up.” That’s the secret. You want to watch me build Hello Humans, I’m crawling at times.
Magic Happens When You Don’t Give Up
The truth is that it means like some days you feel like you can hardly get out of bed to do it anymore. And you just want to quit and things aren’t looking good. But if you crawl, you know eventually you’ll be able to run again. As a father or husband which I’m single at the moment but I’ve had some good partnerships — it’s about not giving up. Magic happens when you don’t give up. That’s something that us as adults need to remember but our kids really need to be taught. These days where attention is all time low. Our news stations don’t even have attention spans anymore. A week goes by and a huge story that should be talked about the whole year just disappears for something else. We need to learn how to sit down. And be bored and do it. And I’m still learning that. I don’t think you have to be a master at something to teach. I think as a parent you just have to work on your craft and let that be the lesson.
Invite them to sit with you which means that it will go slower. If I’m working on a project in my little wood shop, if I invite my son things are going to go slower because I have to explain this and that. But he can watch me make mistakes. He wants me build stuff. He can watch it not turn out how I want it to. And he wants me to appreciate that it’s funky and not perfect at the end.
That’s what I wish I had learned earlier. And I think that’s the interesting thing about being a parent is that you can make a few moves. You have the opportunity to make a few moves to maybe teach something important to you to someone earlier than you got it. At least a chance. You’re so often work teaching what we’re learning.
LEE: Yeah, I think so for me too. Definitely. What people really are looking for as parents is permission to be themselves and permission to search and be seekers. We all think about what we have to “fix it.” Problem-solution. Things aren’t really like that at all. Kids learn more when they go through the iterations on the way to the solution. Kind of a version of “never give up.” Things just keep unfolding. Things keep changing. The solution you had yesterday is not the solution that works today.
For me to reboot and to recover is a good thing for me, for my own self development. Certainly, this last kid of mine has taught me a lot of, “You know what you thought you knew? Take another look at that. “
You’re going to have to revisit some stuff and be humble about it, yet have a certain amount of authority because you are the kid’s parent.
SAM: Wow. Yeah it’s one of the really cool things about our times too. There’s a lot more process out there. So right. I love I love looking at a finished book or a finished painting or finish sculpture. But to be able to see these artists like paint stroke by stroke and see what’s real. Like. How cool as adults. It’s almost like we get to be kids and watching watching people that we look up to as if it were in their studios and seen with being a parent. I think I think the process is more useful than the product.
LEE: Absolutely. That is a great note to end on. I have to end on that because that’s too good
SAM: That’s the title, right there.
LEE: There you go. There you go. Sam, thanks so much for being on the show.
SAM: Thanks for having me.