Walking on Eggshells
A Fairy Tale
Friday, February 20, 2009, was the most perfect day of my life. Not everyone gets to be married on national television on a beach in front of a beautiful Hawai’ian sunset. But I did. I was head over heels in love with my new husband, Brahman (Bo) Galanti, and more than two hundred friends and members of my extended family were there to support me.
On that day my family showered me with all the love I ever could have wished for. More than two hundred people showed up to celebrate as Bo and I exchanged the vows we had written. My wedding gown felt like something a princess would wear, and I was as giddy with excitement as any bride could be. When our family
pastor, Tim Storey, pronounced us man and wife I was probably the happiest girl in the world.
Nothing could dampen my exuberant mood on my wedding day, not even the fact that I had made none of the decisions a bride usually makes. Choosing the flowers, invitations, and color scheme, even deciding on the kind of cake that was served—all of those decisions were made by my stepmother, Beth, and the production crew of my dad’s reality TV series, Dog the Bounty Hunter. Normally I would have strong opinions about the details of my own wedding, but I was just so happy to marry the love of my life that I allowed Beth and A&E to make all of the decisions. They arranged for the wedding to be at Lanikohonua, a historical beachfront site in Ko Olina on the Hawai’ian island of Oahu.
My bouquet was a large fragrant mix of calla lilies and cascading blue flowers, and my dress was a gorgeous ivory silk by Demetrios with a plunging V-neck. Viewers of the show were probably unaware that I was fourteen weeks pregnant with my second child, as my dress was so well designed that it hid my small baby bump. I have made many mistakes in my life, and unmarried and unprotected sex were just two of them.
On my wedding day, however, I was thrilled about the idea of Bo and me parenting our new child together. All in all, I felt like I was in a fairy tale.
Fairy tales, however, are not all sweetness and light. They are riddled with darkness, just as my life has been. Snow White had to outsmart the evil queen. Little Red Riding Hood had to stand
up to the big bad wolf, and Cinderella lived her formative years submitting to her oh so wicked stepsisters.
I was born Lyssa Rae Chapman II at General Hospital in Denver, Colorado, on June 10, 1987, a petite, blond-haired, green-eyed girl. I arrived at four forty-one A.M. and was named after my mother, Lyssa Rae Worthington Chapman. Lyssa, by the way, is pronounced as if it were spelled “Lisa.” In her youth, my mother looked very much like a curly-haired Barbra Streisand. When she met Dad, she had graduated from Rama Bible College and was newly separated from her husband, who was a preacher. Apparently she and my dad fell in love immediately. They were married after my mother’s first divorce was final in Estes Park, Colorado, on June 22, 1982, by an Indian chief who was also a judge.
My dad is Duane Lee Chapman, but you most likely know him as Dog the Bounty Hunter. There’s not much in his life that has not been told. From the Dog the Bounty Hunter television show, which has aired internationally in more than twenty countries, to his bestselling books, to the hundreds of interviews and media reports, much of Dad’s life is well known. Even though this is my story and not his, as Dog’s daughter much of his story affected me, especially when I was living with him when I was a child.
My perspective, however, may not be what you expect.
I love my dad, but he is not perfect. No one is. We all do the
best we can, and Dad has had his own challenges. In addition to fathering a dozen children, he has served time in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, been a boxer, and been shot at more times than any of us can count. Now, as the “World’s Most Famous Bounty Hunter,” Dad has new hurdles in dealing with fame, a large family and staff, and in running several businesses.
Our relationship is beyond complicated, as is my relationship with my mother, but I love both of my parents more than words can say.
My early years were spent in Colorado, in a gang-infested neighborhood near Denver. I lived with my mother and dad in a run-down house that had been passed down through the family. There was graffiti on the cracked sidewalk and empty, burned-out houses across the street. With us lived my older sister and brother, Barbara and Tucker; my mother’s son by her earlier marriage, Jason; and two of Dad’s boys by one of his earlier marriages, Duane Lee and Leland. With six kids and a tiny house, we were often running wild out on the street. Everyone in the neighborhood knew we were Dog’s kids, however, so the gang members who loitered on our street didn’t mess with us. Even then, Dad was tough.
As the youngest child in this unusual household, I don’t remember much. I know I was carried a lot, and being held in the arms of my family members went a long way toward making me feel safe in a drug-infested neighborhood. I have been told that my mother and dad fought a lot. Tensions in our family ran high when bills came due and there was no money to pay. Plus, Dad was often
out doing bail bonds or bounty hunting, so care for all six of us was mostly left to our mother.
With half a dozen children and not enough money to go around, anyone would be overwhelmed. That was my mother. She loved to party, and from the time I was very young I knew she drank. I learned very early in life that there is a huge difference between partying and actually going to a party. My mother had a lot to escape from, and during this time in her life alcohol was her diversion. Today she might have joined a support group, gone to counseling, or taken a yoga class, but back then she must have felt that alcohol was her only choice. Either that or the pull toward substance abuse overcame the need to find a healthier alternative.
When I was small I adored my older siblings, especially my sister, Barbara. She was almost exactly five years older than I was—her birthday was June 8 and mine was June 10, and we used to have combined birthday parties on the ninth that I looked forward to for months. Everyone came: family, neighbors, and friends. And though a lot of kids were there, I knew I was Daddy’s girl. Even through the roughest of times, I have always felt a special bond with my dad. I was his Baby Lyssa.
Dad wasn’t always there, however. Work kept him away a lot, and to be honest, tension at home probably did, too. Because of that, and because my mother was so overwhelmed, Barbara became a surrogate mom to me. As far back as I can remember I looked to Barbara for help and guidance. When we were still living with both of our parents, Barbara was often the one who made sure
I had something to eat, who made sure I wore clothes that were at least somewhat clean, who comforted me at night when I’d had a nightmare. We were inseparable and I loved her with all my heart.
When I think about it I am amazed. Barbara at the time was just seven or eight. I look at my daughters, especially my older daughter, Abbie, who is nine as of this writing, and shudder to think of this beautiful little girl having to shoulder the responsibility that Barbara had at the same age. An old adage says that adversity makes you stronger, but sometimes I feel that too much of it just wears you down. Despite Dad’s best efforts, the Chapman family in the late 1980s and early 1990s was just that: worn down.
A marriage is hard to hold together in the best of circumstances. Eventually the constant poverty—and the fighting it caused—drove my parents apart. I can now also speculate on the effects of alcohol and drug use, and of marital infidelity. From what I can see, everything stemmed from the choices of whether to use drugs and alcohol, and whether to fight. I also sometimes wonder how many different kinds of mental illness, such as depression or bipolar disorder, have affected various members of my family and how much they have contributed toward our dysfunction and addiction.
Today I see my parents as two different people with different goals and aspirations. But all I knew then was that “Mom and Dad” had come to the end of their marriage. When I was two, my mother left us to move in with her mother and care for her ailing stepdad. Barbara, Tucker, and I stayed with Dad. Barbara
and Tucker cried a lot for our mother after she left but I’d always had so many people around that I didn’t understand the concept of mother. I also didn’t understand the idea that a permanent split between two adults meant that one of them wasn’t coming back.
It wasn’t long before Dad moved Tawny Marie, his secretary and new girlfriend, into the house with all of us. I remember only bits and pieces of the separation and eventual divorce, but I remember liking Tawny, who eventually married my dad. Tawny was the one who served my mother divorce papers from my dad, even though I am not sure why my mother was at our house. It could be that she had dropped us off after a visitation. I’m also not sure what my dad was thinking, especially as I can’t imagine Dad doing it to deliberately hurt my mother. Maybe Tawny took it upon herself to fulfill the service so as to speed Dad’s divorce along. Or Dad may have been thinking of Tawny in her role as his secretary. Since Dad was in the business of bail bonds and knew how our intricate legal system works, he might have decided to have Tawny serve the papers so he could save money on a process server. Something like the plumber fixing his own sink. Do it yourself so you know it has been done right. My parents were divorced on November 20, 1991. I was four years old.
My strongest memory of that time, however, was the day my mother and Tawny got into a terrible brawl and knocked each other around as if they were bowling pins. Again, I am not sure why they were together, but it was essentially a bar fight. By the time they began pulling each other’s hair out, I had become hysterical.
This violent behavior from the two women who were supposed to take care of me was terrible to witness. From them I learned that the way to solve problems was through disrespectful name-calling and, if that failed, physical violence.
Today I am twenty-five, and understand that, as a young child, I was given little guidance. I don’t mean to say that my parents didn’t love me. I know they did, even though when I was small I wasn’t always sure of it.
In the fall of 1992, when I was five, I started kindergarten and quickly came to love everything about going to school. Everything. Tawny always walked us to school, and in previous years we would drop Barbara and Tucker off, then Tawny and I would walk home. This year, however, I got to stay!
I loved meeting all the kids and making new friends, including my teacher, Mrs. Fox. Every day we had snack time, play time, and nap time, and I enjoyed the process of learning far more than you might imagine—especially for a girl with my particular family situation. For me, school was a safe place, an environment where I could be “normal,” and it was a place where no one knew of my troubles at home. I could even, for a few hours during the school day, forget about all the tension within my family.
Even then I had a vague awareness that other parents thought about Dad and Tawny differently than they regarded parents of
most of my classmates—Dad’s career, the way our family was configured, even how my dad looked made him unique. When I was young, Dad had long hair worn in a kind of flattop mullet and was clean-cut. He was thin and so handsome that many of the other moms whistled at him. Plus, his suave, charismatic personality, combined with a crisp white shirt and black vest, made him impossible not to notice. Even though he was not yet a celebrity, there was never a time when he was shy and retiring. He has always known how to fill a room, even if he’s the only one in it. That’s also one of the many things I love about him.
I don’t know how blatant his drug use was at that time, but I do remember seeing drug paraphernalia around our home. I didn’t realize what it was or what the connotations could be—for me, it was just something else to wonder about, among all those other adult things that didn’t seem to have much to do with me.
Because my mother left when I was so young I didn’t have any strong memories of her. To be honest, I didn’t even think about her much. Tawny was the first of half a dozen or more women Dad would eventually wind up having close relations with—women who each lived with us at one time or another. I wasn’t really aware of the concept of a biological mother, so I called each of those women “Mom.” It seemed natural, since to me “Mom” was simply any lady we lived with for a length of time and who took care of us.
Sometimes Dad had two women he saw regularly at the same time. That became a big thing for me to wonder about. For example, for most of the time Dad was married to Tawny, he
was also pursuing other women, including Beth Smith, who later would become another of my stepmothers. Beth is Dad’s current wife and starred along with Dad, two of my brothers, and me in Dog the Bounty Hunter. Beth first came into Dad’s life when I was two, about the same time my biological mother left. When the divorce came through and Dad married Tawny, Beth was still an on-and-off presence.
Dad initially met Beth when he bailed her out of jail for shoplifting and illegal possession of a firearm. Then Beth and Tawny became good friends. I remember several times when Beth came to our house when I was very young, including the Christmas after Dad and my mother separated. This was unusual, as other women rarely hung out at our house. Over the years the relationship between Dad and Beth grew until even a child as young as I could see that there was more than friendship going on.
This is why I became confused about the roles of women in the home and in society. When you have never experienced normal, it is hard to recognize it when you finally find it. The same holds true for an abnormal life. For example, when your parents are continually high, it is hard to think of that as being either a bad or an unusual thing. I just regarded it as being “what grown-ups do.”
As young as I was, I could see that Dad was making an effort to create a “normal” life for us, and even though he and Tawny fought just as my mother had fought with Dad, life was better when he stayed away from the partying lifestyle. During those
times we went to church regularly and Barbara, Tucker, and I were able to develop our interests. For me it was dance. I so loved going to dance class. Dad really did want to give us the childhood he never had.
One of the people who helped Dad grow in life was the motivational speaker and author Tony Robbins. Dad had been going to and speaking at his seminars for several years. Dad often spoke to Tony’s audiences about his time in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, and how much Tony’s words and philosophy had helped him over the years. At about the time I turned six, Dad attended a ten-day Tony Robbins seminar in Hawai’i while our grandmother, Dad’s mom, watched us. Dad and Tawny had been married only a little while, but already it was on-again, off-again.
Dad fell in love with Hawai’i and did not return home to us until our initial two-week stint with Grandma had turned into more than a month. When he did return, he happily announced that we were moving to the Aloha state. I was still at an age where I had no concept of the enormity of change this move was going to bring. But the plane ride, the endless ocean, and the new house in a tropical paradise all represented such great challenges that they made life feel strange and unreal, even for a little girl growing up in the surreal fashion that I was.
Still, even if all of my life challenges so far were combined, they would not come close to the test my elementary school years would prove to be.