Saving Private Ryan is an epic movie that depicts the horrors of World War II in a way that no other film has done. If you have not watched it, you need to. But this blog post is not about the movie, it’s about our family trip to Montana, reuniting with Savanna’s mother, and the podcast recording experience I had with Andy Stumpf.
Spring break was a success! We drove five hours from our home here in the Alaskan countryside to the big city of Anchorage, spent the night at our favorite hotel, and ate half a dozen tacos from Taco King before waking up at 4 am for our flight.
Thankfully, our three hour flight to Seattle was cut short thanks to a tail wind. The flight was going smoothly with the kiddos until Primrose, our 2 1/2 year old, began noticing everybody around us on their tablets. She instantly demanded to watch something, and thanks to Mom, we held firm and said, “No.”
When we arrived in Seattle, in an act of defiance, Primrose decided it was hilarious to run as fast as she could from terminal to terminal while Daddy chased her. She did this for hours, and while people waiting on flights thought it was funny, and Dad did a good job of acting like it was funny and playful, it was pretty fucking annoying to have my beautiful blonde hair blue eyed daughter running away from me in a crowd of thousands of people. Can we say, “Abduction!” There is too much Dateline being listened to in our house.
The flight from Seattle to Kalispell lasted long enough to have a ginger ale. Our youngest daughter, Marlena, was a champion in the flight world. She didn’t complain or gripe or cry at all, she just basically did her own thing on her mama’s breast. It was wonderful!
In Montana, we stayed in Whitefish at the Grouse Mountain Lodge where we were able to soak in a hot-tub, sit in a sauna, swim in the pool, and lounge in the lobby on old leather couches beside a propane stove. Antler chandeliers lit the lobby, providing a smooth ambience to my never-ending refill of coffee. Free coffee, watch out! Whitefish is a cool town with an Amtrak station that connects to Seattle and Chicago, a ski-resort, two awesome small grocery stores, and endless shopping. It was supposedly a very small town ten years ago that has grown and grown thanks to the influx of Californians, but that’s just hearsay.
Grandma flew in from Missouri to meet us halfway, she slept in one bed while I slept with Primrose in the other. Mama and Marlena made a bunk on the floor with our blow-up camping pad. Savanna insisted on sleeping with the baby on the floor because Marlena was having a difficult time sleeping on the soft bed. And of course, Mama was right, Marlena slept so much better on the floor. Trust your Moms!
We rented a sweet little compact car and drove the 45 minutes to Glacier National Park two separate times. One time, Primrose, myself, mama and Marlena walked far out on the ice to join two old timers ice fishing. Savanna was terrified to go on the ice, but she did it!!! John Love, a big bearded man who was smoking cigarette, a school teacher and father of four, let Primrose cast and jig for her first time. He was a sweet guy. The second time we went to the Park was with Grandma, where she walked on ice for the first time in her life. We drove around the lake until finding ice-less patches of water where we were able to put our hands in the water and hold the colorful rocks. It was a glorious place, one we hope to visit in the future!
Savanna and Primrose went snowboarding at the Whitefish Ski Resort for their first time. Savanna fell on her butt a few hard times until she was done for the day. Primrose stood between her father’s legs while I cruised down the bunny hill. It was a blast! After mama went inside with the crew to rest her bum, I upgraded my pass to go to the top of the mountain where I was able to take one run down the forested, empty backside, and another down the face. Can we say “Freshies!” “Tree runs!” “Indy grabs!” and “Fun!”
While the girls were inside the busy lodge, a young man approached Savanna and said, “I hate to sound weird, but I recognize you from social media. Are you married to Bob Stark?” Lo and behold, it was none other than Keenan Prochazka from Seward, Alaska. I love growing up in a small town! I came inside from riding and chatted with Keenan for a few minutes before making a coffee date for the following day. It is so rewarding to watch young people grow into adults with solid morals and work ethic. I am really proud of him.
After riding the mountain, driving around the area, and walking around towns- Savanna and I changed our minds about the area. It’s a funny thing in our family, anytime we travel we talk about moving to the place we are visiting. We begin looking at real estate, talking about the logistics, looking into jobs, all of it… Not this time. The first few days were spent in stoic comfort that we did not want to live there. However, the longer we stayed in the Kalispell/Whitefish area the more the people, stores, comforts, countryside, and warmth grew on us. And after going snowboarding, I was convinced. I would live there, we all would. So at about day 5 we decided that we could stay there in the summer and winter, and that we hope to visit some summer to see the plant life and feel the heat. Did I mention that we were outside in t-shirts and sweaters in early March? Something that is basically unfathomable here in Southcentral Alaska.
The family dropped me off in Kalispell on the day of my interview to walk around town for a couple of hours before meeting with Andy Stumpf. It was the first time in months that I had been alone for hours on end, and for about the first hour I really enjoyed it. I walked around downtown taking pictures of brick buildings, alleyways, and cathedrals. I ate a bowl of cold soup at Montana Coffee Company, and I went out of my way to ask them to heat the damn thing up, which I rarely do. But then I started missing my girls and wishing we could share the memories. With all that being said, by the time my meeting with Andy happened, I was prepared mentally and spiritually.
I stood outside of the Mixed Martials Arts center at 2:25 waiting for him to arrive. “Mr. Stark,” he said, at 2:27. “Mr. Stumpf.” We shook hands and I followed him upstairs. We said no words, until walking into his studio that had a long wooden table, four microphones and headphones, and a screen behind us. He had a friend working the recording system and cameras, Michael I believe his name was, and Andy told me to put the headphones on and talk into the microphone from a fist away.
And we started the podcast.
There was zero small talk before we began. Andy wanted to keep it that way to prevent fears and inorganic substance to creep into the podcast. He did not respond to my email regarding what he may ask because he didn’t want to have a script of any kind. So we sat there, two men, one a former Navy Seal and one a former infantryman, and we shot the shit for 3 hours about war, growing up without a dad, prison’s impacts of family, addiction, transition from military, writing, farming, and life off grid. We talked about basically everything that I can talk about besides supernatural shit, and by the time we were done and I walked down the stairs- I was spent.
The girls were parked outside waiting for me when it was over. I couldn’t even begin to tell them what I talked about, so I was basically silent for the rest of the day. I didn’t sleep that night. I was obsessed with what I had said. Worried about hurting people’s feelings. Worried about telling the truth in fear that it would hurt other people’s feelings. Worried about sounding like a dumb shit. Worried about sounding cocky. Worried about saying too much. Worried about not asking enough questions or letting Andy talk enough. Worried about not saying enough. I obsessed, and after a few hours of obsessing while four girls slept in the same room (with a few farts coming from certain areas of the room), I finally fell asleep.
I was moody the next day, no doubt. I called my brother and told him about some of the shit I talked about. Giving him a disclaimer before he had to hear it on the podcast. He said something along the lines of, “It’s okay for you to throw me under the bus for your fame and fortune.” The thing is, I am not famous, and I’m not throwing him under the bus anymore than throwing myself under the bus. I am just telling the truth about our family. And that’s one of the problems in our depressed world, so many people are too afraid of being exposed–myself included– that we force our families into little secret cults where fucked up shit happens all of the time and nobody talks about it. We can’t talk to people, we can’t pay counselors, we can’t write about it, we just bottle it up and then use a bunch of drugs and alcohol to escape the feelings for a few hours, days, months, or years.
And you know what, I’m over it. That is what Warflower has done for me, given me the opportunity to stand proudly and say, “This is my fucking family and story and I don’t give a damn.” Something I had been so afraid of for so many years.
We need to talk about the horrors of prison, the difficulties of growing up in broken families, the feelings of abandonment that kids grow up with and never get rid of, the challenges of heroin addiction, alcohol addiction, addiction in general, the after effects of war on the body and mind… the list goes on and on and on… Instead, people “don’t trust” anybody to talk about it with, and then they/we stay miserable and depressed our entire lives. It’s a fucked up cycle, and I’m over it.
I felt better after talking to James about the things I said, no doubt. I knew that he wouldn’t really understand in the way I wanted him to, but nobody ever understands us or agrees with us in the way we want. But we still have to tell the truth and take responsibility for what we say and do. And if by telling the truth it allows us to be liberated from the pain of holding onto darkness, well then by God we need to tell the truth. Sometimes it sucks, no doubt, but it’s necessary for a happy life.
We spent the last day in Montana lazing around the lodge doing laundry, watching cartoons, and taking drives. It really is a beautiful part of the world. The Flathead Valley. A ring of snowcapped mountains with pine trees to the top dusted with a light coat of powdered sugar. Inside the ring is a perfectly flat, fertile valley full of farms, casinos, strip malls, lakes, deer, ducks, and wild turkeys. I would live there.
The Podcast was recorded on March 13th, and it hasn’t aired yet. I’m not sure when it will. Andy and I have not talked since we did the interview, and I may never talk to him again. But some of the things he said to me will stay with me forever. His words and our conversation left a positive impact on me that is already making me a better person, father, and husband. More conversations like that need to be had.
I cannot begin to describe the feelings of success I had while being with the family in Montana. My entire life I’ve dreamed of being a writer who travels the world due to my writing, and for the first time, I brought the family on a vacation solely due to the publication of Warflower. Even if my book never made it to the New York Times list, or it’s not being pushed at my local colleges, I am a success. Because Warflower gave me so much more than any of those ego driven successes provide, it provided me peace of mind.
Follow the Cleared Hot Podcast and Youtube channel and you will probably hear my interview.
None of the pictures used in this blog are mine, I wrote this while at work without access to my photographs. I will post our pictures soon.