As I write this, it will be about 2 weeks before our (Cassie, my daughter and I) one year anniversary of “breaking the Internet” with our photos.
It all started out innocently enough.
I was on Facebook when I noticed a “racy” photo my daughter had posted. As with Facebook, under the photo, sometimes you can see comments made and this photo was no different.
Except for one thing.
The crude comments left underneath.
Being a passive/aggressive dad and understanding that arguing and getting upset with someone on the Internet would be futile, so I did the only thing I could think of.
Make fun of myself.
I decided to let the “boys” know, not only was I watching, but also, to show my daughter what it looks like when someone posts a “racy” photo who’s not really pretty. It was teasing her, but that’s the relationship we had.
Cassie was living 40 minutes away and this was how we checked in on each other. With jokes, so essentially, I was killing two birds with one stone.
We had some laughs, some of the boys laughed, others deleted their comments and left.
As the days went on, I posted a couple more photos, nothing really harsh, just to get a laugh and “checking in on her”, basically letting her know I was still thinking of her, even miles away.
Then, one day while watching tv, my wife came home and threw me a white tank top, laughing and saying, “Cassie posted a photo you HAVE to copy.”
So I found the photo and went into the bathroom to draw on some fake tattoos. It took me almost 20 minutes to copy her, as we were both laughing at how stupidly I looked in this too tight of a tank top and leaves on my head.
I posted it and we all had a good laugh. I really didn’t think anything more about it.
Then about a week later, I came home from work and my wife had the strangest look on her face. She said, “Have you seen your photo?”
I said, “No.” and then she showed me how multiple sites had started posting our Instagram photos everywhere. Mashable was the first. Then more. And more. Hundreds were posting them. My gmail exploded from people asking to use them, copyright issues, contracts, etc.
We spent the entire night answering emails and granting approvals. I was suddenly talking to people all over the World!
But there was a dark side to the fame.
You see, as much as I was being adored, my daughter was getting hate mail.
“Slut”, “shameful”, “Sinner”, even called a Satanist because of a Supernatural tattoo. Yes, from a tv show. People were emailing someone they didn’t know, telling her what they thought about her and calling her names. People were taking time out of their day, to bash a teenager who’s dad made her famous. I later learned she spent hours crying because of the mean things people were writing about her.
Now don’t get me wrong. There were smarter people out there who understood the joke. Parents who had kids, other teenagers, even celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and George Takei were “getting the joke” and posting about it.
My anxiety hit an all time high. I was not only worried about strangers coming to the door, but the safety of my daughter, not to mention how the guys at my work would take it.
I work with a lot of truck driving, blue collar, rough, drinking guys and while my private life friends knew I dressed in costumes for charity events, etc. I never worried about what they would say, my “work” life had no idea.
Monday came and so did the tv interviews. Luckily, Cassie was able to tell her side and show how it was just a way we teased each other. More and more people started to laugh with her. Yes, there was still the occasional “You should have taken her phone!” and “I wouldn’t let MY daughter dress like that!” comments from people who again, didn’t even know us.
Couldn’t tell me her birthday. Didn’t know the name of her first pet or even tell me what caused her incredible pain when she was little. So much pain in fact, she couldn’t move. We had to take her to the hospital, leaving one of the first times I broke down in front of her.
Let it be known, the Internet is full of armchair psychologists.
More days passed and the interviews kept coming. We had a blast skyping to people from all over the World. China had about 4 interviews. We did remote interviews with our local tv station that allowed us to talk to Australia and the UK.
Cassie was finally getting some real positive feedback and I was actually nominated as “Hero of the Week” by listeners of Premiere London.
My youngest daughter had a ball seeing my emails from Australia (“Champion”) and the UK (“Cheers”) and more email etiquette I was trying to learn on the fly.
I was also getting heartbreaking emails from kids.
“You remind me of my father”
“You make me wish my dad was still alive”
“I never knew my dad, but I like to think he might be like you”
You can’t just take those lightly.
Then came the tv appearance we wished would come. A new show was starting and wanted us on. (No, I won’t mention it here, just out of kindness.) They wanted us to “go dark”. Don’t post anything else, let them know what we were doing all the time and tell them more about our past. In other words, they wanted a broken family to fix.
I finally told them, that wasn’t us.
It could have changed our lives forever, what with the huge tv coverage. We were seen all over in other countries, but for some reason, here in America, tv appearances were not happening. They preferred to get the videos we already did with other Internet sites.
I just didn’t want them going through our past. I’ll admit, it wasn’t a perfect past. Who’s is? We’d had some problems, but we overcame them. Why dig them up again?
Fame or dignity. It’s a decision I’ll have to wonder about for the rest of my life.
Slowly the interviews died down. The emails went from 20-30 a day to about five. I would (sadly), wake up and immediately check my phone for messages. It was like a drug wearing off. Cassie was worse because no one was contacting her, just me, since I was the parent. Those days when nothing came, I’ll admit, I felt like crap.
Then the wave hit again. I had accumulated twice as many followers as Cassie and that was the new angle. I’d gone from 69 followers months ago, to over 120k. More interviews, (Australia, China, London, Germany) and every now and then, followers would email me photos of magazines from their country with our faces on them.
Cassie and I were flown down to film a small segment about Internet fame for the TD Jakes Show, and while we had a great time doing it and everyone was SO nice, the segment never aired.
Needless to say, we were a little heartbroken.
I was constantly asked how much we were making for all this coverage because “Chewbacca Mom” just got a book deal. “Chewbacca Mom” just got to ride in a car with JJ Abrams. “Charlie bit my finger” kid got a scholarship.
We were now being compared to other Internet Memes and trust me, we weren’t adding up. I’ll be honest.
All in all, we received about as much money as a small down payment on a mediocre hot tub or barely running car.
We helped Cassie with a bill and bought a bargain price tv from Walmart for Christmas.
It’s been a few months since then and things have really calmed. I still get the occasional email from someone saying “Hi” and our story still gets posted on Facebook about 20 times a month, but nothing like it used to.
As I look back on what happened and what could have been, I’ll be honest again. I wished it were more.
We tried to get on Ellen, as that would be the final straw in our dream, but nothing happened. I had AMAZING friends who tried to help us by tweeting and posting our story. I was really touched on how many people tried for us.
It was about this time I learned the “cas’me ouside, how ’bout dat” girl was to make about $20,000 by lip syncing a concert with a Q&A afterward.
That….uh…..that one really hurt.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast. Cassie and I experienced something few ever will. We talked to people from all over the World. Not bad for a guy who’s only been to Canada twice and Tijuana once (just to say I did).
It gave me an opportunity to start up a podcast, something I love doing, and also, meet some really great, new friends. Comedians and more. People I might never have worked up the courage to talk to.
I also had an adventure with my daughter. One we can talk about forever. The whole experience in fact, was one in a million for a parent and child.
My one regret is, well……me.
I wish I was better at keeping the fame.
Should I have said yes more? Should I have gotten an agent? Should I have NOT done something? So many questions I’ll have to live with, without ever knowing the answer.
As a parent, you want more for your children. You want them to not have to worry about things. You want them to have the best life.
And here I was, famous around the World. A guy who made the whole World laugh, in any language. A guy who was told that he “broke the Internet”
Yet here I am, seeing my sons car totaled by a reckless driver with no insurance and no way to help him replace it.
The guy dubbed “Selfiedad” who’s had a crack in his car window for months.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still happy. I’ve had amazing opportunities to talk to great people and see my face in different countries magazines. Not many can say that, but as the song goes, “regrets….I have a few…”
What strikes me as one of the funniest things about the whole event is, that my mom and dad still don’t understand how big it was. They still treat it like it was an article in the local shopper magazine.
So while our anniversary comes near, I’ll start seeing “Facebook Memories” that were at the time, great, now though, I’m hoping they won’t be a painful “What if”.
Of course, if nothing ever happened, I’d never know about the woman with the autistic daughter, who shares our photos and has a precious laugh with her daughter.
Or the man who lost his daughter to a car accident, who laughed for the first time in months because of us.
Those are things happening all over the World, right now. People finding what we did, in a positive light and making them feel good.
How do you tell yourself you wished it never happened?
Someday, Cassie will have kids of her own and she’ll be able to show them.
“Yes, this is your grandpa….”
I want to thank everyone who was so kind.
Kind to me and especially kind to my daughter.
Friends who stood by me.
Friends (and family) who took my “celebrity” in stride.
Followers, who I call friends, that have stayed with me and those who have wished me well in emails, etc.
I’ve changed in so many ways because of this. I’m more aware of women’s rights. Gay rights. Humanity in itself. Things I would make fun of before, I now want to champion and help. That’s all because of the people I’ve talked with.
I wish everyone could have just one day of talking to people from around the World.
I really believe there would be more peace.
Less being afraid, leading to hate.
I’ve learned a good lot of us just want to laugh, be with family and watch sunsets.
I wish the next Internet Meme good luck and if I had any advice, I’d say, stay smart. Think about whats going on, but also, just enjoy it.
Enjoy the moment.
And of course, take pictures.