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The Fisher of Stories



A post shared by Travis Sloat (@tstyles77) on Apr 1, 2017 at 7:14am PDT

It happened a few weeks ago.

“Travis, you need to clean out your closet. I need hangers.”

I laughed and went on about my business, trying not to give it a second thought. I did though, and a third, and a fourth. However, I never got around to cleaning out my closet.

Sunday though, it happened again.

“Travis, I got you these bags, you need to throw some clothes out, but if you want to keep them I understand. We’re just going to put them in these bags.”

I was cooking dinner for the family — nachos if we’re being honest — and Akeeli was helping me. I laughed again, then stared at Alicia, trying to come up with something to say. A lump formed in my throat, and I felt tears coming in the corners of my eyes. I turned back to the hamburger sizzling on the stove and busily crumbled it, hoping the situation would resolve itself without me having to acknowledge it.

It almost did.

“Daddy, why did you laugh and then not say anything?”

I’ve heard a lot about Stockholm Syndrome, and I’ve always wondered how it’s possible for a captive to have any positive feelings about their captor, much less sympathize with them. If someone ever abducted me, I always felt I would never fall victim to the mysterious psychological condition that is apparently so powerful, it led hostages in a Stockholm bank robbery to decide not to testify against those who held them captive.

My weight has abducted my happiness, healthiness, attractiveness, my self-esteem, my activity levels, and some of my relationships. It has taken more from me than I’ll ever get back, particularly my health.

I’ve lost weight before. Back in 2010, I went on a run where I got from around 380 down to 300. It lasted approximately 10 weeks, and then the scale was tipping 360 once again. I couldn’t maintain. I fell back into bad habits, and I got to the point where I didn’t care anymore.

However, I loved Fat Travis. Fat Travis didn’t care what people thought about him. Fat Travis knew he was fat and he took pride in that. Fat Travis didn’t have to wear compression shirts to keep loose skin from jiggling underneath his shirts. Fat Travis just enjoyed food, he didn’t count calories. Fat Travis was happier, Fat Travis was funnier, and Fat Travis took that one picture on a turtle one time.

Fat Travis was an awesome abductor. He wasn’t an inherently bad guy, he just made some bad choices. He wasn’t keeping me hostage with the intent of killing me, he just wanted to not have to worry about self-control. He enjoyed the lack of responsibility, because Fat Travis hated responsibility and accountability.

Fat Travis is a good guy, really. Don’t hate him. I don’t, and there are also days when I miss him.

So when my daughter asked that question: “Daddy, why did you laugh and not say anything?” it slapped me in the face and brought me back to reality. Tears threatened once again, and I fought the urge to lie to her. Instinctively though, I knew she needed the truth.

“I don’t believe it’s going to last.”


I went back to cooking, and she went back to helping, and Alicia wound up knowing exactly how I was feeling, thank God. Later that afternoon, I went to play a game of basketball, and when I got home, she motioned to the closet.

“I took care of the closet. It seemed like you were having trouble. I didn’t throw all of it out though, some of it is just bagged up.”

There are sixteen million reasons why I love my wife. This is one of them.

I don’t know if this will stick. I’m trying my hardest, though. If it does, then I’ll get to look back ten years from now and wonder why in the world I didn’t do it sooner. If it doesn’t…well, maybe my struggle will motivate someone to never let it get this bad to begin with. Maybe my beautiful daughter will realize the mental struggles her father dealt with about his weight, and it will help her say no to another plate of pizza and yes to a salad.

But for now, a large chunk of me is gone. Success, I’m told, is kind of like being pregnant. Everyone is happy for you, but nobody knows how many times you got screwed. The plot line of my journey isn’t something you could ski down, instead, it looks more like someone having a heart attack.

I am also taking steps to surround myself with people who support what I’m trying to do, even if it leads to me throwing out three-quarters of a brick of Velveeta.

I’ll continue to fight. I’ll continue to grind. I’ll continue to repeat.

I guess I’ll also continue to try to make space for my success. Even if it hurts.

Good Lord I’m a dork.

I’ve wondered about the title of this blog for four years. As it turns out, I didn’t even have to think of it. This morning, while I was getting a glass of water from the refrigerator, my son walked in and said, “Yay! Daddy’s graduating today!” 

My daughter looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Finally.” ***
Thursday night was bad.
I kept having dreams where I died. I’d drift off to sleep, and wake up gasping, having just crashed an airplane, fallen off a cliff, or having been pushed in front of a bus.
I cried Friday morning when I was watching the news before class. Someone paid off someone else’s layaway, and I got all weepy.
So of course I texted my wife and told her what was going on, and she was very succinct with her reply: “You need to calm down.”
I didn’t believe I would make it. I really didn’t. When I started college four years ago, I honestly thought I’d quit again. I mean I’d tried it twice before, and I left both times. I don’t mean I dropped out, I just left. My grade point average was abysmal.
But I started again.
And I slugged along. I took some classes I really thought I’d like at first, just to pick up the momentum. I took elementary algebra four times, and I took intermediate algebra four times. I won’t tell you how I got through college algebra.
I fell in love with literature. I decided against a journalism degree, then decided against a computer science degree, and finally settled on English Education. Teaching. Geez.
I quit my job after my second semester. I burned an enormous bridge at Connors State College, simply because their math department (certain faculty, really) is the biggest bunch of idiots God ever put on earth.
We got a couple of kids. Then we got another kid. We went through a really rough patch in our marriage, and I genuinely thought it was all over. Then I learned how to ask, “How can I help?”
I’ve worked 16-hour days for an entire semester now. I’ve gained an enormous amount of respect for high-school teachers, and not only them, but the students as well. I fell in love with those kids (totally not in a weird way), and I’m sad I only have one more week with them.
I interrupted the semester with a trip to Washington, D.C. for an amazing reason. I had a wreck my second day of my internship. I got sick for like the second time in my entire life. I yelled at my daughter for making a C when I was struggling to keep up a C in a class myself.
“You’re a Sloat. Sloats don’t make Cs. Sloats don’t make Bs. Sloats make As.” – Brian (and now Travis) Sloat
I ran out of gas halfway through the semester, then got an email from my wife that changed everything.
And, while we’re on the subject, can we just take a moment to enter my wife in the “Best Wife of the 2010s” contest. The woman is amazing. While I’ve been slugging away at my internship, then working nights at the paper, she’s been raising three kids essentially by herself, and, not only that, actually tried to sleep with me a few times too.
You know I still remember the first day I actually noticed her. I don’t remember much, I truly think I’ll have dementia in about a week, but I remember noticing Alicia for the first time. I can tell you exactly where I was, and exactly where she was, and almost exactly what she had on.
God, in His amazing and infinite wisdom, completely changed my life when He let her fall in love with me. She is a rock, and I am fully prepared to spend the rest of my life trying to thank her for these last four years in particular. I love you, Alicia.
I woke up at 7 a.m.
I rolled out of bed to get in the shower, and Alicia asked me, “What time are you leaving?” I replied, “I need to leave in about 45 minutes.”
“What? You told me it started at 9:30!”
“Yeah, but I have to be there an hour early.”
She made some sort of noise, and then I honest to goodness didn’t see her the rest of the morning. Somehow, she got all three kids ready, herself ready, and ironed my clothes in 45 minutes. Did I mention she’s amazing?
Just before we left, I remembered something. In my sock drawer, there’s an armband with some initials on it. B.R.S. Brian Ronald Sloat. I had it made for basketball after he died. I grabbed it, and slid it on under my shirt sleeve. It just seemed right dad should be there with me.
We made it to the event center. We didn’t die.
The separated us at the door, and ushered me around the building where I had a moment of sheer, unadulterated panic when the lady in charge of the cards with our names on them couldn’t find mine. It wound up being the only one in the pack stuck to the back of another one, and if that right there doesn’t prove to you that The Lord has a sense of humor (a sick one, sometimes), then I don’t know what will.
I met my friends, Krista and Katelynn, who have been with me through this whole thing, and don’t seem to find it weird that they have attached themselves to a 32-year-old man who has a penchant for being inappropriate.

I freaking love you guys.

We teamed up with Bret, another fellow English major, and we lined up.
I didn’t die. I didn’t trip. But I was sweating bullets.
My mom sent me a text. You see, she got married today in what was the biggest scheduling SNAFU of 2014, and couldn’t be at the graduation. I’m okay with that, because I like the guy she married. I think, for the first time in 14 years, I’m cool with finally calling someone my step-dad.
“Congrats on your graduation today! Sorry I’m not there to see it, just know that I’m SO proud of you! Your dad would say, ‘Good job, son.’ Love you.”
And now, typing that out, I’m crying for the first time today. I’m honestly surprised it didn’t happen sooner.
My dad would be proud of me, just like the rest of my family is. But I honestly think he’d laugh a little, and smile at me the way he used to, the way I can see so perfectly in my mind right now, and he’d say:
I walked in that gym, and I had my chest out and my head high. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I waved to my friends and family. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I sat through a commencement speech that I can’t even come close to remembering now. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I stood up when my row was ready. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I walked to the stage. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I heard my name: “Travis Gene Sloat.” I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I shook the hands of two people and got my degree holder. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I walked out of the gym and into life as a college graduate. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I found a professor I’ve really grown attached to and I shook his hand. “Thank you.” That’s all I could say.
I found some friends and hugged their necks and shook their hands. They congratulated me, and I thanked them, looking all the while for my family.
I finally got a text message from Alicia. “We’re at the truck.”
You know, I didn’t even pause. I just started walking that way. I completely missed Krista and Katelynn, and missed a couple of other professors I wanted to thank, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be with my family.
We got in the truck, and we went out for a celebratory lunch. Mexican food, because what else?
I looked at them, gathered around the table. Aven, who was of course distracted by everything; Akeeli, who is just about the cutest little girl on the face of the planet; The youngest, who we’re hoping to finally have a chance to adopt in a few short weeks; and, finally, Alicia.
I smiled and took a drink of my beer, completely satisfied with my life at that point.

“There are lots of walks that people make in their lifetime. Some are important, some are not. Some of those walks are tougher than others, and some seem like they take forever, because you know you can’t wait to have what’s at the end. Some are painful, some are joyous. Some are profitable, some will end with you losing everything.”

September 8, 2000. The day I lost a piece of myself, a piece of my identity.

This past Saturday marked twelve years since my father looked me in the eyes for what seemed like an eternity, then closed his eyes and died. Those of you who need more detail than that can find it anywhere on this blog; my posts are littered with tributes and stories of dad.

We’ve had our kids now for over a year. They’ve heard stories of Brian Sloat, their Papa, the entire time we’ve had them. As I stated in a blog a few weeks ago, to them, since he is not tangible, he is not a real person. He’s a myth, a fable, one of the hundreds they’ve had told to them since they could understand words. Brian Sloat might as well be Harry Potter, Huckleberry Finn, or the Cat in the Hat.

The question of taking them to see him, his grave, and exposing them to so much of my pain, has weighed heavy on my mind for the last year. I’ve often wondered if they could handle it, if they could understand what they were seeing, and if not, understand when I explained it to them.

This, in a sense, was giving them all of me. In some selfish part of my mind, I didn’t want to do that. To me, it represented the final barrier between them and myself, the last wall in our relationship, and I struggled mightily with knocking it down.

Saturday morning, I covered a story for the paper. It was a 9/11 Remembrance Walk in Muskogee. In his speech, a man named Oscar Ray said the words, “I’m pretty sure that when the families of the victims remember their loved ones, they smile.”

He was addressing a crowd of people about 9/11, but all I could think about was dad. I climbed in my truck, cried, and tried to compose myself, but then I got the standard issue text from my mother on this date.

“I love you.” 

In that moment, I made a decision. I decided that I was going to take the kids to see dad.***
The cemetery hasn’t been mowed in a while. The grass stands up taller than I’ve ever seen it, and Alicia commented on it as we drove in. I killed the car, and waited just a moment to compose myself for what I knew was going to be one of the harder walks I’ll take with our family.
We got out of the car and Aven looked around, saw a crabapple lying on the ground and said, “Those are cow apples, right dad?”
Our son. The little boy who takes nothing seriously…just like me. His mind was a million miles away from what was taking place, and I envied him. His innocence, once destroyed, is now slowing coming back. He no longer has to worry about mom and dad, and because of that I think he is truly carefree.
Aven walked on my left, and Keeli walked on my right, and Alicia walked behind, selflessly giving me this moment with our children. Slowly, we stepped through the tall grass and around the usual tombstones, some standing, others flat in the ground.
It was The Walk.
There was no arguing with God this time. There wasn’t space in my head for it. All I could think about was my obligation to try and make sense of this for our children, to help them understand what they were seeing.
I thought about Aven tripping over a tombstone and how awful that would be, and I thought about Akeeli crying, because she always cries when she sees me cry.
Our daughter, ever the empathetic one. The one who provides comfort in company, the one who wants to make sure you know that your sadness is hers too. She is beautiful. She is radiant. She is too smart for her own good, and I worry ceaselessly about the day when boys come knocking on our door.
The Walk was a short one, because our children distracted me. It was a good thing.
We arrived at the headstone, and looked at the name Sloat engraved on it. The tears came.
Through choked words and ill-timed snorts, I explained to our children that my father, the greatest man I’ve ever known, was not there. His body was there, but he was in heaven, enjoying the company of his brothers, and now his mom. I explained that we would see him one day, and that I really wished they could have met him.
Then the words came:

“I hope I’m half the dad he was.”

Keeli cried, because Keeli cries.  Aven asked why we didn’t bring flowers, because Aven can’t focus on one thing more than ten seconds. Alicia took a few pictures, because I had asked her to. I know I didn’t want them then, but one day I will.

I asked them all to leave me alone for just a few minutes, and they did. I stood there, shaking, hot tears sliding down my face, but I didn’t fight God. I didn’t tell him how unfair it was. In fact, I didn’t address God at all. I talked to dad.

I know he can’t hear me. I know that my sadness isn’t something he can feel or hear or see. If he could, it wouldn’t be a happy moment for him, and Heaven is a place of eternal happiness. I’m okay with that, and I talked to him anyway.

As I talked, the wind rushed through the cemetery and whistled through the trees. While most would attribute that to something supernatural and impossible, I was reminded of a King of the Hill episode where Kahn’s grandmother said she believed her deceased husband was reincarnated as the wind that blew through the meadow at that very moment. Bill Dauterive looked her in the eye and said, “My god, that’s the most beautiful description of a haunted meadow I’ve ever heard.”

I blinked through the tears, smiled, laughed, and walked back to the car. It amazes me how God put our family together.

September will always be a terrible month, and I’ll always be glad when it’s over.

But now, instead of September 8 holding pain and nothing else, I can remember it as the day when our kids met my dad.

Part IPart II

From “The Walk,” a blog I wrote about two years ago.

“There are lots of walks that people make in their lifetime. Some are important, some are not. Some of those walks are tougher than others, and some seem like they take forever, because you know you can’t wait to have what’s at the end. Some are painful, some are joyous. Some are profitable, some will end with you losing everything.”

Today I want to talk to you about another walk I recently made.

I am convinced that there is a serenity that comes from floating in the ocean that cannot be achieved by doing anything else. Maybe it’s because I live in a landlocked state, or maybe it’s just something that I feel. Regardless, our story begins with me, floating in the ocean, and listening.

My family was with me as I peacefully reflected on thoughts of life, the Universe, and everything. Aven was splashing around with Jennie, and Keeli and The Missus were floating as well, but I could tell they were involved in a deep discussion. They passed within earshot, and through a lull in the breakers, I overheard my wife telling our daughter about Jesus.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”
 -Proverbs 31:30

Keeli has been asking questions about the Lord’s Supper and baptism quite frequently, and we’ve been doing our best to answer those questions without using the phrase, “You have to be a Christian first.” You see, I don’t want our children to think that they need salvation simply so they can eat crackers on the last Sunday of the month or take a dip in the baptistery. I want them to know they need salvation for the right reasons.

I paddled closer for a listen, and then I realized that I needed to be praying for the whole situation. It wasn’t too much longer before The Missus said, “Well, let’s go get your daddy and we’ll go have a talk.” Then she looked at me and said, “Travis?”

“I’ve been listening,” was my reply. “Do we need to go up to the condo?”


And so began The Walk.

I walked through the water, praying feverishly. “Lord, give me wisdom. Lord, please give me wisdom. Lord, please don’t let me screw this up.”

My toes hit the beach, and then the powder-fine white sand. My wife and our daughter in tow, and still I prayed. “Lord, it’s been way too long since I’ve lead someone to salvation, or even used words to witness to someone face to face. Please give me the words she can understand.”

The sand turned to wood, signaling the closeness of our destination. Just a few more steps. Likewise, my prayers turned as well, to thanks. “Thank you God, for a wife who can effectively minister to our children. Thank you for Jennie and her family, who have been stoic Christian examples in the turmoil of their lives. Thank you for this gift that You’ve given us that I have the privilege of sharing with our daughter.”

And then we were there. We walked through the door, and I grabbed my Bible and told The Missus to give me a minute to myself so I could prepare for this. She nodded, and I walked out on the balcony, hit my knees, and repeated everything I’d prayed in the last five minutes.

On June 28th, 2003, a door opened, and my bride to be walked through, radiant, beautiful, and a gift from God.

On May 20th, 2011, a door opened, and our children jumped out and ran to meet us, radiant, beautiful, and gifts from God.

On May 25th, 2012, another door opened, and my wife and daughter walked through, radiant, beautiful, and absolutely gifts from God.

They sat beside me, and I started asking Keeli questions about her knowledge of salvation. I made it two sentences in, and I started crying. Keeli, the ever-empathetic child, started crying as well. It took a few minutes, but I finally explained to her that I wasn’t sad at all, I was happy, and very proud.

In the end, we joined hands and prayed together as a family, and our beautiful daughter accepted Christ as her Savior. I promised her we’d talk to our pastor about baptism, which is something we’re going to do this Sunday. I fully plan to be the one to baptize her, and I fully plan on being the biggest blubbering mess in the world whenever I do it.

And so The Road continues, and so do The Walks. For our daughter, this walk has consisted of being a baby born to a twelve year old kid, a six year walk through hell on earth, the life changing event of being given to new parents, and now securing a spot with Jesus in eternity.

I’ll never understand why they went through what they did, and I’ll never understand why we’ve gone through what we have. All I do understand is that the Lord has a Plan, and it’s a plan for good, and not evil. A plan to give us hope, and a future.

And this little family He’s given me is the best Plan I could have ever asked for.

We are His.