“I always had clothes, I always had lots of toys, we lived in a nice house. On the surface everything was fantastic – except for the name-calling and the cutting down of self esteem.”


I always had clothes. I always had a lot of toys. I went to a Catholic school. We lived in a nice house. On the surface, everything was fantastic … well, except for the name-calling, the put-downs, and my stepfather’s mission to destroy my self-esteem. I’ve made a number of poor choices in my life as a result of this emotional abuse. And, I have always had a deep need to justify being happy and to prove that I could do good things. Being diminished as a child made me subconsciously choose situations that forced me to fight my way out. This happened for many years.

I was a star pupil and skipped from sixth to eighth grade. Every year, straight A’s, I mean like a 97 average. I was popular and happy. I didn’t get into fights, and I certainly didn’t have any enemies. Everybody seemed to like me. Well, everyone but one person: my stepdad. My stepfather came into the picture when I was very young, so to me, he was always there. In the beginning, when he was courting my mother, he put on a good front. There were gifts, and everything was great.

I remember asking my sister once, “When exactly did he become so mean?” She told me that it all seemed to switch when I was around nine or ten – when I started to become more of a real person.


He was very insecure, and I think he perceived me as a challenge to him. As a kid, I had no idea of any of this. There was no physical abuse in my house. When there is physical abuse, there is a clear-cut solution.

Someone punches you in the face, you call the cops, and they get taken away. I guess he was smart enough to know not to leave any marks on us. He made sure to make everybody feel like he was the only capable one. I suspect it had to do with his experience growing up – whatever his personal obstacles were that he couldn’t overcome. Some people choose to perpetuate what was done to them, and some fight to overcome it.


My stepfather had horribly demoralizing nicknames for my sister and I. He used them regularly. “Hey, reject, go get me that.” “Hey retard, get off the couch.” It was constant. I remember one Thanksgiving my aunt was at our house, and my father used one of his nicknames for us. My aunt lost her mind. She told him that he wasn’t to ever say those things to us again. I remember he just got up and left the table – and I never got called a name again.

But, why wasn’t it my mother that stood up for us? Kids are vulnerable, and they need protection. Why did no one take an interest in my emotional welfare or direction in life? Part of me feels like they just felt like, oh, well, he’s so smart. He doesn’t need any help. He’s going to be fine. But I was far from fine. Because I was put down so much as a kid, and ignored, I think it made me feel like I didn’t deserve success.  Success was for other people.

I decided to go to college – art school – because, well, I’m good at drawing. So I thought that I should do that. I did four years at Parsons School of Design, one of the toughest art schools in the world, and I got my degree. But I never really bothered to search for my fullest potential. I was so talented, but only ever gave like 30 percent, and I got very bored with my career as a graphic designer. I was looking for something to excite me, so I went back to school for my master’s degree.


It was in a fine art photography class that I met Horton, my professor, who pushed me to look deeper into my art. He said, “Your art is trying to tell you something, son. You gotta look at your images because they have a message for you.” When I really looked at the photos that I had taken over the course of the class, I realized that maybe he was right. I always liked to go out at night to take my photos, especially in dangerous areas, to find beauty where no one expects it. Other students were taking pictures of flowers, or their families. I was like Batman with a camera.

When I stepped back and took a good look at the art I could see that I was hiding. I liked the angles, shadows, cobwebs, dirt, dark corners. Nothing was straight-on, fully in view.  In the shots everything was dark and hidden. I was obviously really scared to reveal myself. Once I understood that, I vowed to stop hiding. When you start to awaken and really believe in yourself on a higher level, there are people who are going to come at you negatively. It can be intimidating to people who are not there themselves to be in the presence of someone self-actualizing.

Despite what people around me said, I started to really get serious about believing in myself and my potential. I found music, and it helped me to discover my purpose and happiness. I just want to positively affect people.


Due to my experiences growing up, most of my adulthood has been spent re-claiming the confidence and “shine” that I was born with. I’ve been in and out of bad relationships for most of my life, as a result of the pain that I experienced as a child/teen/young adult.

This process of healing would go faster if my family were all trying to heal as well, but, unfortunately, I’m the only one trying to be more self-aware. My mother will never admit, nor want to face, any of the things that I experienced growing up. She loves me, and helps me when she can – however she can – but she still can’t say ‘sorry’ for any of the past. That would be the biggest help of all.

So, the work goes on in a more solitary manner. It takes time. I now know that I have been codependent myself, and knowing this has allowed me to shift my views, and hold myself accountable for everything, and the people that I surround myself with. Negative, narcissistic people are gravitating to me less. And, when they do come, I’m able to slow down my actions/judgements until I know who I’m dealing with. I’m learning to make better choices in who I allow into my life. I know my worth now, and no longer need to find negative people to “prove” it to.

I’m getting better at it, and that’s only helping me to be a better father to my son, and to give him the confidence boost that I didn’t get as a kid. These days I’m the strongest that I’ve ever been, and, as a result, I’m making more progress this year than the past ten years. All of that toiling has finally paid off, and I’m starting to really push to be the best me that I can be.


I would say to a kid who’s maybe unsure about their path, or themselves, that you have to keep perspective. You never know what’s just around the corner. If you feel hopeless or depressed, like you can’t move, sometimes it’s just as simple as getting up and going for a walk. Get some action going, or go somewhere that makes you happy. If there’s even just one person you know who is always happy to see you, or makes you feel happy, spend some time with them.


Allow yourself the opportunity to come out of your funk. In this world you have to act. Just sitting around thinking, ‘This isn’t going to work’, will guarantee that it’s not going to work. Just know that if you’ve experienced darkness in your life then you have a tremendous capacity to flip it and make it really bright. I have found my passion in connecting people. I’m gonna make them feel. I’m gonna make them want to drink and laugh and get crazy and feel human. I want to shake them up, and I want to wake them up.

One of my favorite ways to do this is with my stage persona, “Rob A Lou”. Rob A Lou plays high energy rockabilly/punk shows once or twice a month in NYC. Now I am confident in myself and my connection with others, and that makes me feel really connected as well.