Dog the Bounty Hunter fans know Lyssa Chapman as “Baby Lyssa,” the petite and beautiful blond daughter of Duane Dog Chapman, stepdaughter of Beth Chapman and half sister to the show’s other stars, Leland and Duane Lee Chapman — though the family famously refuses to use terms like “step” and “half” to describe their bonds.
Arriving on Dog and Beth’s doorstep — and thus, on A&E cameras — as a troubled teen with her toddler daughter Abbie in tow, Lyssa eventually evolved into a key member of the bounty-hunting team and developed a broad fan base of smitten men and young people who saw her as a contemporary and a role model, even as her relationship with her parents and her struggles with drugs and alcohol ebbed and flowed for all the world to see.
Now 25, Lyssa Chapman is coming into her own as a responsible adult and parent — and a Chapman who has found her own way to use her family’s motto of second chances to change lives. But first she had to come to terms with her harrowing childhood and the power it had to make or break her future.
“Things were going really good with my dad’s show and I told a few people tidbits of my past and I can’t tell you how many times I heard, ‘Wow, Lyssa, you should write a book! This is so astonishing!’ says Chapman, Dog’s ninth child and his third with third wife Lyssa Rae Brittain. “It was just amazing to me their reaction when they heard my life story, so I decided to put it down on paper and see if I could help change some people’s lives.”
The result is Chapman’s newly released memoir, Walking On Eggshells: Discovering Strength and Courage Amid Chaos, which she cowrote with award-winning author Lisa Wysocky (Front of the Class). The book chronicles Chapman’s jaw-droppingly early exposure to drugs, alcohol and sexuality as she battled to maintain her love of education and the few friendships she formed, and to earn snippets of attention from her divorced father and mother who were caught up in their own dubious love lives, drug addictions and frequent moves that made a normal childhood for their children virtually impossible.
Written in chapters that connect Chapman’s current challenges and observations with their roots in her past — and the lessons she hopes readers can glean from those journeys — Walking On Eggshells is a frequently heartbreaking collection of Chapman’s repeated attempts to break the cycle of abuse and addiction that plagued her family, with no positive role models other than God. Careful to take responsibility for her own poor decision-making and the horrors to which she subjected her first daughter Abbie (born the day after she turned 15), Chapman says she wants her readers to realize that no matter what they’ve endured and how often they’ve failed, it is never too late or too difficult to turn their lives around.
Now the co-owner of No Tan Lines, an Oahu tanning salon and skincare spa, and working on an upcoming Bunim/Murray reality series in which she will aid young women in the same predicaments she once faced, the charming and intelligent Chapman took time to talk with me about her book, the new show and the challenges of sobriety, single parenting and being a part of one of reality television’s most famous (and fractious) families.
Channel Guide Magazine: The situations that you have endured are absolutely harrowing — what made you decide that the time was right to write a book about them?
Lyssa Chapman: A lot of different reasons. One of the reasons really is because I have a young daughter and raising her in today’s society is very challenging due to what the media portrays to her, whether it be sex or makeup or through music. I just really felt like in the midst of all these girls like Lindsay Lohan and Rihanna and Britney Spears and the drug use and drinking, that it’s really time for girls to have someone they can look up to.
I feel like because of all I have been through, that I can be a leader for girls, to show them that there is another life other than partying.
CGM: Because the abuse and neglect in your life has been lifelong, was it a tough decision to know you were going to have to revisit all of those things in order to write the book?
LC: I really didn’t think about it at the time. Then when I started writing the book, I started going through all of these emotional things with my writer. I was crying at night. I was having bad dreams again. It really was an emotional roller coaster going through it — to say that it wasn’t would be a lie. I really wasn’t ready for what I went through.
But now that it’s over and I have this finished product and people are reading my story — and I’m getting these amazing messages from fans and people who say, “I can’t believe you went through this because I went through so many similar things!” — just the little bit of hope that it gives people makes me suck it up and say if I had to go through all of these bad things so that one other person doesn’t have to, then it’s worth it.
CGM: Was there some sort of therapy in writing the book, in that you could look back on these situations as an adult who survived them and appreciate concretely how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned?
LC: I found myself getting very angry — “I can’t believe my dad did that. I can’t believe my mother did that.” — but it’s hard to be angry today because it rained yesterday. And I felt going through it as an adult and seeing my parents for who they are now, and being a parent myself — and knowing some horrible things I’ve put my own children through — I really feel like they did their best with the choices that they were given. Drugs are hard, and unfortunately my parents had drug problems and I was caught in the middle of that. So it was really an awakening as an adult to see them and their lives — and the choices I make as a parent that they didn’t make.
CGM: What shocked me about what you wrote about growing up with your dad is that he clearly loved you and your siblings and wanted you around, but it was almost as though he thought as soon as you could walk and use the bathroom and feed yourself, you could manage your own lives. And you were all just little, little kids.
LC: There are 12 of us, and it’s funny because we all feel our own special bond with our dad. We all feel like we’re the favorite and we all feel like we had our own special bond with him. But mine was different than what my brothers and sisters had. And he detailed a lot in his own book — his own struggle with drugs. This book is the effect that that had on me. And the relationship that I chose to have with men after I saw him being promiscuous — that the role woman had in men’s lives was purely sex. It was just a lot of misguided information.
CGM: You were very careful about making sure that your own acceptance of responsibility for some of the things that happened to you is threaded throughout the book. Is that to ensure that people who might currently be in the situations you were once in realize that you do have to own your own behavior and decision-making and recognize it before you can rise above it?
LC: Absolutely! I think that’s the main point. It’s really important for me that readers see that you don’t always need to have good role models in your life. Sometimes bad people can force you to do good things.
In my case, the only good role model I had in my life was God. I was very isolated. I had no one to look up to. I had no good experiences. So, for me, the reason I do this good for my daughters today is because this bad happened to me in the past. And I know what I don’t want. I may not always know what I want, but I know what I don’t want. And I know what I don’t want for my kids — and that is because of the hardships that I had when I was growing up.
Every day you can change your life. Every day you can wake up and change. Happiness is a choice, and no matter how low you are, you can always turn your life around. Always.
CGM: What are the best lessons you’ve learned as a single parent who grew up without good-parenting role models?
LC: You can’t do it “half.” There is no such thing as half a parent. And even though it gets hard sometimes, I keep thinking, what do I want my children to be? Because your children are your legacy. People go through life and we buy clothes and we buy furniture and we buy all of these things, but none of that really matters once you’re gone. What really carries your legacy is your children.
For me as single parent, I want to have these amazing children who are productive in life and have healthy relationships. That’s the legacy that I want. So no matter how hard it gets at times, I think of my main goal. And that’s to give them every bit of good information that I can and to teach them what is morally right and hope that their legacy keeps that going, as well.
But as single parents, I know we get overwhelmed all the time. And I am a big believer in “shut the door for five minutes.” I don’t spank. I don’t scream. I don’t do anything like that. But I will put myself in my room and I will shut my door for five minutes and when there is a knock at the door, I will say, “Go away because Mommy needs five minutes.” I’m a firm believer in that. It helps me. It calms me down. It gives me a chance to go through my thoughts so that I’m not overreacting. You’re not a bad parent because you shut the door for five minutes. And now that I’m in the preteen years, I tell you! I’m shutting that door once a day!
Now that my oldest is almost 11, she pushes my buttons every chance she gets and it’s challenging! Each day is challenging. But that’s a choice that I made when I was young, to have sex. And when I made the choice to have sex, I made the choice to be a parent. And I can only choose to be a good parent at this point.
CGM: I’m guessing that being on a wildly popular TV show is also a double-edged sword for you as a parent because it did give you and your children opportunities, but now so many of your family’s issues are instantly available to them at the click of a mouse or a remote control button.
LC: Yes! I try to keep Abbie as far away from it as possible. She has no problem being on camera — she’s been on camera since she was 2 years old. But I don’t even have cable in my home. If I want to watch something, I’ll go over to my friend’s house or I’ll watch something online. I feel like keeping a lot of media out of her head really helps.
She, of course, gets exposed to things at school, and a lot of other girls know more than she does about a lot of things, so I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to keep her, not sheltered — I don’t want to say she’s sheltered — but I give her what information I know she can handle. Like she can’t handle knowing about sex yet. She can’t handle that type of information. And when I think about what I was doing in fifth grade and I look at her now, I’m like, yes! Score!
CGM: Have you discussed any the things that you write about in the book with her — how are you controlling what and how she finds out about your difficult past?
LC: I’m very torn right now. I don’t even want her to read my book cover, because she doesn’t know that part of my life. She knows I was a teen parent, and she knows I do not want that for her. She knows that I didn’t have the best past, but I really feel like it’s going to be really hard the day she reads my book and she realizes what happened to me. I feel like it might be easier for her to read the book rather than me sitting her down and saying, “Look, this is what happened to me in my past.” But that’s a bridge that I will cross when I get there. And I’m not there yet, thank goodness!
It’s definitely scary. Because not only is it on TV, but also she lives with this family every day. She interacts with my dad and Beth, and Beth and I will get into a spat and I don’t see my parents for a week because we’re fighting and she definitely sees it. There’s still a lot of dysfunction in the family. It’s not all sunshine and roses — and I think every family is that way.
But I just keep stable through it and know that I am her rock and her solid and make sure she knows that this is what family means to me. This is what family means to us. She knows my expectations, my rules and my standards, and we have a good relationship. But it is hard to explain to her that that’s the way Grandpa is, but that’s not the way we are, sometimes.
CGM: Your relationship with Beth is interesting reading, as well. You do give her a lot of credit for keeping your dad clean and giving you help and good advice, but it’s clearly not an easy relationship …
LC: Families are hard. But you only get one. And I don’t want Abbie to see me disrespecting someone — especially someone who is my authority figure. And Beth is my stepmother. She is my authority figure, and when I was 18, 19, 20, we would have the fights where we were screaming bad names at each other and just all-out brawls. I’m at the point now as an adult where I just don’t do that behavior. That’s just not acceptable. It’s not worth my time and it’s not worth the stress. So I try to keep things as even as possible. I just try to keep positive.
CGM: What was the feedback when you told them that you were writing this book?
LC: I think they really had mixed emotions. Ever since the show ended, there was a little bit of a splitting in the family. It was, “No one wants to work for Dad and Beth anymore; we all want to do our own thing.” And it was really rocky. So I actually didn’t tell them. Someone had leaked it in the publicist’s office, and they called me and were like, “TMZ says that you’re writing a tell-all book!” So it wasn’t the best experience [laughs].
But I calmed them down and said, “No, no, no, it’s not a tell-all book.” And I told my dad, “Everything bad that happened you already wrote about in your book, so what are you so afraid of? Do you think that you did something that was so bad that you’re afraid of it?” And he’s like, “No, I know what I did.” And I said, “Right, so don’t be afraid that I’m going to write anything bad about you. That’s not my goal. My goal isn’t, ‘Hey, let me go out here and trash my parents!’”
But I had bad parents. I did. My parents were crappy. And I still came out of it OK.
It’s so hard because, like, if your parents are Catholic, you’re Catholic. If your parent is Jewish, you’re Jewish. You’re born into certain things, and unfortunately I was born into that drug lifestyle. My parents were drug addicts and I became a drug addict. And so I tell him that and he knows that. It might be hard for him to read it and it might be hard for him to see it, but that’s my truth and that’s my story and I feel compelled to tell people and to help people. And I’m sorry if I hurt his feelings in the mix, but hurt feelings are one thing. Helping people is something completely different.
CGM: And that really is the family mantra — recovery and redemption.
LC: That’s what it’s all about — second chances.
And my dad wrote me a note on when the book came out that said congratulations — he sent me a text, because he’s on the road doing his show (CMT’s Dog and Beth: On the Hunt), so he’s very busy. My dad has always been very busy. He’s a busy guy and if you’re not on his train, unfortunately, you’re not as close to him as I would have been had I done the show with him.
But I feel like I’m on the right path, and I feel like I’m doing the right thing. I’m still eating and I’m still feeding the girls and I live in a house and I’m making money, so that’s marvelous. Because after eight years on Dog the Bounty Hunter, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do for my life? I have no GED. I have no diploma. I have a ninth-grade education. What am I going to do?”
So I really turned it around and I am happy and just taking it day by day. And I do feel like I don’t get enough credit from my parents. Because I had no help in getting this new TV show. I had no help in getting this book. It was something I did all on my own, so I definitely expected a little more congratulations. But I guess maybe I expected a little too much.
CGM: As I believe you know, I spoke with your dad, Beth and Leland at a press tour earlier this year and Beth said that Leland loves your father more because you and Duane Lee chose to focus on spending more time with your own families and on your own endeavors than continuing the family business and the new show. How close to the truth, from your perspective, is that?
LC: Oh my gosh — you wrote that article! Do you know how fumed I was on that article [laughs] ? I was sickened. I was sickened. I think Duane Lee sent it to me and was like, “Can you believe this crap?!” And we just thought, “Wow, that is just delusional.”
I don’t know who loves our dad more. I guess Leland wins because he is working with Dad.
For Duane Lee and I, it’s kind of funny because for us, Leland is the one who is kind of still riding Daddy’s coattail, and we’ve gone off and done our own thing. And it’s funny because she’s like, “He loves Dad the most!” And I don’t know if that’s true — I can’t measure my love for my dad against my brothers’ love for Dad. But me and Duane were like, “Oh my gosh! Can you believe she said that?!”
And it hurts! It definitely hurts. You don’t ever want to hear from your dad that they think another child loves them more than you do. Obviously that hurts.
CGM: Your dad didn’t actually say it; Beth did.
LC: … and he lets her. He doesn’t say anything back. That’s the point and that’s the problem is that he doesn’t speak up. We love him and he knows we do and Leland may love him more and if that’s what he needs to feel better, then by all means, have it, Dad!
We love our father with all of our hearts, but we just have a hard relationship with Beth. We all do. And when it came down to the breaking point of the show, it was just Duane Lee and Leland and I, and it was really the kids against the parents. Then Leland switched sides and we went from there.
I just try to keep a good relationship with them. Mady, my 3-year-old, has a really good relationship with Grandpa — they’re really, really close — so I’ll drop the kids off there and they’ll walk up the driveway. I obviously don’t go into the house, but I still try to keep that relationship between my dad and the kids, and I don’t do anything that’s irrevocable. I don’t want to hurt them in any way. And I don’t feel like you can get ahead when you’re trying to get even.
So in writing this book and in doing my show and in doing these interviews, I’m not trying to trash my family. That’s not my point. My point is that I had bad parents and I survived. And they still have their struggles to this day — we all do as parents. Unfortunately ours are for everyone to see.
CGM: Is it especially resonant for you to be the mother of girls, because you know firsthand — and have written about extensively in the book — what our frailties and priorities are and the dangers that can result without proper guidance?
LC: Yes. And I think that my children are my greatest successes. I can talk about being a great parent all day — I can talk about it as much as I want — but I think my children speak for themselves. I have two very well adjusted, very intelligent just amazing children who are thriving and growing. Abbie gets straight A’s. They’re my biggest testimony. I can say anything I want all day, but if you look at my children, you’ll say “Obviously she’s doing something right.” They’re just great, great kids. Maybe I’m just saying that because I’m the mom, but absolutely I start at home. I make dinner every single night. I read the Bible to them. I take Abbie to every one of her events. I go to all of her choir meetings, whether I have to leave work or not. I am a parent before I am anything else.
CGM: What is your relationship like now with your ex-husband, Bo? You write that you do let your daughters visit him, even though you document his abuse toward you during your marriage …
LC: Bo has had a lot of struggles. He was an abusive husband and he’s done a lot of counseling and he’s doing a lot of things to better his life — and I commend him for that. Because, like I said, it’s never too late to change. I feel like he’s really seeking help and doing much better in his life. Unfortunately, we didn’t work out as a couple but I think he’s a good father and I’m very lucky to have him.
He takes Mady one or two weekends out of the month, and I feel like if I need anything, whether that be financial or I need a ride or I need something for the girls, he’s always there for me. And I am really careful. I tell him, “Don’t let them sleep at other people’s houses. I don’t care if you’re staying the night at your girlfriend’s or your friend’s or whatever, but my children are not allowed to stay anywhere but at your house.”
His mother lives with him, my former mother-in-law, so I’m stoked about that, because I know that she takes good care of them. So I have a lot of peace of mind. And I don’t want them to have “daddy-issues.” I want them to be well adjusted. I don’t want them to be afraid of men.
I’ll give you an example. One time my little brother (Dog and Beth’s son, Garry Boy) came for a visit and he used the restroom and Abbie kept using my restroom. And I said, “Why aren’t you using your own restroom?” and she said, “Garry went in there!” And I said, “So?” And she goes, “He’s a boy!” And I’m like, “You’re going to go stay with your dad for a few days. You need a little testosterone!”
I do think it’s important for them to have a male figure in their lives. And I want them to have someone when it comes time for father-daughter dances. I want someone to give them away at their weddings one day. So I do the best I can. And we actually have a good relationship after the divorce. We still go to church together. We did counseling after we got divorced so that we knew how to treat each other in front of the kids. We just sought out a lot of help. We realized that we weren’t supposed to be together, but we have these beautiful children and we have to raise them as best we can.
CGM: I’m pretty sure that people who only know you from Dog the Bounty Hunter would be shocked by how tiny a segment of your real personality and nature the show presents. Given everything you’ve been through and your young age, you really are remarkably thoughtful and well-spoken.
LC: Thank you! I just hope that other people see that. Because that’s my goal — to really change America and give young girls someone to look up to as a role model. Because I’m not perfect — I’ve had all these trials and tribulations. And so few girls come from perfect families anymore — there’s so much divorce and so many single parents and so many bad things that happen. And I think it’s time to address that. I think it’s time to say, “Let’s stop glamorizing sex. Let’s stop pushing this on our daughters. Let’s go back to Princess Diana!” That was a role model.
I feel like it’s time for something new. I feel like America needs something new.
CGM: On that subject, tell me about the new show you have in the works …
LC: I just partnered with Bunim/Murray productions and, as you know, they do Keeping Up With the Kardashians, they do The Real World — they do a lot of really great shows.
Jonathan Murray and I just really hit it off and he really fell in love with the idea of changing America, and so basically the plan is this. I get between 50-70 messages a day on Twitter from young girls and from moms and from all kinds of people who are just looking for help, whether that be with a drug problem or an abusive boyfriend or a teen parent. And I have, for the past year and a half, mentored a lot of teen girls. I even have girls that I’ve sent money to. I’ve helped them get daycare and find a job. I’ve served as a reference for them because I’ve followed them for years and years. Just to have someone for them to reach out to. They write me and say, “Lyssa, my boyfriend is beating me” and sometimes, it’s just writing back and saying, “Get out of that situation right now.” Just starting with 140 characters on Twitter, I can change their lives.
And so I took that to Jonathan Murray and I said, “Look at all these messages, look at all these people that need help — let’s go help them! Let’s take this from the digital world and make it a reality.” I plan to sometimes bring my girls and go into these girls’ homes and flush out their relationships with their parents, get them back on track, get them on diets and exercise and help them get their children healthy and cook healthy meals. Whatever it takes. Just being a positive role model and someone to look up to. I really feel like what changed my life was opportunity and information. And I feel like so many people aren’t given that chance. Through this show, I hope to go in and give girls that chance.
CGM: So the plan is for you to travel around to wherever young women need your help?
LC: Yes! The plan is to get me into L.A. by the end of June and I’ll probably set up a home base there and then just travel around by plane or bus or whatever and take some of these girls that I’ve been mentoring all this time and put my money where my mouth is and go in and help change their lives. Sometimes I’ll be bringing my girls with me. If it’s a teen parent, I’d love to bring Abbie with me so they can see how I do things. Kind of like a Supernanny meets Intervention meets Teen Mom.
CGM: And when and where might we see the show hit the airwaves?
LC: We’re doing pitch meetings with networks all through June and hopefully by winter, we’ll be on the air.
CGM: I’m guessing you’re pretty excited for people to see who you really are and what your real passion is …
LC: I loved bounty hunting. Dog the Bounty Hunter was this really amazing time in my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I loved it.
But what I noticed when I was out with these criminals was my following, the group of people who look up to me were these young girls and boys who just needed a little bit of guidance. Someone they could look in the eyes and tell their problems to, because I’m not going to judge them. I’m like, “Whatever you did, I did. Whatever happened to you, happened to me. You don’t have to feel ashamed. You don’t have to feel judged. I’m just here to show you how to get out of that life.” Bad things happen to people, but that doesn’t mean that your whole life should have to be ruined because of it. And so many times it is. So many times these girls just never make it out.
And I know that I would have made it out, no matter whether or not my dad called me. I would have made it out because I have such a strong will inside me and because of my relationship with God. I don’t know if I would’ve made it out by the time I was 20 or 25 or 30, but I know at some point I would have. But that little bit of information and that reach-out to pull me up out of it was all I needed. And I feel like if I can extend that hand to these girls, I can really change lives.
And I’m still learning. I’m only 25, so I’m still learning every day. When I first got off drugs — and I talk a lot about this in my book — I got arrested when I was 23 for drinking. I had been off drugs, but everyone around me drank. Not only that, but it was a stocked bar and it was A&E parties and everyone drank. So I was like, “OK, I can’t do drugs, but apparently in the adult world everyone drinks, so I’ll just drink.” And then that got me where it got me.
So I really detail that — some people can handle things in their lives and some people can’t. And unfortunately, I’m one of those people who can’t. I just have to feel everything all the time. I can’t make my emotions numb and I have to go through things as they come at me or else I’ll end up doing drugs or getting high again. So that’s why I am able to stay sober.
CGM: Prescription drugs can present such a quagmire. I know from my own experience, if I don’t take prescription sleep medication, I don’t sleep. Without sleep I can’t function. So, as you say, determining the lesser of evils …
LC: They put me on Trazadone when I was 11. And there are nights where I am up, sitting in bed because I had a bad dream and I can’t do anything about it. Because I have such an addictive personality — to the point where I would start off with a little Trazadone, and then I’d go into a little Xanax and then I’d take it with a glass of wine, and three months later, there I am! There’s my mug shot again.
And I do that with people, I do that with a lot of aspects in my life and I just finally realized that I have a very addictive personality. If I’m around a Chinese person, I’m talking in their accent. If I’m around a Mexican person, I’m talking in their accent. I just have that addictive personality. So it’s hard for me to stand up to things.
And it was hard for me to break the mold of Dog the Bounty Hunter — of being Dog’s daughter. My goal is for one day people to look at me and go, “Oh, did you know that Dog the Bounty Hunter was Lyssa’s dad?” Not that I am Dog’s daughter. That I can break that mold of being Dog’s daughter and have my own identity and my own following.
CGM: Do you feel that having your own show might lead to some competitiveness with your dad … or will he be happy for you?
LC: I can’t speak on his emotions and what he would feel for me, but if it were my child, I wouldn’t feel anything but happiness, and encourage them in any way that I could. So for me, I hope he wouldn’t feel that way, because I can only relate to how I’d feel if that were my own child. I would just be so excited for her. I’d be like, “Go get it! The world is at your fingertips!”
If Abbie would ever feel the need to break from my mold, I would support her in every way possible. I think it’s really important for people to have their own identities. So I can’t say how my dad feels; I can only say how I feel as a parent. I can only hope that he wouldn’t feel that way — because that’s not my intention, to threaten anyone or to hurt him or his image or anything.
It’s just time to take that family tree and make my little branch!
Walking On Eggshells: Discovering Strength and Courage Amid Chaos is available online and in book stores now.
Photos courtesy of Lyssa Chapman/Howard Books