Family Portrait Series pt. 1 - Robert Vardaman

First off, merry Christmas everyone. 

Today, after lunch, something crazy happened. I guess we could even call it a Christmas miracle. My uncle asked me if I would make a few portraits of him with his guitar. This never happens. I have asked this man if I could photograph him countless times, and if I am lucky, I will get one or two pictures before he shies away from the camera. Not today. I actually was able to make several portraits while he strummed his guitar and talked.

Best Christmas present I could have asked for.

My Uncle Robert is one of the most intriguing, influential, eccentric, brave, inspiring (I could go on, but I think you get the idea) people I know. He is my second father, and I owe him a lot of gratitude for helping raise me. 

Although I could write about any number of the qualities that make up his character as a great man, one sticks out and has influenced the way I live my life more than all the rest. 

He is not afraid to try stuff. 

He is the kind of person who throws out the word "can't" from his vocabulary through his actions. He doesn't let what other people think deter him from chasing after his dreams; in fact, adversity seems to spur him on even further. No matter how outlandish an idea is, he chases it. 

Not only does he try, but he works at something until he is as good at it as he possibly can be. 

When he was in high school, he was a Licensed Ham Radio Operator, and he started teaching himself to play guitar. My grandparents gave him an right-handed Ovation guitar. Only there was one tiny problem, my uncle is left-handed, so he restrung his guitar upside down and taught himself to play. 

In 1986, he decided that he wanted to learn to fly. So what did he do? He took lessons and got his pilot's license. Sometimes I think the definition of words like ridiculous and impossible transfer to his brain as, "go for it and try until you get there."

At the same time he was learning to fly planes, he was equally busy jumping out of them. Sky diving became one of his favorite past times. 

After sky diving and flying, a new thing peaked his interests - hot air balloons. What did he do? He became a licensed hot air balloon pilot and began racing balloons. In 1992, he placed 3rd in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. He was determined to be as good as he could be, and like his other interests, gave his all to meet his goal. 


In 2001, after my grandfather's death, my uncle took over our family's business, Vardaman Buick Honda and became the leader of our family. His bravery and willingness to lead, even during tough times, is something that speaks for his character more than his awesome hobbies ever could. His willingness to try anything is not limited to a set of hobbies, but covers the spectrum of his life. His leadership has held our family together. 

I know you may be thinking his hobbies couldn't get much more eccentric. Our family sure thought that, but alas, we were wrong. 

When I was a young teenager, my uncle decided to pick up knife making. Yes, you heard me correctly. Knife making. 

To this day, I am not sure what led him to try his hand at being a blacksmith, but I am glad he did. He built his own shop in his backyard and makes his own knives. He really is not scared to try basically anything. 


Even though some of these hobbies have come and gone over the years, the moral rings true. My uncle is not scared to venture out into unknown waters. He gets his hands on stuff before counting them out as a possibility. He is constantly seeking to learn new things, and I believe that curiosity has played a key role in making him successful in all of his ventures.  His curiosity about the world around him is infectious and inspires other people to explore the possibilities in front of them. 

One of the most beautiful things about his curious spirit is how much influence it has on the people around him. His life story has been a catalyst in my story, and his encouragement to try new things has helped me shed the fear of chasing my own dreams. 

No matter how unattainable my dreams have seemed, he and the rest of my family have supported me over the years. 

The biggest thing to that separates people like my uncle from everyone else is not a lack of fear, but his tenacious spirit that doesn't let fear blind him from chasing what is past that fear. 

Thank you for being a rockstar, Uncle Robert. 

Go try stuff people. 

The worst thing that happens is you fail. And then you can try something else. You might be pleasantly surprised at what can happen if you throw out the notion that your dreams are impossible. 

Merry Christmas. 

Oh yeah, here are some of the portraits from today. 

Kathleen A Dearman1 Comment