Books

A Reflection on Faith, Family, and My Time on “American Chopper”

Paul Teutul Jr. on American Choppers/Photo © Discovery Channel

Editor's Note:

Paul Teutul Jr. starred on American Chopper with “Paulie” and his father, Paul Sr., building custom choppers together. After his time on the reality show, he started his own business, Paul Jr. Designs. Today, Paul Jr. Designs continues to thrive, producing custom bikes for a variety of individual and corporate clients. The Build is his first book.

It remains humorous to me that after ten years of appearing on a reality television show, the question I am most often asked, by far, is whether what happened on our show was, well, real.

But then again, the dynamic that made “American Chopper” a global phenomenon did appear unreal, prompting the two to three million viewers tuning in on Monday nights to hope – even pray – that the volatile relationship between my father and me was too bad to be true.

The premise of the show was simple: a father and son work together to build custom motorcycles. “American Chopper” worked because the bikes and our relationship were jaw dropping. For 10 seasons and 233 one-hour episodes, my father and I were often a train wreck that proved equally as difficult to turn away from as to watch.

And yes, it was real. In fact, I believe that because of my relationship with my father, “American Chopper” not only was the most real reality show, but it was the first true reality show that didn’t involve surviving on an island.

The arguments, shouting matches, door slamming, and wall punching were no different from my life growing up with my father, working for him in the steel business, and then building custom bikes together. The only dif­ference with “American Chopper” was that there were cameras around, recording our blowups for the world to see.

I have learned that there are many people with stories similar to mine – people who are part of, or are directly impacted by, an abnormal relationship. I have nodded in understanding while listening to fans of our show describe their relationships gone bad. I have even talked with one man who might have had a worse relationship with his father than I did with mine. I had not imagined that possible.

Those conversations are one reason I decided to write The Build. I have been married to Rachael for seven years now, and our strong relationship is one my parents did not have. Our son, Hudson, is almost three years old, and our father-son dynamic will be the complete opposite of what I grew up with. I have faith that will be the case… because of my faith. And when the opportunity arose to write a book about choppers, my family, and my faith, I said, “I’ve got to do this.”

Seeing my relationship with my father play out on a reality show for ten years was difficult because our society tends to keep such problems hidden. It has been difficult to detail in this book my bad experiences with my father because he is my dad, and I love him – I have long desired to have a nor­mal relationship with him.

But I kept it real on “American Chopper,” and I am keeping it real in this book, because I know there are too many others who will nod in understand­ing as they read my story.

I’ve always liked having my freedom, and since the show ended, I have been able to make my own schedule for building bikes while also spending time with Rachael and, of course, Hudson. From my early teens until I was almost forty, I’d estimate that I worked two lifetimes’ worth of hours.

Hudson was born two-and-a-half years after we stopped filming the show. It isn’t easy to look back and say with certainty what I would have done in a hypothetical situation, but if Hudson had been born while the show was still filming, I know I wouldn’t have been around him as much as I have been. I can’t even imagine that.

Life is great. And I think the best is yet to come. I don’t know if that means another show or another baby. Or both! But I don’t think I’m done with television. The way our show ended with big ratings for the second live build-off leads me to believe there is equity there for another show. Part of me asks, why would you want to do that again? But barely in my forties, I be­lieve I’m in the prime of my creativity.