After a long day of taking care of his two young boys, Fresno father Richard Tillman had his aha-moment.
When speaking with his wife in a pique of exasperation over his kids, he came up with an idea for a children’s book series that debuts online Friday: Luna-Tikes.
“My wife came home one day and asked me how my day was, and it wasn’t a good day. And I was like, ‘My kid’s a Luna-Tike,’ and when it came out of my mouth, we were both laughing. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s perfect, you know, lunatic, Luna-Tike,’ ” Tillman said.
And thus the book series was born. What started in a moment of frustration has evolved into a vehicle for Tillman to share inspirational values not only with his two sons – Jake, 18 months, and Gus, 3 – but with other parents and children as well.
“As a parent, I read to my kids constantly and no offense to ‘Goodnight Moon,’ it’s a great book, but now I just think things have changed,” Tillman said. As much as these books are for kids, he said, they’re also for parents, lessons that remind everyone to be a better person, to practice what you preach.
“As a parent, you don’t always do that,” Tillman said.
Luna-Tikes features a full cast of original characters, including Harry Hockey, Frankie and Francine Football, and Phil the Phisherman. They are characters, Tillman said, with minds of their own. He said his characters have lessons to teach such as having empathy for others, being true to yourself, remembering where you came from and facing your fears.
Tillman said through the series he’s put the best part of himself out there. He said it’s been a communal effort through empathy he’s learned from his family or the laughter from his children when he turns a page and they recognize a character.
“When you’ve been through enough, you don’t go through anything alone. You don’t get anywhere by yourself,” Tillman said. “You have to have help. You have to have someone steer you in one way or another. Anyone with any modicum of success knows they didn’t get there by themselves, and I think if you can realize that, it will help you in the long run.”
He’s taken moments of inspiration from his own life – whether cheering on his brothers at football games, to his experience as a high school athlete in San Jose, to being an actor in Los Angeles before moving to Fresno in 2009 when his wife took a job at a local law firm.
Family as a source of inspiration has always come easy for Tillman. The youngest of three brothers, Tillman said he’s always been trying to do anything he could to make his older brothers laugh.
Richard is the youngest brother of Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals safety who gave up an NFL career to join the Army after 9/11. A Ranger, he was killed by friendly fire in April 2004. Richard’s other brother, Kevin, served alongside Pat as an Army Ranger and played minor league baseball in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Although an athlete himself, Richard Tillman said he would rather have watched his brothers’ games than played in his own. He noticed the passion and dedication his brothers and his entire family had. For Tillman, his family means the most to him.
“I thought if I could just make them laugh, it’s the best feeling,” he said. “That to me meant more than throwing a touchdown or hitting a home run.”
Tillman said his mother at a young age tried to instill empathy in her children. Once he started writing his children’s stories, he said, that became a focal point.
Throughout all the struggles his family has gone through, Tillman said, his mother has always remained positive.
“That’s the thing, these aren’t lessons I made up. These are lessons I learned through them, and if anything it’s more their legacy if (the book series) did take off than mine, because I didn’t make it up. They taught it to me,” Tillman said.
Barry Alford, a longtime friend whom Tillman calls a big brother, played alongside Pat Tillman at Arizona State University. When Alford heard the news about the book series, he said it was a perfect fit for Richard, noticing his excitement every time he talked about the books.
Alford said that parents don’t always have time anymore while juggling careers and kids. Tillman’s series, he said, brings parents back to the basics.
“It’s reinvigorating to teach fundamental life lessons to people when life gets going pretty fast and parents get going pretty fast, and they can get kind of disconnected to their kids,” Alford said.
From family experiences growing up to raising children of his own, Tillman said, he’s thankful for Fresno. He said he’s enjoyed raising his kids here, getting to know his neighbors, and having people friendly and willing to help with the series or parenting tips or any way that they could. After living for over a decade in Los Angeles, Tillman said, he could probably count the number of close friends on one hand. Things changed when he moved to Fresno.
“I’ve been here for five years and it’s easily triple that, with friends that I know I will know for the rest of my life, and that’s a big difference,” he said. “It’s a great place to raise your kids, and I love it.”
The series puts a unique twist on a popular genre he said needs a bit of an update for a more modern world. One of his book’s characters, for example, is Harry Hockey, an overweight kid with a weakness for candy who gets picked last for the sports team. The boy persists, finds a sport he does well and works hard to be better. In the end, he earns his teammates’ respect when he scores the winning goal.
Another character, Phil the Phisherman, who is born with one arm, learns to adapt to his disability and finds his own talent in the world: fishing.
“Ultimately I think the world needs a message that’s positive,” Tillman said. “I think kids need to learn how to be more empathetic. ... When someone reads Harry Hockey, who’s this overweight kid, maybe they have a kid in their class and they see this other kid and they can relate it back to Harry Hockey. They can empathize and these books can help.”
Megan Ginise: 559-441-6614
How to purchase Luna-Tikes
Richard Tillman’s e-books can be purchased through his website: www.lunatikes.com.