Austin Hunter Chamberlain

Love of Archery

When Austin was about 11, he developed a passion for archery. That passion started as a desire to be able to hunt with a bow, but evolved into a fierce love of shooting a bow, spending time learning about archery, and more importantly, spending time with friends with a mutual passion to be successful archers. I remember many, many days of driving Austin to a local archery range – the Archery Learning Center (ALC). ALC became part of his life, an impactful part that took Austin all over the country attending archery competitions. He developed incredible friendships with his ALC teammates, and those friendships contributed to his growth as a young man and a hunter. Austin became more patient, more focused, more determined, and willing to dedicate himself to reaching a goal. That goal was to become an accomplished archer, and not surprisingly, it didn’t take him long to reach that goal.

Love of His Truck

Austin started working odd jobs in his early teens as a way to generate income – grass cutting, pressure washing, helping neighbors take care of their yards, anything to put a few dollars in the bank. When he turned 16, we bought him a truck and that prompted Austin to work even harder to see that truck become exactly what he wanted. First at a local archery range, then at a general store, while also working for a friend’s archery company the entire time. He ultimately ended up working for a waste management company – he would proudly tell you that during the summer, he was a trash man! Those jobs and the money he earned allowed him to make changes to that truck, and he would tell you at the drop of a hat that every change he made meant something to him because he had earned the money on his own.

Love of Friends

Austin cherished his friends. He would talk with some often, others he’d go some time without talking to them only to spend hours engaged in a conversation catching up on things. Austin constantly checked on his friends, and he had an uncanny way of knowing when a friend needed a kind word, a laugh, or a shoulder to cry on. Austin was that person who could talk with anyone because he was interested and informed on so many things, which allowed him to strike up a conversation with anyone and find a common interest within minutes. He didn’t see color, race, or religion, nor did he care how much someone’s family had in their bank account. He took everyone at face value. It was Austin’s ability to connect with people regardless of race, background, or upbringing that made him so special to so many people.

Love of a Father

From Mike Chamberlain
Delivered at Celebration of Life Event
November 10th, 2021

How does a parent compose a passage that defines the life of their child? How do we as parents reveal the depth of impact a child has on us and our family with simple words? The task seems impossible, and anything written seems inadequate. I’ve sat and contemplated these questions and prayed for guidance since Austin’s passing, seeking clarity for how to convey to you the impact that Austin had on those around him. One only need to look around today for a glimpse into that impact, it was profound. It was beautiful. While sitting in a deer stand the other day, a place of respite for both Austin and I, it ultimately occurred to me that Austin and I were in many ways an alter ego. In Latin, alter ego simply means “second I”, as in the second version of one’s self. I realize that every parent looks at their child and sees a true reflection of themselves. It’s one of the true joys of being a parent. But with Austin, it was more than simply a reflection of myself. Thousands of times, I looked at Austin and thought I was seeing myself in a mirror at some earlier time in my life. A more beautiful, caring, and certainly better looking version of myself! But I also had very deep, emotional connections to Austin’s experiences and at times, felt as if I was either watching what was occurring from the outside, or seeing a modified version of an identical event that occurred to me when I was his age. It’s hard to explain those many occurrences, it felt that I was actually part of his experience and not just as an observer, a participant, or a parent – my own soul was impacted and touched by what he was experiencing. As I watched Austin through the years, I also was blessed to see beautiful, sometimes stunning, glimpses of Tonya in his mannerisms, his smile, his eyes, and his laugh. That grin. That grin was so sly that it caused you to wonder what really was going on in his mind. But I knew that mind, I knew how it worked, and I cherished that grin because it revealed the depth of Austin’s soul and character – caring, intelligent, thoughtful, deliberate, considerate, determined. I thank the Lord that I was truly blessed to be able to view Austin and his life through what I consider to be a unique lens – as a father, a hunting and fishing buddy, a mentor – and a true admirer. Allow me the honor to spend a few minutes talking about Austin – a truly remarkable young man.

When Austin was born, Tonya and I knew nothing about parenting. I’ll never forget taking him home from the hospital – oh, the joy and nervousness we felt. Soon after arriving at home he began crying. And he just kept crying! After a few hours, at our wits end, we called the hospital frantically asking what to do. We were told to feed him – he’s a human being, he needs food…oh yea, we forgot that minor detail! Somehow, despite ourselves, Austin flourished into a toddler that began showing personality traits he carried throughout the remainder of his life. Caring. Inquisitive. Smart. Witty. Determined. You’re going to hear the word determined more, Austin’s determination was magical. Austin was blessed to have Tonya stay home with him for many months after his birth, and I watched his relationship with her become so very special. In fact, I can’t imagine a son that had a more caring, respectful, and gracious relationship with his mother. Austin always showed respect for Tonya, he was always kind, always compassionate. This respect and kindness became a foundation for his relationship with Tonya, it was on full display nearly every day they were around each other. I cannot tell you how many times I walked into conversations between the 2 of them – thoughtful conversations about life. Sometimes humorous, sometimes compelling, sometimes charged, but always respectful, caring, and gracious. As a father, and more so as a man, I greatly admired and respected Austin for how he loved, cared for, talked to, and engaged with his mother.

When Jordan was born, Austin became a big brother and it definitely suited him. He would care for Jordan, play with her, dote over her – as they both got older he’d even fight and argue with her! Go figure, right? Their relationship was beautiful to watch evolve. As Jordan became old enough to see Austin spending time with me hunting, she decided that she needed to do the same. Now, mind you, Jordan’s idea of spending time at a hunting camp differed from Austin’s. Austin was there to hunt, which I’ll come back to, but Jordan was there to socialize, stay up late, eat stuff she shouldn’t in quantities she shouldn’t, and pal around with her dad and brother. Mostly hang out with her brother. Many, many mornings and afternoons I spent with them both in a duck blind or deer stand, and only truly stupid deer and ducks were harvested on those days. Stupid, and certainly hard of hearing, because nothing was quiet about the 3 of us on these hunts. But what I watched in Austin and Jordan’s actions towards one another continues to inspire me today. Not once, and I say this with certainty – not once did they raise a voice to each other, argue, fight, get mad, or otherwise do anything other than have fun in the presence of the other. How special is that? Through the course of those many mornings and afternoons, I watched a relationship evolve. I watched them take rides together in Austin’s truck, I watched them laugh out loud, I watched them enjoy time together, and I watched them develop a deep respect and admiration for each other. As Jordan and Austin both grew into high school, and particularly when boys started – how do the kids say it these days, as boys “started talking to” Jordan – well, then I saw a brother/sister relationship come full circle. What started out as a caring big brother that loved to play with his sister, had matured into a man that put his heart on his sleeve and made it clear that protecting his sister was important to him. Shouldn’t all sisters be so lucky?

When Austin was 4, he began asking me, then begging me, to take him hunting. When Austin was 5, I met a man whose friendship, generosity, and vision changed mine and Austin’s life. Dr. Charles Mitchell, who we call Doc, owns a large tract of hunting property in Louisiana. When we first met, Doc wanted to make the property a premiere deer hunting property. He asked me to help. Several fortuitous events occurred, and before you knew it, Austin and I became part of something that profoundly influenced both of us. You see, Doc owns a tremendous piece of property, but more importantly, he had a group of young men that were allowed to hunt the property. His sons, his nephew, their friends, this group of young men who are now grown, many with families of their own – well, this group of men suddenly had a younger brother and Austin suddenly had a bunch of big brothers. These men took Austin under their wing – they hunted with him, they played with him, they took time with him, they grew to respect him. They each offered Austin something I could not – different perspectives, different thoughts, different backgrounds, different stories in life. They also taught him all sorts of cool brotherly things, like eating too much candy and getting sick, or drinking too many soft drinks before getting in a deer stand, or stringing cuss words together in a way that would make a sailor blush. But as his dad, I watched these men teach Austin something that became a pillar of his personality – loyalty. Loyalty to your friends, loyalty to your family, loyalty to being part of something bigger than just yourself, and loyalty to the group’s collective goals. Longfork became Austin’s favorite place on Earth, he’d tell you that at the drop of a hat if you asked him! Longfork allowed him to become an accomplished hunter, to grow as a young man, to meet dozens of new people and forge a bond with people from many walks of life. Some of my fondest memories of Austin were either at Longfork, or traveling to or from there – 10 hours in the truck each way, we talked about literally everything there is to talk about. Collectively, Longfork and the men that spent time there helped Austin mature well beyond his years in so many ways. Among other things, his experiences and opportunities at Longfork helped shape Austin into the mature, thoughtful, knowledgeable man he was – those same experiences and opportunities shaped Austin into a serious, passionate deer hunter. At age 9 Austin harvested his first deer, at 10 he took his first buck, at 12 he was assisting me with consulting work for my clients because his knowledge of deer was so keen, at 13 he was hunting alone and at 14 I’d put his abilities to hunt and kill deer against anyone that I’ve known to this day. I trusted Austin and his knowledge, his viewpoints, his perspectives, and his advice more so than anyone I’ve ever hunted with, and I say that not to slight the many talented men and women I’ve been fortunate to hunt with. Austin was simply that gifted, that driven, that accomplished. He was the definition of an outdoorsman and hunter.

As Austin became a teenager, his desire to bowhunt for deer blossomed – it became a true passion. Remember the word determined? In the dictionary, you’ll see several important synonyms for determined – they include set on, dead set on, bent on, and one I’ll doctor a bit – hell bent. When Austin decided he was going to do something, you might as well just reconcile yourself that it was going to happen. Once an idea, a hobby, an interest, whatever term you want to use – once it lodged itself in Austin’s brain and he decided he wanted to do it, he just did it. As Austin’s love of archery grew, he had the good fortune to meet George Ryals, who became his archery coach. He met Kolby, Chris, and the Hornets teammates became his extended family. Archery and archery competitions provided Austin opportunities to travel, meet new people from many walks of life, learn perspectives, gain friends all over the country, and become really, really good at something he cherished – shooting a bow. I cannot begin to explain how many hours he practiced, how many miles we drove him so that he could shoot, how much he educated himself on all aspects of archery. Watching him chase his passion was, and still is, inspiring. Receiving a text one afternoon telling me that he had just shot his first deer with his bow and that he felt great about the shot – that remains one of my fondest memories of Austin and I will cherish it until the Lord calls me home. After receiving that text, I sat and cried in the stand before I went to meet him, I prayed that we’d find that deer quickly and easily. The hug I gave him when we found that deer is something I can still feel, it’s lucky I didn’t break him in half! I am so very proud of Austin’s accomplishments and dedication to doing the things he loved.

When Austin turned 16, we ultimately purchased a truck for him – the truck had been my dad’s and I was tickled that he’d be able to enjoy it. About this same time, Austin began spending a lot of time with a friend named Garrett, who you also heard from earlier. That friend’s family owns Curbside Services, a sanitation and recycling business. Well, Austin decided that to spend time with his buddy Garrett and make some money during the summers, he’d work at Curbside. When asked what his summer job was, Austin would proudly tell you he worked as a trash man. Literally. He ran trash routes, made deliveries, did bulk pickups at residences and businesses, collected lawn debris, you name it. He’d get up at 5:40, or 5:45, or maybe 5:55 – so that he could be at work at 6, and he’d come home filthy, sweaty, worn out, but satisfied because he valued a hard day of work. As his friendship with Garrett blossomed, his love of trucks did as well. Little did I know what was about to come. Determination. Remember that truck we bought him? Well, Austin became enamored and infatuated with that truck, and with big trucks in general. I honestly don’t know if “big truck” is the right word, if he were here he’d educate me for sure and joke with me about my lack of knowledge, but you get the point. This truck began to personify one of Austin’s personality traits that most defined him – individualism.

Now, I want to stop just a second because I know that Jordan is sitting here saying in her head, “Dad, just speak English and quit using big words”. I get this a lot from Jordan, just get to the point Dad, using a bunch of big words isn’t necessary. Ok, Jordan, I’m feeling you. So, individualism is defined as the habit of being independent and self-reliant. Alternatively, it addresses the social theory favoring freedom of action over state control. If you truly knew Austin, and you listened to what I just read, you’re smiling and nodding because independence, self-reliance, and a true love of freedom defined him. I can also state with certainty that Austin was as comfortable in his own skin as anyone I’ve ever met at his age, and my job involves teaching young adults his age. Ok, let me try a more direct explanation of being comfortable in your own skin. Austin didn’t give a damn what the average person on the street thought about him, what clothes he wore, the music he listened to, his opinions, who he hung out with, his truck – you name it. I have told Tonya that he clearly developed this tendency from her rather than from me, but I digress. Regardless, Austin’s sense of self and attitude towards life were something I deeply respected, and frankly, will try to emulate throughout the remainder of my own life. Wouldn’t we all enjoy life more if we cared less of what society thinks of us, and instead spent more time living life the way we want, rather than conforming to what others think is appropriate?

Anyway, that white truck – well, that truck took on a life of its own. Austin’s truck grew from a simple white pickup truck, to a lifted, loud, tinted, then squatted, beast with big wide tires, a loud sound system, window stickers, and accessories that still make me smile. When Austin climbed in that truck, his larger than life personality was on full display. I used to always joke with him about that truck, about how loud it is, about how it likely annoyed other people, about how obnoxious it is – as an aside, Austin always told me my definition of obnoxious was flawed. But Austin told me many times “Dad, do you really think I care what people think about my truck or whether it annoys them? Let them worry about themselves, and I’ll do my thing”. Well said son – as always, wise for your age. I must admit, I now enjoy driving that truck, in fact, I love and cherish it. Shhh, he’d never let me hear the end of that!

I would love to sit and write about Austin for hours to come, and I will be doing that as time moves on. But for now, I’ll close with some final thoughts that I hope you all will consider. Admittedly, the grief that we have experienced since Austin’s passing is beyond anything I can describe, it continues to be a crippling sense of loss that makes us wonder how we can go on with our own lives. How do we move on, how do we live our lives in the face of such loss and grief? Well, I think that if Austin were here, no let me restate that – I KNOW that if Austin were here, he’d have simple advice based on his own actions in life. Despite the grief, he’d say to take care of your friends, check on them, spend time with them, make sure they know that you care for them and are there for them if they need you. Cherish your family. Love and respect your mother unconditionally and spend time with her. Love your sister, show her through your actions how much you care for her and her future. Spend time with your dad, know he’s your biggest fan, and don’t be afraid to reveal to him the man that you’ve grown to become – he’s been looking forward to that revelation since he first held you.

Be passionate about your hobbies, spend time doing the things you love. Love your life. Be comfortable with who you are, and don’t be afraid to be different, don’t feel pressure to always conform. Certainly don’t worry about what other people think, you’ll never please everyone and why bother trying. Be thoughtful, be kind, and remain humble regardless of your successes. Don’t be afraid to work your ass off and break a sweat, knowing how to work defines being a man. Be self-reliant, don’t wait on or require someone to handle your business, be willing and able to take care of it yourself. When I reflect on Austin’s life, and now his legacy, it is my fixed conviction that he would want us to live our own lives following these pieces of advice, because that’s how he lived every day of his life. What would make Austin incredibly proud would be the recognition that he positively influenced your life, and through your own actions, you lived your life honoring his. That’s what he would want. That’s what I intend to do with every day for the remainder of my time on this Earth. I challenge each of you to do the same.

Austin, we love you buddy – Dad.