By Ty Burns

Tayton and his mother, Carole

Carole remembers her son, Tayton T. Troidl RIT ’18, being full of life and into “everything.” Tayton says he recalls little of his childhood, compartmentalized into a box that he didn’t know he wanted to reopen. A singular week with his father, Darryl, when he was nine or ten years old was the only instance of paternal effort he received. For most of his life, Tayton was primarily raised by Carole and his grandmother. They loved him dearly, but a void followed him where he lacked male role models.

“His dad would promise him money and gifts and he never came through,” noted Carole. “There was constant disappointment there.”

High school for Tayton didn’t begin well. Unhappy with his environment, he neglected homework and his grades suffered. Concerned that he might get into fights or drop out of school, he was placed in alternative education. Tayton says the school change is what ultimately prepared him for college. “They really put in the effort for kids who wanted to expand their lives beyond what they were dealt,” he said. Despite his initial challenges, Tayton went on to graduate from high school and became the first member of his family to enroll in college. After a few years at a local college, Tayton decided to transfer to RIT in Rochester, New York. 

Phi Psi is Happy Accident

Arriving at RIT, Tayton found himself unfamiliar with anyone. This wasn’t a surprise, given his tendency to keep to himself, compounded by the fact that most of his high school peers didn’t pursue higher education. Nonetheless, it didn’t take him long to make acquaintance with an upperclassman during orientation. Tayton described him as “someone he wanted to emulate.” At the end of orientation, as each of them were going their separate ways, the upperclassman extended an offer to Tayton to reach out to him if he needed anything. 

Shortly thereafter, Tayton remembers a day when he felt sad. Alone in a new place, he did something that surprised himself — he reached out to the upperclassman and shared his feelings. ‘I want to be like you’ Tayton texted. In response, the upperclassman invited him to gatherings with friends to help Tayton integrate into the college experience. While Tayton wasn’t fond of social interaction with others, he found himself in a situation where he had to engage with unfamiliar people — and he enjoyed it. Through these conversations, he discovered enlightening connections with like-minded individuals. These interactions allowed him to connect with people and engage in enthusiastic discussions through genuine, thought-provoking dialogue. So, he kept coming back. Eventually, it dawned on him that these weren’t ordinary gatherings. They were recruitment events for Phi Kappa Psi. After Tayton realized he was being recruited to join Phi Psi, the chapter members told him to look at other fraternities and consider all his options. “For me it was such an organic interaction, “he said. “I never thought about joining another group of people.

‘A Life in Boxes’

Even though his father was only present in his life until he was seven or eight, Tayton doesn’t remember much from his childhood. His mother Carole believes he may have blocked many of the unpleasant memories out of his mind. “He had a good side to him,” Carole said referring to Tayton’s father. “He could be charming, he could be funny, but there was that dark evil side of him that I didn’t know in the beginning that you start to see more over time.” On January 18, 2021, Darryl suffered a heart attack and died. Tayton would never get the opportunity to talk directly with his father to fill in some of those memories or understand why his father never delivered on his promises.

With burning questions about his father’s life, Tayton decided to seek answers by creating a documentary as his capstone project for his film and animation degree. “There were things that I feel like I needed to express to him and that I wanted him to express to me, and that got taken away from me too soon,” Tayton said. “This was a way to put a close to that chapter and move on.” He traveled to the house where Darryl lived in Dayton, Ohio. With an entire production crew in tow, Tayton asked former neighbors, family, and friends about his father.   

Tayton described the experience as chaos. Good, organized chaos. “You can plan everything under the sun,” he laughed. “But when a wrench gets thrown in your plan, you have to just adapt.” Throughout the process, Tayton focused on treating people right. “You call in favors, you ask people to do things,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you need to ask people to do unreasonable things or not accommodate them.” Reflecting on the reception of his film, he credits the unwavering support of his Phi Psi brothers, stating, “I could not have done it without the love and support of my chapter brothers.” 

Tayton titled his documentary “A Life in Boxes.” What started as a capstone project has become an award-winning film. The documentary won Best Documentary Student Filmmakers: East Region at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Student Film Awards. His film was shown at the Buffalo International Film Festival and the Urban Mediamaker Film Festival in October 2023. 

My Life Changed for the Better

Tayton didn’t embark on his college journey with the intention of creating a documentary about his childhood or his father. “They were the cards that were dealt to me,” he said. The same can be said for his decision to join Phi Kappa Psi. “I was just a very socially awkward kid going into college,” he reflected. “Somehow this group of people accepted me for who I was at that time and constantly tried to make me better — and did make me better.”

“A Life in Boxes“ teaches we can’t control the boxes we’re given, but we can decide what to do with its contents.