Idol Chatter

surfwise2.jpgEvery parent wants a better life for their children, better than the one they had. It’d be pretty astounding to hear fledgling parents at a dinner party say, for example, that they’d like to put as many obstacles as possible in their kid’s path or quote “no pain, no gain” as a mantra of childrearing.
“Oh no, we’d never use rails on Timmy’s crib…why, he’s going to run a major corporation one day!”
You just don’t hear such statements. But if you heard that a Jewish, Stanford-educated physician decided to give up all of life’s creature comforts to raise nine kids with his wife in a 24-foot trailer as they toured North America, shunning a traditional school education for a steady diet of surfing, natural foods, and family bonding time, would you call that a triumphant middle-finger gesture to The Establishment? Or would you call it child abuse?

The documentary “Surfwise” (now showing in NY and LA) is a fascinating investigation of the life of 84-year old Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz, said physician and patriarch of the “first family of surfing.” The entire Paskowitz clan is interviewed in this shining gem of a film which gently leads the viewer through the family’s seemingly idyllic upbringing before delving into the darker recesses of their collective and individual psyches.
The film opens with a wise (and strikingly Buddhist) quote from the eldest son, David:

When we had nothing, we were in complete cultist bliss…
When we started to want something, that’s when it hit the fan…

And hit the fan it does!
Did those nine kids, all grown adults now, experience profound spiritual truths living on the outskirts of the traditional, mechanical path that 99.99% of the rest of us followed? Although the family gathered in a prayer circle every Friday evening for Shabbat, their true religion seemed to be Nature.

Everyone’s trying to get that spiritual moment of perfection…and we had it. We weren’t attached to the physical world. At all.

That might have served them well in the blissful, playful state of childhood, but what pitfalls awaited them once they left the camper for the “real world?” Would they look back on that confined space and lifestyle as a haven…or as a prison? Was “Doc” a fuzzy father figure…or a warden?
I sat there amazed and entranced to see where the ever-shifting family dynamics, expertly revealed by the filmmakers, would take me next. This film made my mind reel between the truisms of “be careful what you wish for” and “the grass is always greener.”
It so happens that I’m in a documentary phase right now, but that hasn’t blinded me to the fact that this is a truly wonderful, thought-provoking film about the difficulties of raising children and the fine line that exists between helping them and harming them.
My only word of warning is that the Paskowitz family has a very colorful use of the English language. That is, they can really talk like sailors, especially Dorian, the father. I’m not easily offended by salty language, but certain interview segments did catch me off-guard, usually making me laugh in shock and surprise. In the end, though, I found it be part of their intimate, take-us-or-leave-us charm.

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