Archive for November, 2008
We rented a DVD a couple weeks ago that’s been on my mind, and I’m finally sitting down in my highly pregnant state to write about it. It’s a documentary called Surfwise, which chronicles a man who was a Stanford-educated, successful doctor, then walked away from it all when he married so he and his wife could raise their family (which eventually included 8 sons and 1 daughter) in a small camper van roaming the country and surfing the waves.
The family, called the Paskowitz family, is legendary in the surfing world, and several of the sons have been surf champions. The kids didn’t go to school (or even homeschool in any formal way), and seemed to live a care-free bohemian life that was the envy of many an unhappy, wealthy surfer kid who crossed their paths. But on the other hand, the father (“Doc” Paskowitz) was very strict with their surfing daily practice, healthy eating, cleanliness, and religious (Jewish) observances. And they struggled financially, often living penny to penny, through the kids’ upbringing.
What the film did well was start out by showing an idealized vision of “walking away from it all,” and “living the simple life.” With old photos and footage of the family of sun-kissed kids on beaches, where other kids and families would run to greet them and wish they could all ditch school and hit the road with the Paskowitzes. The ideal was a close family, a connection with nature, a lack of need for material wealth and success.
But, then, some harsh realities begin to reveal themselves as the film continues. The father was strict to the point of dictatorship and even violence. Several of the kids, now adults, resented the fact that their lack of education severely limited their opportunities in grown-up life (two of the sons dreamed of being doctors, but with no school or homeschool records, were basically told it was impossible). While the father loved the thrill of living hand-to-mouth, the kids often stressed about their situation. Doc has seen the other side, and chose to leave it, but the kids had no choice.
In short, it was a fascinating story of idealism versus reality, of ways we can react to our consumer culture. A good check for those of us who may sometimes dream of what it would be like to have no material possessions or expectations or responsibilities to stress about. Would we be amazingly healthy? (Doc, in his 80’s is, with his strict health regimines, but not all of his kids are.) Would our family be closer than any other? (Unfortunately, this did not comet o fruition for this film’s family.) Would we be blissful? (I’d say none of the Paskowitzes reaches that ideal.) But the film doesn’t paint a black and white picture, either.
It’s a lesson on balance, on choices for ourselves and for our kids. Doc chose what was “enough” for himself — and he was a brilliant cultural thinker in many ways — but did he really think about what was “enough” for his kids, or what they truly wanted and needed? Some of the kids more appreciated their upbringing than others. There were amazing benefits of living outside the system as they did, but also harsh consequences for some of these family members.
In short, my take-home lessons from this film: we probably all need a bit of yin with our yang, we must have a willingness to rethink what we may think is ideal, and we need an ear for listening to our children for their deepest needs as we try to meet our own. “Having Enough” is a complicated concept, and this film does an interesting job of making that clear over the lifetime of an unusual family.
Enough of the current administration? Enough of the fear-mongering? Enough of the self-centered direction our nation has been heading in the world? Enough denial of people in need?
Then, please, please, please, make sure you vote tomorrow!!
If you are in California, I urge you to vote No on Prop 8, which bans gay marriage — a “no” vote means you believe in equal rights for all under the law and you are speaking up for justice in a culture of fear. If you are in the United States, I urge you to vote Obama — then continue to press him to follow through with his verbal commitments to better education, health care, and economic stability for those who need it most, and to a collaborative approach to international relations.
We can make changes. It is rarely easy, or immediate. It takes many voices, people working together. It takes a deeper vision. It takes making mistakes and correcting them. It takes believing in something bigger than ourselves. It takes relentless effort. But it can be done.
Let’s start a new chapter tomorrow. Let’s get out there and vote.