The Other F Word (Nevins, 2011)

It is hard for me to say, precisely, when The Other F Word lost me for good.

It might have been when one of the many (to the uninitiated) interchangeable angry young men who had grown up into sanctimonious, self-congratulatory middle-aged snobs, commented that the other parents at his daughter’s “hoity-toity” school are “nice to us” but “they are all so fucking boring.”

Yeah, that was probably it.

That’s one guy among a half dozen, but his statement, coming on the heels of another explaining that when the time comes to explain his tattoos and piercings to his son that he hopes he will have instilled in his son the correct notion that “you respect other people,” just rubbed me the wrong way. (Punk) rockers are the only ones who are not allowed to compromise to make a living, another rocker laments. You sell one song in MP3 format and people call you a sell out, even while they are buying non-fair trade coffee and wearing the very brand they don’t want you to promote. Oh, the intolerable burden of having to stand for anarchy and nihilism.

There is something admittedly fun about the film’s premise, and I think it might have played well as a fifteen minute short film or newsmagazine segment. For that amount of time, anyway, it’s fun to giggle at the juxtaposition of these guys screaming obscenities set to music into microphones while trying to figure out how to get their kids to not do the same. Perhaps if the film had settled for satire, allowing these guys to be the butt of a cruel, karmic irony, that might have been enough. But it insists that they, and their struggles, be taken so very, very seriously and that the act of having children has instilled in them a singular wisdom that makes them more challenged than the rest of us and (more grating still) somehow more noble for even attempting to undertake those challenges.

Listen, I’ll admit that I don’t have kids of my own, and, as such, I have less patience than a hummingbird on speed for those who want brownie points for loving their wives or wanting to spend time with their kids. If I may quote Rita O’Grady from Made in Dagenham, “That’s as it should be.” Am I happy that these guys, almost all of whom seem very nice and to whom I hope I would be respectably nice to at a hypothetical PTA meeting, have found a sense of purpose in life and gotten off the fast track to what they now see could very easily have been a premature grave? Abso-fucking-lutley. But they act like they are the first parents in the history of the world to have missed a kid’s birthday party or school recital because they had to make the flippin’ donuts.

No, strike that. They act like they are the first parents in the history of the world to have felt bad about it.

It’s the feeling bad, you see, that distinguishes them from their bastard fathers who messed them up and, take their words for it, just didn’t give a damn. Parents are no picnic, huh? Cry me a river guys. I’m sure you were the perfect kid.

I spent the last ten minutes or so of The Other F Word thinking about another 2011 documentary that juxtaposed fatherhood with celebrity and work:  Buck. Real life “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman was beaten so regularly and severely by his father that his friends still cry to remember the horrific treament. He speaks poignantly at times of having to discipline the anger inside him so as to not pass it on to those–animal or human–to whom he might damage. It would be easy enough, though probably not entirely fair, to contrast Buck’s attempts to allow his troubled paternal relationship to provide a negative instruction in fatherhood with those of the punk rockers. I’m quite positive that a documentary can be edited to make people look better or worse than they really are. Having said that, I couldn’t help but meditate on the fact, as I left the theater, that Buck spent more screen time being a father (good, bad, or indifferent) than he did complaining about how hard fatherhood is, writing songs about how lousy his dad treated everyone, or whining about how all hotel room service food tastes pretty much the same.

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