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Television Review

'All Men Are Sons': Fathers' Lifelong Effect

A documentary looks at young men and their relationships with Dad, thought-provoking if unlikely viewing Sunday.

June 15, 2002|JOEL GREENBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"All Men Are Sons" should carry an OG rating for fathers: Offspring Guidance recommended. Absent such advice from their sons, thousands of unsuspecting dads may plunk themselves down this Father's Day weekend thinking they're going to see the feel-good documentary of the year, a veritable cavalcade of Robert-Young-and-son vignettes a la "Father Knows Best."

But nooo.... Psychologist Terrence Real intrudes on our visions of a chore-less Sunday of eggs Benedict in bed followed by playing golf, watching it (the final round of the U.S. Open) and being otherwise pampered by adoring family members.

And oh, does he intrude. As a prescription for fatherhood, this show is like reading a medicine bottle's "possible side effects" label in excruciating detail.

The hourlong documentary (showing today on KLCS-TV and Sunday on KCET-TV) thrusts us into the world of five sons, ranging in age from 18 to 33, all of whom have been thoughtlessly, casually scarred by Daddy Dearest.

In a round-table session that would make Bobby Knight sob, each struggles to cope with his father's dubious legacy. The soliloquies are interspersed with scenes of their lives during the past year--kind of like the Osbournes without a sense of humor.

Oscar, 18, tells how his father "moved out as soon as he found out [my mother] was pregnant with me" and left him constantly searching for guidance from an adult male. Ted, 33, had to suffer the emotional reverberations of his father's experiences in a U.S. relocation camp for people of Japanese ancestry during World War II ("I didn't say the word 'love' to my father until I was 18," he says). Jonah, a 32-year-old singer-musician, got to experience his father for the first five years of his life before the man left his family. "I didn't see him for 15 years before he died of alcoholism," Jonah recalls. And so on. There is some self-indulgence going on here; one is tempted at times to yell at each of these men: "Grow up, bubbie. Get over it."

But surprisingly, by the show's end, all of these guys do seem to grow up. They resolve their feelings for their fathers--living and dead--and they're the better for it. Oscar, for example, visits his father in Mexico; after awkwardly trying to talk things out, the two men finally, touchingly, hug goodbye.

"All Men Are Sons" is thoughtful and layered with emotional subtleties that men rarely express, especially in terms of their relationships with their fathers (and their sons). But viewer beware: This show makes one realize how a careless word, an overreaction, an under-reaction, too much guidance or too little guidance can turn your boy into a tangled mass of resentment, hatred and confusion.

So sons: Don't let your dad watch this unless you think he can handle it. And pass the eggs Benedict, please.

*

"All Men Are Sons," 9 p.m. today on KLCS-TV and 4 p.m. Sunday on KCET-TV.

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