May 21, 2008
Dark currents surface in surfing clan’s idyllic life
(Page 2 - Previous Page)In the film, the children as adults recount their struggles to detach from their father and live some semblance of their own lives.
They are brutally frank on camera: One son talks about how he worried constantly about the physical strain on his mother of having all those children and living in such primitive conditions.
Juliette agrees: "For 10 years I was either pregnant or breastfeeding."
Of Doc's two daughters from one of two previous marriages, there is no mention.
There were considerable achievements, however. Several of the kids became world- champion surfers -- and grew the legend of the Paskowitzes. In 1998, Dorian gave Izzy, the most famous surfer of the bunch, ownership of their by-now world-famous Surf Camp, which was the family business, though it never made much money. Izzy's inheritance laid the basis for a family feud with David -- a feud the film makes clear is even today still generating family bitterness.
None of the Paskowitz sons still profess their Judaism. Only Navah, who lives in the San Fernando Valley with her writer husband, John Henry and three children (Avivah, ll, Max, 8, Wolf, 4, and a fourth on the way in June) and volunteers at her local temple, is devoutly Jewish.
Though the Paskowitz boys all became bar mitzvah, Doc denied them the knowledge necessary to live a meaningful life as a Jew, says his daughter, although there is little doubt his own love of his heritage is sincere.
Before his marriage, Doc took several trips to Israel, the first in 1956 when he lived with the Bedouins and tried to join the Israeli army.
When his efforts failed, he instead introduced surfing to the Tel Aviv beach boys. Some of the members of that community years later talk of him with real admiration and affection.
In one sequence in the film, Doc, now on a cane after having hip replacement surgery and suffering chronic asthma, is supported by two of his sons as he walks painfully to the Western Wall.
He is shown laying tefillin in the small condo in Waikiki he and Juliette lived in at the time of the film. (They have since moved back to Laguna Beach, close to the surf.) But by his own admission, he doesn't know how to do it. Likewise, the family in the camper lighting candles on Friday night had no idea what prayers to recite, so Doc, wearing a kippah recited the "Shema."
The film also shows him visiting the Simon Wiesenthal Center and viewing a blowup photo of a Nazi executing a woman and her child, in front of which he laments, "I was a lifeguard ... but I did nothing to help these people."
Inevitably, most of the kids ran away from their father's iron grip as soon as they were able, but each in their own way found they were ill equipped for life beyond the waves. Each of the talented sons has gone into creative fields, where their lack of education is less of a detriment: rock music, movies and popular art.
As for Doc, he is deeply wrinkled and walks with great difficulty, although he still surfs. In his typical stubbornness, he refuses to take medication for his severe pain. He and Juliette have 17 grandchildren (three more on the way), most of whom, but by no means all, are being brought up very differently from his own children.
In early May, I spoke to Doc and his wife. They were on the movie promotional trail -- though Doc adamantly refuses to see the film.
At the time, they were uncomfortably ensconced in a posh Manhattan hotel (courtesy, of course, of the film company) and yearning to get back to the surf.
On another press day in Santa Monica, Doc and members of the family offered surfing lessons to the assembled press people. Doc says he surfs daily and is still able to stand up on the board, despite his surgery.
Age, however, has not mellowed him. He sounds sprightly but just as stubborn and unyielding. He insists he will never view the film, referring to it as "documentary mishegoss."
However, Juliette says she loved the movie, because "I got to see the kids when they were tiny little puppies."
Said Doc somewhat bitterly, "They didn't want a documentary. They were looking for a guy with one arm who is able to box in the world championship. They want bizarreness and eccentricities -- and they got it from me."
Paskowitz became angry only once during our conversation, when asked if his family suffered as a result of his tyrannical rule: "I didn't live a life to fulfill my dreams -- that's absolute bull---t," he said. "I had no dreams. All I had was a way of life that I made up as I went along. It seemed to be healthy, peaceful, happy, humane and loveable ... and that's the way it came out."
His wife admits that her husband of almost 50 years is still a male chauvinist -- "Tigers never change their stripes," she says -- but Doc maintains he simply follows the laws of nature: "There was no choreography, no philosophy behind it ... just as there's no philosophy of a sperm whale or a snow goose."
Nevertheless, in a reflective mood in the movie, Paskowitz does admit that perhaps he did not give his kids what they needed for a productive life.
"I'm one of the few dumb Jewish doctors," he says.