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Surfin' Kiddos

Dear Friend,

I watched an interesting movie today. Maybe you’ve seen it? It’s called “Surfwise,”and it’s about the Paskowitz family, who lived an extremely unconventional life as a family of surfers living out of a ramshackle RV in the 1960s and 70s.

I bought the film on the recommendation of my wife’s and my personal trainer, who is also a filmmaker, and who thought that some of the life philosophies of the family’s father sounded like mine.

The film described the life of the dad, a Stanford educated physician (honors grad) who lived a conventional, suburban life for a while in his 20s. He was president of the California branch of the AMA, and was even mentioned as a possible future politician.

But one day this guy realized that he had never been unhappier in his life. So he left his family, and went off to become a beach bum surfer dude (doesn’t quite sound like me, to be honest).

But that’s only the start of the story. He meets another lady who liked his new lifestyle, and went on to raise nine kids in this junky RV. They never had any money. One day, the dad told everyone that he was holding the family’s last dime. He was quite proud.

The dad became a famous and champion surfer, as did many of the children. Dad didn’t believe in education, so none of the kids ever spent one day in school. They just surfed, and ate a spartan
but healthy diet designed by the father.

The dad turned out to be a tyrant of sorts. A brilliant tyrant. And the film went on to document some of the family’s dysfunctions that likely grew out of his tyrannizing ways.

Some of the kids grew up wanting to emulate the dad’s lifestyle. Others transitioned into more conventional lives. Some deeply resented the dad. Oh well.

I did enjoy the film. I believe that the significance of the film is as an example, albeit an extreme one, of an alternative way for a family to live and raise children.

Personally, I think that the parent’s failure to homeschool in some manner, even unschooling through exposure to more of the world, probably hurt the kid’s ability to fit in to the general population later in life (if they so chose). The dad’s strong personality also probably prevented some individual development in the children. I don’t recommend this film as a model for child rearing.

Yet I’ve seen kids that are a lot more screwed up who were raised by right and proper traditional families.

I guess what I came away from the film with was that there are a lot of ways that families can live, some quite different than societal “norms,” and these ways can be equal to or better than those “norms” for the development of children into healthy adults. There are just so few well-publicized examples of such creative family lifestyles for young couples to be inspired by. And extreme examples like this one make actually drive such couples away from thinking creatively.

I don’t advocate living unconventional lifestyles simply to be different (though that’s certainly your right). But I do think that creative approaches to raising families must be tolerated by society in general if adult parents are to be free to live out their unique dreams while simultaneously raising kids. I also think that being creative and happy as a parent is the best kind of model that we as parents can be for our children.

Otherwise, we are all just prisoners of the cubicle and the PTA and we might as well get used to it.

Check out the film for yourself. Warning – there is some adult language and frank sexual references, so you might want to watch it after the kiddies are in bed.

All the best,

Hugh

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