“It’s punk. You can do any fucked up thing you want to and just say ‘I’m punk!'” So says Mike Burkett (better known as Fat Mike of the band NOFX) on the appeal of punk rock at the beginning of the breezily entertaining if slight new documentary The Other F Word. The question is though, how do you reconcile that anarchic spirit with becoming a parent? Fatherhood, as you’ve probably guessed, turns out to be that other F word and this film follows a group of aging punkers as they navigate the treacherous waters of parenthood while still trying to live by their punk aesthetic. While it starts out shallowly and it seems for a long while it’s not going to amount to much more than entertainment, The Other F Word shifts gears in its final moments to become a more meaningful and moving film than it at first appears to be.
The problem in the early going is that the answer to the question “Can dads still be punks?” is so obviously “no.” There is nothing less punk and more establishment than having a kid if you do it the way it should be done. It doesn’t matter if you drink coffee from a mug with an anarchy symbol on it or dress your little girl in an outfit with an artful skull and crossbones pattern, procreating is a capitulation to everything the punk ideal rejects – particularly if you aim to do a good job of it. Sorry, but driving your daughter to school in a minivan is not punk even if you’re wearing a Fuck Authority t-shirt. Still, it’s kind of entertaining to see some of these guys try and fortunately the filmmakers never lose sight of the irony of it all.
Through interviews with later generation punk luminaries like Flea, Jim Lindberg, Art Alexakis, Mike Hoppus, Lars Frederikson and even going as far back as Black Flag’s Ron Reyes, a portrait forms of a group of once angry young men who might be turning into the very thing they once rebelled against. Former Pennywise lead singer Lindberg who has a book called Punk Rock Dad: No Rules, Just Real Life is the story’s central figure and The Other F Word follows him as he struggles with the constant touring and time away from his family while still trying to hold up the punk image.
Though it’s all amusing, it’s also kind of sad and for a while it just seems like The Other F Word is just going to be a happy ode to parenting – a comfort for those who have grown up and given in. And truthfully, it kind of is that for the most part. About an hour and 15 minutes in, however, the doc subtly pivots. Instead of the question “can dads be punks?” it starts to ask “can punks become dads?” It’s at this point that several of the guys start to reveal the terrible childhoods they had and the bad parenting they suffered and you start to see how those experiences fueled the rage and nihilism that drove their art in the first place. For many people, that anger becomes a dead end, but these guys show it’s possible to come through to the other side, a little rough around the edges and worse for wear, but all in one piece. They’ve embraced their new roles and they’ve dedicated themselves to being the parents that they never had. It’s not punk, but then it shouldn’t be.
As Lindberg says at the end of the film: “Maybe the way we change the world is by raising better kids and being more attentive to those kids and maybe that’s how we change the world. Instead of by writing a punk rock song, maybe we just be better parents.”
The Other F Word is mild, but entertaining and ought to appeal to fans of the musicians, especially those who themselves have submitted to domesticity. The rest of us can at least take comfort these guys aren’t raising a new generation of monsters.
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