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All Men Are Sons (Video).

Directed by John Badalment and produced by Chad Grochowski. Boxtop Studios.

All Men Are Sons is a 55-minute video that vividly portrays the experiences of a diverse group of five young men ages 18 to 32 in their intergenerational relationships with their own fathers and their children. The premise of the film is that "each man serves as a bridge" between the generation of his father and his children. This principle is poignantly illustrated in this video project as the participants, who were followed for one year, struggle with issues of being sons at the same time that they contemplate how to be fathers. The video begins with an introduction of each man in a professionally facilitated discussion group. Interactions between the key participants and their fathers and clips of the men with their partners and children provide glimpses into the emotional complexities of this bridge-making process.

The men in the film represent a diverse array of ethnicities, races, living situations, and relationship issues. The group includes a white man, an African-American man, a Japanese-American man, a Latino man, and a Jewish man. Their family of creation situations are also diverse, including a gay family with adopted children, a divorced father, an unmarried father, and two single men without children. The diverse backgrounds and situations present unique family systems and insights into the many factors that influence ongoing father-son relationships. The men in this group are very articulate, emotionally expressive, critical of their relationships with their fathers, and able to describe their own struggles with fathering. Their willingness to be filmed as they worked through painful issues allows the video to probe beneath surface relationships to examine important issues related to fatherhood such as the role of fathers in male identity and identity formation.

Each man is portrayed as having significant issues to address in his relationship with his father, and each expressed concerns or fears of modeling his own fathering after the less than satisfying relationships that he had experienced. The 18-year-old Latino man talks about the guidance that he wants but is not getting from his dad who lives in another country. We see him later in the video visiting his father and exploring some of these issues. The 30-year-old gay father talks about how his father pressured him to be a high achiever. The pressure influenced him to take a very different direction with his life in terms of his career and values. At the same time he continues to see his father's influence on how he is raising his own son, passing on a different set of values but the same sense of high expectations. These examples demonstrate the indelible and complex imprint of fathers upon their sons.

Another important theme that emerges in the video is the child's tendency to idealize fathers as powerful and dominant people in their lives. The high expectations fathers pass on to their sons are often mirrored back to them as sons begin to evaluate their fathers. As sons grow up they experience and discover the human imperfections of their own fathers and struggle to understand these flaws and how to use them as they construct their own ideals. As some of the men in the video begin to experience fatherhood, their understanding of their own father shifts from judgment to deeper insights and eventually acceptance. As one of the men points out, "Being a dad helped me to understand my own dad in new ways and how he did what he did out of love for me. I have come to accept my dad. He was not perfect, but he did what he did out of love for me."

The stories of the men's relationships are powerfully and professionally captured and portrayed in a manner that will evoke considerable thought and discussion from viewers. The cinematography, editing, musical score, and overall production reflect a high degree of professionalism, making an effective package and presentation. The video provides a rich springboard for discussions of father-child relationships, shared and unique perspectives of roles and relationships, modeling and reworking of roles and values, and social supports for men wanting to engage in fathering in positive ways. The video would be useful as a discussion starter in fathers' groups, giving men a comfortable entry into discussions regarding difficult relationship issues by talking about the strengths and weaknesses of the video participants without needing to directly disclose their own fathering issues.

There are also some minor limitations worth noting. While the diverse group of men and family situations provide rich and interesting contextual and cultural terrain, the men are not particularly representative. The unique and varied family settings and issues detract from some of the more common or universal themes, and this might make it more difficult for some men to identify with the families and situations that are portrayed. Another potential shortcoming is that the film is presented with little narrative framing. The stories are presented and left to stand on their own right. We sometimes wanted to hear a skilled narrator place the segments into an analytic framework that would facilitate comprehension and evaluation of the complex relational issues. Conversely, as presented, the video affords a rich set of qualitative data for training researchers, for opening discussion of difficult issues, for portraying father support needs, and for analyses of family dynamics. By avoiding a professional narrative, the film has maintained versatility for professional use in a number of settings and contexts.

The film would be a valuable resource for undergraduate and graduate programs in family studies, communication, family or counseling psychology, and social work. As previously mentioned, it would be a rich resource for qualitative data for training researchers in various narrative and observational techniques. In addition, agencies providing services to men and their families could use the video in the context of men's support groups. The intergenerational perspectives and the important themes related to father-son relationships and their ongoing evolution make this video a valuable tool for gaining new understanding about male adult development and father-son relationships.


St. Cloud State University


University of Delaware
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Author:Palkovitz, Rob
Article Type:Video Recording Review
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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