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NORTH COUNTY TIMES

BERKELEY
DAILY PLANET

—RICK POLITO

It’s not such an unusual request for a documentary filmmaker, but Tom Weidlinger wants dads to spend their Father’s Day watching television – to bond with their sons in front of the TV. His film, Boys Will Be Men, airs this Sunday on KQED/Channel 9. “It’s encouraging being a good father,” the Berkeley filmmaker says of the documentary, which explores the emotional lives of boys and offers answers to help adults understand the sometimes maddening behavior of their male offspring...

Boys Will be Men charts a course through the emotional maze of boyhood that will be instantly recognizable to many men: Boys are born expressive and emotional are taught to be stoic and insensitive. Boys who do show sensitivity and emotion are derided by their peers as weak or effeminate. Caught up in this "boy code," boys feel they can’t talk about the emotions they are experiencing and often resort to lashing out violently. Boys Will Be Men illustrates an obvious but unspoken truth. “It was really kind of putting words to an experience that I’ve had, and I’ve seen other boys and men had, growing up, but we never ever talked about,” Weidlinger says.

In staking out the boundaries of the boyhood dilemma, Boys Will Be Men relies heavily on the work of Michael Thompson, co-author of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys and William Pollack, author of Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From the Myths of Manhood. The video then explores two approaches designed to open boys up to emotional growth. The first program take troubled boys into the Idaho wilderness on an Outward Bound-style experience. The second approach puts teen-age Chicago boys through a rite-of-passage performance incorporating poetry, storytelling and self-expression. The two experiences are very different but each sparks the kind of frank emotional dialogue that is all but missing from most boys’ lives...

Allan Gold, psychologist for the Reed Union School District in Tiburon, has seen the film and participated in a panel discussion at a San Francisco screening. Even in allegedly enlightened Marin, parents are still raising emotionally closed boys, Gold says. “I don’t think it’s dealt with it at all.” Many of the boys he sees have their lives over-programmed with activities with the quiet time for listening lost in a blitz of day planners and scheduling. “You get what I see as a culture of competition. That’s very Marin,” Gold says. Not enough is being done to reach out to boys on an emotional level, he explains. “Boys do have a very rich emotional life,” Gold say. “They struggle with a lot of issues. They need to be provided the places and the people to listen to them without judgment, to guide them and be kind of consultants to them without telling them what to do all the time.”... Films like Boys Will be Men are one part of the answer, Gold says. “This film will really help open up discussion...”

Weidlinger estimates there will be 50 PBS stations airing his Boys Will Be Men on Sunday. He can’t hope to spark a national movement but he sees the need for one. “I do think that the level of school violence is a kind of indicator that there are issues that are not being dealt with or they’re being dealt with in very one-dimensional ways,” Weidlinger says.

Fathers and boys have all experienced the feelings discussed in the film. Now they might have a way to talk about it. Even if it means sitting in front of the television.