The Evolving Father

How fatherhood differs across cultures and through time

The Other F Word

What happens when punk band rockers become fathers

Jim Lindberg of Pennywise
As young front men, it’s f— authority (you can fill in the rest of that blank). Later, it’s join the authority, and telling kids that mom and dad’s rules apply. In a recent documentary (titled The Other F Word) that features Jim Lindberg of Pennywise, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ron Reyes of Black Flag, and Mark Hoppus of Blink 182, among other rebels, we encounter the changes wrought by age and fatherhood. As one star puts it, when you’re young you want to die, but when you’re older and have a family you want to live.

The rebels with a cause are the punk rockers. Many of them spun out of Los Angeles, in a scene of living fast, nihilism, not caring, and doing what their parents didn’t want them to do. The fans embraced the tragic—the failure to fit in, the death by drug overdose. The fans and singers told the world, “We don’t care what you think.” The fans sometimes beat each other, the stars sometimes jumped on the fans, and they all showed they were outsiders with tattoos, stand-apart hairstyles, and lots and lots of swearing.

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Then something happened. Some of those same guys grew older and become fathers. As the camera rolls, we see punkers get up early, make toast, play catch with diapers, walk their kids to school, cart the kids around in car seats, and sing songs. Some of the songs are the same and some are different. One guy sings one of his tunes with his daughter, who doesn’t know many of the words. Art Alexakis, of Everclear, sings, “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” One man wonders, “Should I have tattooed my forehead?” And another learns that wearing a T-shirt that says “F— the police” to his kids’ school isn’t appropriate.

These men describe their changing priorities. As one puts it, no one looks at punk rock as a career decision with a pension. But later you need to put food on the table, pay for diapers, figure out healthcare. You become part of the system you once fought. Playing in a band—and it should be underscored that these guys are the long-term successes of the industry—becomes work. It’s a way to make ends meet, and to provide as a father. You dye your hair and move on.

Yet the music industry has changed; tastes have shifted, and as album sales have plummeted, there’s money to be made by touring and branding. That leads to concerns over selling out, and to the challenges men face to juggle the travel and mind-altering experiences of band life with the wish to be present in their children’s lives. As one father puts it, “I will not play sober,” and yet we see him soberly describe the loss of his first child, stillborn.

Many of these men describe early childhood family upheaval. In a sequence of recollections, we listen to one after another having run away. They describe an absent father, the father who had weekend custody but didn’t want his son, the recollection of the day their parents divorced. Art Alexakis articulates his father walking out when he was six years old and not paying child support; years later, Art would sing, “Father of mine, where have you been…my daddy gave me a name, and then he walked away.” Part of what made these men punks was their anger and sense of not fitting in; it helped fuel them to become who they did.

For these fathers, life’s rebellions are mostly part of an earlier time. As we hear, “These kids need you,” and “The most important job a person can have is being a parent.” As Flea puts it, there’s a mentality some parents feel that they brought the child into this world, expecting payback, whereas Flea’s kids give him a life, a reason. Duane Peters tells of losing an adolescent son of his own, killed instantly in a car crash, and how his instinct was to take his own life, but he stopped, thinking of his two other sons. As Mark Hoppus says, “Becoming a parent will change everything in your world.”

The documentation of these punk rockers’ changing family lives is enjoyable in its own right. In some ways, their stories are wildly different from most—few men have enjoyed such adulation and success rebelling against authority as these guys, and they have the luxury of more options than many other men. But in other ways, their battles are those of men generally. A central question is how engaged fathers are made: is that disposition heritable, is it wrought during early childhood years based on family variables, is it constructed through adolescent social channeling, or is it made when a man first ponders the depth of holding his own child?

Much of this documentary—consistent with other scholarship—says that fatherhood is an adult transition itself. Parts, too, tell of the importance of early developmental influences, often channeling guys onto the live fast/die young tracks, only to find that they didn’t die, and no longer want to. The tradeoffs of engaged fathering are also apparent: the Skype calls and long-distance phone conversations with kids contrasted with the jacked up physiology of a live band performance.

In the end (of the documentary), Jim Lindberg of Pennywise, a lead singer for 19 years, quits. After touring extensively, he decided he had had enough, opting for making more of his daughters’ school events. Yet even more recently, he reunited with the band, continuing the challenges juggling work and fatherhood.

Peter B. Gray, Ph.D., is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is the coauthor of Fatherhood.

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