Looking for the perfect Father's Day viewing? You can't do any better than "The Story of Fathers & Sons."
Not that this ABC special, which airs Thursday at 8 p.m. on Ch. 4, is an hour of feel-good TV. The interviews with real-life fathers and sons run the gamut, as is clearly demonstrated right off the top.The first voice we hear says, "My father, he's my hero. He's everything that I wanted to be." The second voice says, "I wanted to hurt my father. I have that much hate toward him in my heart."
And, despite running just an hour, "Fathers & Sons" covers everything from birth to death -- from expectant fathers to sons who have lost their fathers. From men who have great relationships with their fathers to others who are bitter over being abandoned.
There's talk about baseball and competition between fathers and sons. About fathers facing the empty-nest syndrome.
There's one 18-year-old father who has been incarcerated since before his 2-year-old son's birth. And a 16-year-old whose girlfriend is pregnant and who admits, "I'm not ready to be a father. I'm just a kid."
And, he adds, "I don't love my dad. I did at a point but he lost it. I'm gonna become something that he never was -- a real father."
There's a great deal of sincerity, and no small amount of wisdom, that comes from those interviewed.
-- "If I have to die, I'm willing to die for my son," said a young father in the military.
-- "Being a father is strictly trial and error."
-- "Being a father is about letting go."
Most of those interviewed are not celebrities -- just average guys. But there are a trio of familiar faces. The most effective is actor Edward James Olmos, who talks about how, after his parents divorced, he discovered that his father (who had official visitation rights only on Sundays) could and did attend all of his baseball games.
"And for years I played seven days a week," Olmos said.
The other two are rather annoying. There's "Home Improvement" star Zachary Ty Bryan talking about how "so much of a relationship with father and son is a power trip" and saying, "It's difficult for my dad to be able to say, 'That was my little boy -- and now he's a man.' "
(Gee, maybe it's because the kid is only 17. You think?)
And, given what we've seen of Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal over the years, it may not be a tribute when he says of his father, "He keeps me level-headed. . . . He is my role model. . . . He made me what I am today."
The hour can be funny. As when one dad talks about his toddler son's impending first haircut. "We look forward to that," he says -- just before clips of the youngster screaming during the actual event.
Or when a father tries to teach his son to drive. Told to release the emergency brake, the youngster instead pulls the hood release.
"He's a great kid, but he can't drive," the dad says.
But "Fathers & Sons" can also be almost unbearably sad. There's one father talking about the son he lost to SIDS when the boy was only 2 months old.
There's a teenager who says, "It's hard to really say that I have a father. I mean, I know someone helped conceive me. But he didn't help raise me." And a young boy who says, "I saw him walk out on my mom," adding that he felt "Bad. Very bad."
And it would take a heart of stone not to be affected by a father talking about his handicapped son -- a boy who will never talk or walk unassisted and "will always have the mind of a 2-year-old."
"Like every father you have dreams of this boy. . . . Just to sit there and watch my son not develop the way other kids do was very painful," he says. But this father's attitude is an inspiration.
"Instead of walking with you, I will crawl with you," he says of his son. "Instead of focusing on what you cannot do, I will reward you with love for what you can do. Instead of isolating you, I will create adventures for you. Instead of feeling sorry for you, I will respect you.
"So I know someday I'm going to have my special moment with him in a different way that nobody can take away from. And that's what I'm looking forward to. With Wesley, I began to realize that the father-son relationship is about the soul," he says, his chin quivering and his voice breaking.
No matter who you are, that can't help but make you reconsider your own relationships. Which may be the real value in "The Story of Fathers & Sons."
"When I grew up, games, stuff like that, my dad would never attend. He was always too busy," says one young man. "And the sad thing about it is I'm doing the same thing to my kids."
"I never told my father I loved him," says another man. "I never said that to him in all of his life or all of my life. He never said it to me. It was kind of a given."
Something to consider indeed.