The Family Tragedy of American Chopper

Yesterday, The Learning Channel announced the quick cancellation of “American Chopper.” The last episode will air tonight at 9pm Eastern.  Over the six-year run of the show, I watched almost every episode — purely for the love of seeing Paul, Jr.’s designs come to life in metal — but the one, universal, totem taken away from the program is the horrible reality of an alcoholic father who is envious of his sons and sabotages them at every turn week after week and year after year.  The constant threat of physical violence, coupled with emotional and verbal abuse, makes Paul Teutul, Sr. one of the most despicable men in the history of reality television as he not only strangled, but castrated, his most beloved and most talented son, Paul, Jr.

What makes a father hate a son so much?

Jealousy.  Vanity.  A bottomless pit of self-loathing that can never be filled.

Sure, Paul, Sr. hasn’t “had a drink” in many years, but he still behaves like a drunken bully:  He’s a “Dry Drunk” and he loves every moment of his never ending rage.  He yells and screams and throws things in childish tantrums edged to give him his way.

If you do not bow down to the father, then the father will kill you and it was that threat of real violence that propelled “American Chopper” each week and likely fueled the ratings.  You always hoped, in the end, that Sr. would somehow see the light and the error of his ways and just back off his boys a little bit to let them live free and breathe well.  It never happened.

The bully in the boy always erupted in the father to punish the prodigal sons, and every single family member who worked with Sr. ended up ostracized or fired.

The emergence of Paul Sr.’s new wife on the television show to replace the loss of Paul, Jr. in the cycle shop this season, was a foreboding that not even TLC could ignore based on Paul Sr.’s, established ethical habit of action:  The wife replaces the son in the circle of violence, and the wrath of the father becomes the fury of the husband, and we are but moments away from an attack on her because she completes the cycle of abuse.  Paul, Sr. will demolish her in situ, and on TV, just as he destroyed everyone else who stood with him.

It seems ongoing public child abuse was acceptable to Discovery/TLC for the six year run of “American Chopper” — but the threat of the gathering storm of spousal abuse only gets a few one-hour episodes before finding the producer’s axe.

Orange County Choppers was built on the back of Paul, Jr.’s successful motorcycle designs and while everyone at OCC knew that — Paul, Sr. refused to admit in public that the magic and spine of the business was his son and not him.

I guarantee you Paul, Sr. knows in his gut that Paul, Jr. is the better man and more talented than he is and that fact gnaws his gut more than any rotgut ever could — but instead of accepting the necessary divinity of a son walking in a father’s footfalls, this father prefers to poison the road ahead by first firing, and then suing, the starshine son:

The Orange County Choppers’ Paul Teutul Sr. filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Goshen against his son, Paul Teutul Jr., for what could amount to millions in damages. The core argument is over how much Senior should pay Paulie for his share of the company, headquartered in the Town of Newburgh.

In an explosive episode that aired at the beginning of season six of TLC’s “American Chopper,” Paulie was fired from the company. In real life, as part of the termination, Paulie agreed to sell his 20 percent ownership to his father, according to the suit.

Since then, the two have been unable to compromise on how much that share is worth.

“It’s sad it’s come to this,” Senior’s lawyer, Richard Mahon II, said.

Because the two could not agree, Senior is asking the court to appoint an appraiser to value the company. The suit also asks for an injunction barring Paulie from engaging in competitive business activities and interfering with the company’s relationship with suppliers.

The fact of human living is that children are born to replace their parents and most fathers would wallow in the success of their sons — but not Paul, Sr.  He sees his sons as competition and he is set to destroy them.

Instead of retiring and letting the son become the godhead of the family empire, the father prefers to burn down the business to leave behind only the ashes of what was once almost a great community of family spirit and friendly creativity.

Mikey Teutul is the most tragic son.  He is the buffoon who couldn’t keep a job except for being daddy’s Jester.  While Mikey was always ready to crack a joke or try to keep peace in the family — we knew his spirit was crushed by his father in childhood and we were only seeing the overweight and unhappy shell of the fallow man.

This season, we learned Mikey, like his father before him, is a drunk.  Mikey, with the help of Paul, Jr., entered rehab and wanted to become a stand-up comedian.  We who watch the show know that Mikey’s comedy routine is just another flop in the overlong way station of his failures.

Some drunks go dry and turn to brittle rage while others wither from the inside out with no way of becoming someone on their own terms.  We mourn the living life of Mikey Teutul, and we root for his success, but we also know he will never find peace until he buries his abusive father.

As “American Chopper” ends tonight, we must now accept what we always knew from the start, but could never quite confess until now:  There will be no lasting forgiveness or reconciliation in the Teutul family.

That realization leaves us empty and tarred and we wonder why we invested so much hope with so little return.

The lesson in “American Chopper” isn’t a pleasant one.  We’ve been taught by the show that sometimes the bully wins and sometimes the good sons are betrayed by a father’s unrestrained cravenness — and while that lesson becomes a warning against our naive yearning — we still can’t help but feel there had to be another way, a less crooked path, a different method of thinking that could’ve saved Paul Teutul, Sr. from himself and salvaged the bright promise of the sons he created and then systematically destroyed before our eyes for six long, unforgiving, years.