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Monday, August 10, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dadhood Isn’t Simple, Michael

Leonard Pitts Jr. Knight-Ridder

It scares me that Michael Jackson is about to become a father.

Not just the way it’s happening (a “friend” is bearing the child for him as a “favor”), but that it’s happening at all.

Far be it from me to put my nose in other people’s reproductive business, but I can’t shake a mental image of the poor kid being toted to an awards show on the same hip Bubbles the chimp once rode. It makes me shudder.

Yeah, yeah, I know … none of my business. But you know, I never worried about such things when Melissa Etheridge and Madonna decided to become parents. Maybe because they struck me - whatever else you may say about them - as full-fledged adults. Every child should have at least one - and preferably two - of those in its life.

“This” child, though, will have Michael Jackson. Oh, yeah, and a “friend.”

Consider Mom. Debbie Rowe has agreed to bear this guy’s child as a “favor”?!? She recently upped and married him, too. What was that, paying off a bet?!? What kind of woman is this?

And consider Dad - the eternal boy who sends dispatches from a fantasy planet where magic is real, candy is free, and a grown man’s “sleepover” with children an act of innocence. He doesn’t understand that Peter Pan was just a fairy tale, that in real life there’s something creepy about a boy who never grows up.

Michael makes me sad. Once, our awed eyes beheld him as a showman for the ages. Now our eyes are jaded and tired of him, because he’s made himself a one-man freak show, an emotional accident waiting to happen. His music makes less news than his misfortunes, and he’s become the punchline to a joke he doesn’t even get.

Sad, like Eleanor Rigby once did. Sad, like faded streamers after the circus leaves town.

But even so, it’s hard to begrudge him this most human of desires. Maybe he just needs the love he feels a baby represents.

Trouble is, children also have needs, and love is only one of them. They need stability. They need security. And they need fathers.

That’s a difficult role to fill even when you are anchored and mature. I can’t imagine trying it when your life floats like a helium balloon between Disney dreams, faded movie queens and megalomaniacal fantasies. Dadhood ain’t easy, Mike.

Indeed, by all accounts, it rode heavily upon Jackson’s own father, Joseph, whose children have described him as distant, authoritarian, and too quick to resort to corporal discipline. It is said that he pushed Michael and his brothers toward stardom like a drill sergeant - but without the warmth. I was once told that producers of the group’s first hit, “I Want You Back,” had to ban him from the recording studio because his presence made Michael cry.

I believe it. I’ve met Joe two or three times and don’t mind telling you a chill passed through me. He reminded me of a shark - sharp teeth and cold eyes.

I didn’t like him, but I think I understood this much about him: anything for his children. He would cut off a limb for his kids.

That’s what parents do. You sacrifice for your children. Stare down your inadequacies and fears for them. Work harder than you ever did before with more love than you ever thought possible. Joe probably knows those things. Just doesn’t know the words.

Michael, if he is wise, if he is good, will learn both. Will come to understand that it doesn’t much matter what we want out of having a child. What’s important is what the child wants and needs from having “us”.

Meaning not simply wealth and love, but wisdom, instruction and life-truths. But to successfully impart those things requires that you have strength and self-knowledge, maturity and depth of character, all things that are beyond little boys. Even eternal ones.

I hope Michael understands that, for the sake of his daughter or son. Because before you can raise a child to adulthood, you must first grow up yourself.


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