With this piece, I hope to close out (at least for awhile) the subject of Michael Jackson’s children. The recent upheaval in the Jackson family seems to be finally settling down, and it’s time to let the kids get on with their business of being kids and living their lives. But before closing this chapter, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how recent events have helped reshape the media’s perception of Michael as a parent. After all, it is the media that also shapes, for better or worse, the perceptions of the general public. Keep in mind that this isn’t so much about what we-the fans-know to be true, but again, how the general public and media have often perceived and portrayed Michael as a parent.
When Paris spoke out at the memorial and said, “Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine” it was like a wake-up call heard around the world. It is also a big reason why many negative and hateful people have not forgiven her to this day. Exactly why and how so many could find something negative in a little girl telling the world how much she loved her daddy is beyond me, but go figure. Such is the world we live in. (When Michael said we needed to change the world and make it a better place, he certainly wasn’t just talking cliches’!).
Although it may seem a bit redundant and pointless to have to keep defending Michael as a parent, in light of such glowing words from his own children and the positive accounts of most people who knew Michael and his children intimately, a lot of public perceptions have been hard to overcome. The “dangling” incident, the masks and disguises (even though their purpose has been explained ad nauseum) and the rather unconventional circumstances of their birth have all been issues that, unfortunately, have overshadowed all of the positives in the public’s consciousness.
In the first months after Michael died, whenever media reports focused on the children and their “new” life without their father, such accounts were almost universally biased toward one bent, and one bent only-that now, with Michael gone, the children might have some chance of a “normal” life. (Kind of reminds me of some of those same cold-hearted articles that as good as stated that now, with Michael out of the way, his estate could actually start generating money again, but I digress. According to their estimation, I guess a lot of things were supposed to now be possible with Michael out of the way- let’s have rainbows, lollipops and butterflies for everyone!).
The reality, of course, was quite a different story for the children.
Back in February of 2010, after reading just such an article, I responded with a piece that I would like to share again, because I think this article has even more significance, perhaps, now than it did then:
Photos Like This Shot, Taken May of 2009, Graced Magazine Covers and Clearly Proved That Michael Had Already Begun Allowing His Kids To Be Seen Unmasked-Yet The Media Continues To Perpetuate The Myth That Michael “Forced” Them To Wear Disguises
Recently, a People article that “should” have been a positive update on how Michael’s three children are coping with their new life ended up simply causing more ire with its between-the-lines suggestion that now, with Michael’s passing, the kids could have a relatively “normal” life.
Articles like this-which unfortunately have been appearing with increasing frequency as of late-do a disservice on several levels. It is a disservice to the memory of the children’s father, who as we know by all accounts (including the children’s own) was a great father. Say what they will, it is the one aspect of his life that his detractors have had no success disputing; in fact, it has been the one area of his life in which even the tabloids have had to throw up their hands in defeat. Time and again, personal testimonies from those who ever witnessed the relationship between Michael and his kids first-hand have said that he had an extraordinary bond with his kids.
Secondly, such articles fail to take into account that when you are born into the world as the offspring of Michael Jackson, your life is never going to be “normal.” What Michael strove to do was to give his children as “normal” an upbringing as possible given the circumstances of his mega celebrity and the chaos that surroudned him whenever he stepped out. He always knew that their lives could never be totally that of “normal” children, but also, this would have been something his children became accustomed to fairly early in their lives. Having to dodge the paps; having to sneak in and out of places as quickly as possible to avoid mobs; being accompanied by security-this is all just part and parcel of being a celebrity’s child, and is as true regardless of whether your father just happens to be Michael Jackson, or President Obama.
There was a bit of irony, of course, in the fact that Michael Jackson, who himself was deprived of a normal childhood due to his stardom, and who sought to protect his children from the things he endured, would end up having to confess, as he did in his Oxford speech, that he realized it was this very same fame and stardom that would also prevent his own kids from having a normal childhood. He said he hoped they would not grow up to resent him, in the same way that he had resented his own lack of a normal childhood.
But by all accounts, his children adjusted well and as we’ve seen, certainly give every appearnce of being normal, polite, smart children who have obviously been brought up right. Michael, of course, wasn’t the only adult in their lives. They did have nannies and other caretakers. But as a single father, Michael was no doubt the most important adult and the central figure of their lives, a father who both lavished them with affection, and yet was also a firm disciplinarian (without ever having to raise a hand to them). He made all of the important decisions in their lives, such as what they were and were not allowed to eat, when their bedtimes were, and what movies they were allowed to see-or not. He put his own career on the backburner, as well as his dating and social life, to devote time to their raising during their formative years. He changed diapers; he learned the all-important parental rite of passeage of how to shop for breakfast cereal (and knew exactly who liked what). He nursed them when they were sick, coddled them when they were scared or afraid, and scolded them when they misbehaved.
These Pap Photos, Taken When The Kids Were Much Younger, Clearly Shows Them Out And About Without Masks On
In short, he was a normal parent trying to make the best of a life that could never be “normal” by most peoples’ standards. Every day was a learning experience, but the beauty of it was that Michael and his three children lived it as a learning experience together. And as some have said, what is “normal” anyway? How can we measure and dictate what is “normal” for one famly unit as compared to another? What’s important is that children feel they are loved and taken care of. Michael’s children certainly never had to question either.
One of my favorite lines in all of Michael’s songs is the line from Wanna Be Startin’ Something when he blurts, “If you can’t feed your baby/then don’t have a baby.” To his credit, Michael did not think of bringing children into the world until he knew he was at a point in his life where he was ready, not just financially, but emotionally as well. He waited until he could provide them with the stability and maturity they needed in a father (which I think in itself says a lot, when so many pop stars and musicians simply go around thse days populating the globe with no thought to their fatherly responsibilities or obligations). Granted, I’m not saying Michael was a saint (and there is still the mystery of Omer Bahtti, which I simply choose not to address because I don’t know) but I think overall, Michael certainly stands as an example that celebrity and parenthood are not mutually exclusive.
One of the many myths that continues to be regurgitated is that Michael insisted on keeping his kids’ faces hidden behind masks. This was one of the points of contention in the People article, which basically said that now, with Michael’s passing, the kids are finally being allowed to go out unmasked.
First of all, the reason for the masks served a twofold purpose. In addition to protecting their identities from the paparazzi when they were out with their father, the disguises also enabled them to be able to go out and about-unmasked-without being hounded. Since no one knew what they looked like, it was very possible for them to go out on occasions without their father, and not be recognized.
Proud Daddy Michael Had No Problems Posing Openly With His Children For This OK Shoot
Secondly, Michael lived with the very real threat that the children could be kidnapped. I realize this sounds extreme and far-fetched to most of us in our everyday, comfy and cozy lives. But the fact is, these threats are a too real part of the world of celebrity. It’s just that we don’t ever hear about most of it; we only hear after-the-fact when a celebrity is actually murdered, or something awful happens. When Michael’s FBI files were released, one of the things that came to light was the fact that he had been harassed and threatened by a psycotic stalker for over two years, Frank Paul Jones, who had threatened to commit mass murder at a Michael Jackson concert and said he would kill Michael. Death threats are actually a routine part of being a celebrity, but one can imagine how it must affect you after awhile to live with such threats every day. I have read Latoya’s book, and one of the things she mentions is how often her brothers would have to perform a show despite the fact that someone that very day had made a death threat. Of course, they couldn’t cancel the shows. The only choice was to beef up the security, go onstage, smile and do your best not to think that every move could be your last. Imagine being as young as Michael was then-just a baby, actually-and having to smile and perform, while never knowing if any second some nut is going to emerge from the crowd with a gun in hand to make good on his threat.
This was the life Michael grew accustomed to, from the age of five. So yes, you’re damned right he took means to protect his children.
However, there is no reason to think that Michael ever intended the masks to be a permanent fixture. It’s amazing to me how many of these publications will continue to perpetuate this myth (that Michael’s kids have only been allowed to be unmasked since his death) when there is ample evidence that shows Michael was already allowing the kids to go out without their masks. This evidence includes photos that ran-quite prominently-in some of these very same magazines and publications that are continuing to print this bs lie. In May of 2009, a very prominent cover story for Ok Magazine clearly shows Michael and his children out, with the kids’ faces unmasked. Before then, there had been several other photos of the kids in stores and other places, unmasked. It’s plainly evident that Michael was already allowing them the freedom to go unmasked, if they chose. And most likely, the disguises would have been abandoned after a certain age, anyway. Michael’s intent was not to keep his kids hidden away for the rest of their lives; just until such time as they were old enough to make their own choices and to not need such close protection. Yet, if you believe what some of these articles have to say, you’d think he was intending to keep his kids hidden in a dungeon till they turned eighteen.
Michael Poses Here With His Kids, Just Months Before His Death…Note Again That He is Not Forcing Them To Cover Their Faces
The “People” article states that the children now have in-home tutoring. Well, duh. They had always received in-home tutoring. There’s nothing fundamentally different from their lives now as opposed to then, except perhaps the argument of their having a stable home every night. But let’s not forget that Michael also had a stable home when his children were born-a beautiful home, Neverland, that he was forced to give up when it was made clear to him that he would never be able to live there in peace. If one wants to argue that he was not able to provide his kids with a permanent home for the last four years of his life, I suppose that is true. But all evidence points to the fact that this was, ultimately, his goal-to once again provide his family with a permanent home. His goal, sadly, was finally within sight, with the new home that he had planned to purchase in Las Vegas. Things had finally started looking up, so it seemed.
But it was not to be.
To be totally fair, I think there is something that can be said for the fact that, yes, chaos did often surround Michael’s life, and yes, an outing with their father could often turn into a 3-ring circus for his kids. I think that articles like this are at least striving to be somewhat positive in attempting to let readers know that the kids are doing okay. But well-intetnioned or not, such articles stil come off reading as a backhanded slam at Michael’s parenting, which is both unfair and undeserved. No matter how you look at it, the kids’ lives are not better off now. The trauma of losing a parent is something that cannot be underestimated. When I was growing up, my grandparents were as close to me as my parents, if not moreso. I remember quite well the summer my granddaddy died. We spent that summer at my grandmother’s house, mostly, playing and doing all the “fun” stuff that kids do. To an outsider, it might have looked as if we were doing fine. But we weren’t. There was an aching, numb sadness; an emptiness where the normalcy of our lives had been uprooted. We laughed and played games during the day. But at night, we cried. We had nightmares. We were not “okay.” I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for Michael’s kids.
For Prince, Paris and Blanket it was never in their destiny to have a “normal” childhood. But that isn’t the real question. If one asks, have they had a normal life, in comparison to most kids,the answer is probably no. Nor will it ever be. But that is, as I said, simply part of the price of being born into fame. The bigger and more important question is: Were these children loved? Were their needs met? Did they have a parent who was there for them, no matter what? Did they have arms that held them when they woke up with nightmares? Wiped their runny noses when they were sick? Who gave them the guidance needed to get them through their first years of life, and set the foundation for the adults they would become? The answer to all of those questions is a firm and resolving “yes.”
Michael may not have been a perfect parent-I don’t know anyone who is-but there’s no doubt, he loved his kids and they loved him. He did his best under very challenging circumstances to give them the best upbringing he could, and as close to a “normal” childhood as his own fame and celebrity would allow.
And really, what else could he do? He couldn’t help being Michael Jackson (seeing as how his stardom was set into motion when he was but a baby himself) and he couldn’t help it that his life would forever be lived from inside a fish bowl. As a family unit, Michael and his kids may have created their own reality, simply because they had no other choice. But he did his best to compensate by giving them all the love that he possibly could.
In the end, that is all any parent can do.
I’m sure that many of you have read, or have at least heard of, Dr. Karen Moriarty’s book Defending A King-His Life and Legacy. This is a voluminous account of Michael’s last few years, which I am currently still reading. I know there have been some criticisms of the book (most vocally from my friend sanemjfan) over some of the details concerning the chapter on the 2005 trial. I have not yet read that chapter, so I can’t as of yet comment fairly on that aspect of the criticism, but one strength the book undeniably has is the very detailed picture it paints of what life was like for Michael as a single parent, and for his children who were being raised in a single parent household-and whose “single parent” just happened to be one of the most famous people on the planet. This portion of the book was drawn largely from interviews Dr. Moriarty conducted with three people who were much acquainted with the intimate details of Michael’s family life during this time-his bodyguards Michael Garcia, Bill Whitfield, and Javon Beard, as well as driver Mike Leary. The picture that emerges in these pages is that of a family who were very isolated out of necessity, but also unusually close as a direct result of that isolation. Ever hear of the phrase, drawing strength from one another? That seems to have been the case with Michael and his three children. However, the children were not so much isolated as closely protected. They were certainly allowed to have a social life. They played with friends. They went out and about (unmasked) with other staff members. They had birthday parties (often quite lavish ones, with all the hoopla and trimmings) and Christmas. So their life was never anything like the secluded, almost macabre-like existence that the media tries to perpetuate, in which one imagines Michael’s kids living almost like Wednesday and Pugsley Addams. Their lives, just as I stated in my article re-printed above, were as close to “normal” as any children’s lives could possibly be, considering the fact that they weren’t exactly born into “normal” circumstances and most of their friends and playmates were destined to be other celebrity children and the privileged children of most of Michael’s associates. But again, such is the life of a celebrity child, so if we must hold the lives of Michael Jackson’s children up for scrutiny, so, too, must we put the lives of every celebrity child under that microscope. In that regard, Michael’s children have come out (so far) remarkably better than most.
But let’s return for a moment to this subject of isolation, because it becomes an important one in understanding the world in which Michael and his children lived. As I was reading those early chapters of Dr. Moriarty’s book (and likewise, this has been my impression as I’ve read and heard many accounts of Michael’s life with his children) the thing that struck me most poignantly was the sheer joy that this little family took in the most simple pleasures-things that most of us take for granted. Little things such as ordering from a McDonald’s or KFC drive-thru, or going to Chuck E Cheese’s, were all special bonding events that Michael and his kids cherished. Do your own kids cherish memories of going through a fast food drive-thru with you? My guess is probably not, and the reason is because most families do such activities so routinely that the kids take them for granted. For Michael and his kids, it was something uniquely special, to be able to simply experience such normal activities together. Another poignant passage I recall vividly from the book was the time when Michael wanted so badly to be able to see his kids having a good time at Chuck E Cheese’s that he donned a disguise just so he could sneak inside and watch them from a safe distance. Of course, the ruse was discovered; someone recognized him, and the usual pandemonium ensued. Most parents joke about “Chuck E Cheese hell” but what if you lived a life that prevented you from being able to experience this simple joy with your own children? Then we have to ask is it any wonder Michael sought to simply recreate these experiences, as best he could, behind closed gates? But what becomes clear from most accounts I read is that, in reality, all of Michael’s recreations, whether behind the gates of Neverland or elsewhere,were really in some ways just poor substitutes for the very normal life that he really craved-real amusement parks, real fast food, real places where the kids and himself could just go and have fun.
The bodyguards also portray a picture of a man increasingly isolated from even his own family. By the time Michael had settled in Las Vegas, it seemed that his once huge and sprawling world had literally dwindled to one narrow chink, which consisted of mostly himself, his children, and the small handful of people he trusted. While there has been some dispute as to whether Michael intentionally cut most of his ties with his family, or if, in truth, it was more of a case of others who isolated him from his family (as most of his family have claimed) I believe that the recent events have certainly shed a lot of intense light, finally, on this situation. Prince himself confirmed, via his tweet that blew the scheme wide open, that his father had “warned” them about certain individuals.
Theirs also became an isolated existence out of necessity for the protection of all of them-both father and kids. As Michael’s world became increasingly populated with vultures and sharks, it was impossible for him to know who he could trust with his own children. Sometimes it seemed as though they were four people clinging to the only security they knew-each other. One of the bodyguards remarked, as quoted in Dr. Moriarty’s book, that he felt a sense of sadness for “The Boss and his little ones.” During the children’s earliest years, they had experienced the joys of living at Neverland, with its never ending stream of visitors and all of the exciting things that life at Neverland ranch had to offer a child-amusement park rides, animals, and plenty of wide open spaces. After the trauma of the 2005 trial, Michael’s life and his world-to borrow my analogy made earlier-had narrowed, both by necessity and as a survival tactic. Recently, during a long phone conversation, Melinda Pillsbury-Foster and I had a very detailed conversation on the possibility that Michael was most likely suffering a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder following the trial. While I generally tend to shy away from such psychoanalytic attempts to “diagnose” Michael (there are plenty who are all too willing to do that!) it would make sense, given the intense emotional trauma he was put through during the two year investigation and trial. I believe that, in the aftermath of such an intensely grueling traumatic experience, his natural instinct was to protect himself and his children at all costs. Their isolation, it seems, may have been part of that cost. Theirs was a world that shrank, not only emotionally, but physically as well. Instead of the vast, open acreage of Neverland, their environment became confined to hotel rooms and mansions in crowded, residential districts where even a lap in the pool could easily be observed by neighbors and hovering paparazzi. In place of the vast array of exotic animals that had been part of life at Neverland, the children now had only one pet, shared between them, a chocolate lab named Kenya. In short, theirs became increasingly a narrow world behind access gates, surrounded by security-and, perhaps, dominated by understandable mistrust of that outside world, from which fewer and fewer were allowed to enter. But it was, for them, a safe world in which their father was the heart and center of everything. According to one amusing story from the book, when the children were frightened by a man they saw on the road while their car was lost in backwoods Virginia, Michael assured the kids that they had nothing to fear; he would beat that guy up if he tried anything. The bodyguards were somewhat amused by the story, knowing that if any real danger threatened, they would be the ones to handle it-not Michael. But for the kids, it was important to know that daddy would be there to protect them. And who was going to be cynical enough to ruin such a precious moment between a father and his three adoring kids, who really did believe that daddy could vanquish all evil and all harm?
The beauty of a parent who builds their entire world and existence around their children is the unconditional love and support they are able to give one another.
But the danger is what can happen when that protective world is shattered.
In short, Michael’s reasons and justifications for keeping his children as isolated and protected as he did have finally, I think, become a lot clearer to many-including some of those same media people who, heretefore, had been inclined to believe Michael was “so weird” and “so strange.” In fact, if recent articles I have seen are any indication, it seems that a lot of people have begun to reasess what they thought they believed about Michael as a parent. Many have begun to see that even though, yes, he may have had them wear masks in public when they were younger, and yes, some of his ways of parenting may have seemed a little strange to those who didn’t understand the extraordinary circumstances he was coping with, the reality was that he was shielding them from exactly the kind of emotional trauma, turmoil, and scrutiny that they were subjected to last month. In fact, compared to many of his siblings (cough Jermaine and Randy cough) Michael did quite extraordinarily well by his children. You never heard of Michael being hounded because he owed back child support; in fact, he never had to pay child support at all because he was always there, in his children’s life and raising them, as a man should be. And look at Tito’s kids, who endured the trauma of losing their mother in such a tragic way.
Relatively speaking, Michaels kids have done just fine. They have endured a devastating emotional trauma (perhaps this is part of the bond they share with TJ, Taryll and Taj) but as I said, the most important thing is that they know they were loved. That is what they will carry forward in their hearts, regardless of whatever else may happen-and yes, regardless of whatever is said. I feel strongly that Michael’s love is like a protective shield of armor that keeps these children from all emotional harm, even in death.
Recently, I saw an article from 2002 that was posted on MJFC. This article was written during the height of the media frenzy over the balcony incident, when everyone was screaming for Michael’s head and people like Gloria Allred were calling Michael an unfit father and trying to take the children from him. Although I don’t agree with all of Margolis’s assessments (I’ll discuss those points after the article) this was, nevertheless, a refreshingly honest piece for its time that dared to speak the truth, written by someone who (unlike 99% of the journalists reporting on the incident) actually spent time in the company of Michael and his children.
Wacko? No, He’s A Good Father
by Jonathan Margolis
December 8, 2002
Grace before every meal and impeccable manners – Michael Jackson really looks after his children, by the writer who got to know him best …
Thanksgiving is the biggest day of the year for American families. In every home in the United States, dinner is turkey with all the trimmings and pumpkin pie. It was at such a typical dinner that I spent Thanksgiving two years ago – but with a rather atypical American family. For the guest’s at my friends home in New Jersey were Michael Jackson and his five year old boy, Prince Michael The First, and three year old girl, Paris.
Yes, the same Michael Jackson who, after dangling his youngest child, Prince Michael The Second, over a 60ft Berlin balcony, is now condemned as the world’s worst father. In spite of Jackson’s abject apology for his crazy behaviour, I am told by social workers that if the incident had happened in this country, all three children would probably have been taken into care.
And yet, on the basis of four months I spent around Michael and his two elder children before and after that Thanksgiving, I came to a controversial conclusion: Jackson isn’t actually that bad a dad at all. Not only that, but Prince Michael The First and Paris are, in my experience, among the best behaved, least spoilt and most balanced of children.
During my time with the Jackson children, I got to know them quite well. I read to them, with Paris on my lap, and Prince sitting next to me. I also told off Prince for running over my foot with a toy tractor. (He responded by politely saying sorry, and repeating the apology with the prompting from his dad, who didn’t think the first sounded ‘sorry enough’.)
This was not the behaviour of the spoilt, dysfunctional brats I was expecting. But there were other surprises. The Jackson children of popular mythology live in isolation and are denied contact with other kids. But I have seen them play for hours with friends.
The Jackson children reputedly have all their toys destroyed at the end of the day for fear of infection. But I have seen them hugging and sucking the manky, unhygienic plastic junk that all children have.
I have trailed around a toy shop with Prince and Paris on one of Michael’s private shopping binges. It took place at 7pm and was brought swiftly to an end because the children’s bedtime was approaching – they were allowed just one toy each.
Jackson may be neurotic, eccentric and downright flaky, but Prince and Paris are bright, confident, affectionate and considerate. They say Grace before meals, speak in sentences rather than monosyllabic American grunts and are forbidden, like many children, from using rude language.
Prince has a solemn face, but an impish nature and a relentless curiosity. Although he is surrounded by staff eager to do his father’s bidding, I found no hint of arrogance in the little boys manner.
Paris was tiny when I knew her, with a cute, pointy little face. She would always compete with Prince to be the first to jump on Dad’s knee. Since Jackson is divorced from the children’s mother, Debbie Rowe, they were looked after by Governess Grace. A Hispanic lady, who kept herself in the background, she was always watchful. I do not believe anything would escape her attention and, if she is still the nanny, I dread to think what grief she would have given her employer for the balcony nonsense.
The children’s clothes seemed to be chosen by Michael in Prince’s case, and Governess Grace in Paris’s. On special occasions, Prince tends to be done up like a little Lord Fauntleyroy. Paris always seemed to be wearing dainty, lacy and slightly dated velvet dresses.
As a father of three, I could see Prince and Paris exchanged a healthy amount of argy-bargy that goes on between siblings. Over one meal, Prince spotted that Paris had smuggled her security blanket up to the table. ‘Paris has a blankey, Paris has a blankey’ he taunted. Michael pointed out that Prince really shouldn’t laugh because he had a ‘blankey,’ too. The little boy look chastened and a little embarrassed at this having been revealed. Thirty seconds later, but quietly, this time, Prince started again: ‘Paris has a blankey …’ Paris ignored him.
Much of Jackson’s eccentricity goes back to his own father’s harsh discipline. With his own children, Michael is tough but in an infinitely more considered, humane way. He is resolutely anti-smacking, and somewhere inside the hazy fog of whatever it is that obscures his sharp mind is a solid determination that his children should have the most normal upbringing possible.
He is anxious in particular, that when they all hit their teens they should avoid drugs and other distractions of a showbiz background. He insists ‘no means no’, but discipline must be administered without anger or yelling. When the children are naughty or unkind to one another, he favours taking things away from them and making them stand in the corner.
At home in Neverland he rations their toys. They are not allowed to refer to toys as ‘mine’ when they have friends over and have been taught that the only reason to have money is to share its benefits with others. Somewhat astonishingly, Michael claims to come down heavily on vanity. He tells how he caught Prince combing his hair in a mirror and saying ‘I look good.’ Michael corrected him by saying: ‘You look OK.’
Prince and Paris are also taught to be diplomatic, but not to lie. Even white lies are wrong according to their father. He prefers to teach children to ‘see things from a different dimension’.
Prince, for instance, is afraid of turbulence on aeroplanes. If you tell him he’s not on a plane but a rollercoaster, Michael explains, he will know it’s a lie. But if you say we’re on a plane, but think of it as a rollercoaster, it becomes a matter of perspective.
Michael is also hard on himself. One day when he was recording his last album, Prince came to the studio and spilled popcorn on the floor. Michael insisted on cleaning it up himself. ‘It’s my son who made the mess. I’ll clean it up’ he told the bemused musicians as he got down on his hands and knees.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a friend of Michael, and host at our Thanksgiving dinner, believes the star has a rare, instinctive empathy with children – possibly from never having grown up himself. He tells of the time his eight year old daughter got lost at Neverland. Finding her crying, his instinct was to tell her not to be silly, but Michael intervened and said: ‘I know how you feel, I remember that happening to me when I was a little boy’. I saw this empathy many times. Michael talks to all children as if they were adults. He will not tolerate them interrupting an adult conversation but is unusually attuned to hearing a child’s voice asking a question when most of us choose to be slightly deaf. He is terrified of dogs but has bought his children a golden retriever, thinking it was wrong for him to pass on his irrational prejudice. He also dislikes making up answers to awkward questions the children ask. He likes to go to his vast private library to research the correct answer.
So what was Michael Jackson doing in the now infamous balcony scene? What led a man obsessed to the point of paranoia with his children’s safety, to endanger his baby so needlessly? I can only guess he was carrying out, in a daft way, another of his principles – that children should be taught not to be afraid of anything. He told me at dinner that night that he is in love with danger, but didn´t understand why.
It is hard to see this explanation carrying much weight with the social workers Michael may face if anything like the Berlin incident happens again. But perhaps they could take notice of a part of the speech he made about childhood and his children last year at Oxford University:
‘What if they grow older and resent me, and how my choices impacted their youth? “Why weren’t we given an average childhood like all the other kids?” they might ask. And at that moment I pray that my children will give me the benefit of the doubt. That they will say to themselves, “Our daddy did the best he could, given the unique circumstances he faced.”
‘I hope’ he concluded, ‘that they will always focus on the positive things, on the sacrifices I willingly made for them, and not criticise the things they had to give up, or the errors I´ve made, and will certainly continue to make in raising them. For we all have been someone’s child, and we know that despite the very best of plans and efforts, mistakes will always occur. That´s just being human.’
I felt like some of the uncalled for observations of Michael’s personal characteristics were simply Margolis’s way of keeping in step with the general media consensus of Michael at that time. His descriptions of Michael as “flaky,” etc are in direct contradiction to other things I happen to know he has written about Michael (though much later) in which he praised Michael’s intelligence and world views. Also-even though I believe that Michael did indeed have an attraction for danger (just ask anyone who ever had the “treat” of riding in a car he was driving!) I don’t believe that had anything to do with the balcony incident, which was most likely-as has been explained many times-simply a case of him getting overly excited and caught up in the moment of showing off his child to the fans.
But as a proverbial lone cry of truth in the wilderness, this was an important article at a time when the truth was much needed, a time when the children were still too young to speak on behalf of their father (and in fact, had no idea that either their father or themselves were the subjects of so much worldwide scrutiny) and no one, it seemed, was willing to listen to a word Michael had to say.
I don’t know that they are listening even now, but for sure, I do believe that a lot of long held, negative notions and misunderstandings regarding Michael’s role as a parent are finally starting to give way. The first ripple was Paris’s speech at the memorial. Begrudgingly, the world came around to the idea of Michael Jackson as a devoted and loving, if albeit somewhat misguided and paranoidly over-protective parent.
Now, perhaps, even that last vestige of doubt may start to erode as we finally begin to understand some of the real issues and dangers from which Michael was striving to protect his children. He had to have known, deep down, that one day his children would be used as pawns in the never-ending scheme for his fortune (regardless of who the “good” or “bad” guys are; in the end, as I’ve stated before, and as Michael understood, it would be the children who would ultimately pay the price by being caught in the middle). Was it really so bad, so strange, so “bizarre” to want to protect them from a vicious world all too ready to tear into them?
We have seen, at least from the outside, what life has been like for them without Michael. It is a different life, for sure, and probably as happy for them as it can be, given the circumstances. But is it the “better” life so many smug jounalists were so sure they were going to have three years ago?
I think we all know the answer to that one.
Thankfully, at least some are now willing-however begrudgingly-to admit it.
As many of you know by now, in less than two weeks I am going to have the opportunity to meet Michael Jackson’s children. I trust that my own observations will be able to tell me more than any TMZ reporter or any know-it-all on some message board. I have no way to know how this experience will turn out, or whether I will come away with a positive or negative experience. The best thing, as I have learned from experience, is to park all pre-conceived notions at the door and let the experience speak for itself. But I know one preconceived notion that will not change, regardless of whatever happens or what I observe in Gary. I will still say that Michael’s children are three incredibly brave kids who have proven to the world, beyond a doubt, that they had the best daddy we could possibly imagine.