Thursday, June 28


"My dad is a tough man and he pushed me really hard" - Michael Jackson, 2001

by Staff writer

This is an excerpt from a speech Michael Jackson gave at Oxford University in 2001:

"You probably weren't surprised to hear that I did not have an idyllic childhood. The strain and tension that exists in my relationship with my own father is well documented.

"My father is a tough man and he pushed my brothers and me hard, really hard, from the earliest age, to be the best. He wanted us to be the best performers we could possibly be. He had great difficulty showing affection. He never really told me that he loved me. And he never really complimented me either. If I did a great show, he would tell me it was a good show. If I did an okay show....he would say nothing.

[Michael starts to cry]

"He seemed intent, above all else, to make us a commercial success. At that he was more than adept. My father was a managerial genius and my brothers and I owe our professional success, in no small measure, to the forceful way that he pushed us.

"He trained me as a showman, and under his guidance, I couldn't miss a step. But what I really wanted was a Dad. I wanted a father who would show me love. And my father never did that. He never said 'I love you' looking at me straight in the eye. He never played a game with me, he never gave me a piggyback ride, he never threw a pillow at me or a water balloon.

"But I remember when I was about 4 years old, there was a little carnival and he picked me up and put me on a pony. It was a tiny gesture, probably something he forgot 5 minutes later. But because of that one special moment, I have this special place in my heart for him. Because that's how kids are. The little things mean so much. They mean so much.

"For me, that moment meant everything. I only experienced it one time, but that one time made me feel really good, about him, and about the world.

"Now I am a father myself, and one day I was thinking about my own children, Prince and Paris, and how I wanted them to think of me when they grow up. To be sure, I would like them to remember how I always wanted them to be with me wherever I went, how I always lived to put them before everything else. But there are also challenges in their lives. Because my kids are stalked by paparazzi, they can't always go to the park or to the movies with me.

"So what if they resent me when they grow older? What if they resent how my choices impacted their youth? 'Why weren't we given an average childhood like all of 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 that he faced. He may not have been perfect, but he was a warm and decent man, who lived to give us all the love in the world.'

"I hope that they will always focus on the positive things, on the sacrifices I willingly made for them and not criticize 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 plans and efforts, mistakes will always occur. That's just being human.

"And when I think about this, of how I hope that my children will not judge me unkindly, and will forgive me, forgive my shortcomings, I am forced to think of my own father and despite my earlier denials, I am forced to admit that he must have loved me.

"He did love me, and I know that. There were the little things that showed it. When I was a kid, I had a real sweet tooth. We all did. My father, he did try. But my favorite food to satisfy my sweet tooth was glazed donuts. And my father knew that. So every few weeks I would come downstairs in the morning and there was a bag of glazed donuts. No note, no explanation, just the donuts. It was like Santa Claus. Sometimes I would think about staying up late at night so I could see him leave them there, but just like with Santa Claus, I didn't want to ruin the magic for fear that he would never do it again. My father had to leave them secretly at night, so as no one might catch him with his guard down.

"He was scared of human emotion. He didn't understand it or know how to deal with it. But he did know donuts, and when I allow the floodgates to open up, there are other memories that come rushing back. Memories of other tiny gestures, however imperfect, that showed that he did what he could. So tonight, rather than focusing on what my father did not do, I want to focus on all the things he did do and on his own personal challenges. I want to stop judging him.

"I have started reflecting on the fact that my father grew up in the South, in a very poor family. He came of age during the Depression and his own father, who struggled to feed his children, showed little affection towards his children and raised my father, and his siblings, with an iron fist. Who could have imagined what it was like to grow up a poor black man in the South, robbed of dignity, bereft of hope, struggling to become a man in a world that saw my father as subordinate?

"I was the first black artist to be played on MTV. I remember how big a deal it was even then, and that was in the 1980's!

"Is it any wonder that he found it difficult to expose his feelings? Is it any mystery that he hardened his heart, that he raised the emotional ramparts? And most of all, is it any wonder why he pushed his sons so hard to succeed as performers so that they could be saved from what he knew to be a life of indignity and poverty?

"I have begun to see that even my father's harshness was a kind of love. An imperfect love to be sure, but love nonetheless. He pushed me because he loved me. Because he wanted no man to ever look down at his offpsring.

"And now, with time, rather than bitterneness, I feel blessing. In the place of anger, I have found absolution. And in the place of revenge, I have found reconciliation. And my initial fury has slowly given way to forgiveness.”

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