We’ve all seen the tabloids over the past few decades about Michael Jackson’s turbulent relationship with his father, Joe Jackson. The two men had been estranged for many years, until recently. But, there seems to be a story that has yet to be told—the tale of the lost relationship between a father and a son. Will it ever really be told? Only time will tell.
The story of Michael and his father started back in the 1960s, when Joe Jackson, a father of nine, living in Gary, Indiana began molding his sons Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael into stars. Soon, the Jackson 5 one of the most prominent groups in history was born. Mr. Jackson was not only the group’s manager, mentor and promoter he was its number one advocate; he pushed them, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the limelight.
For Michael—the youngest member of the Jackson 5—the fame brought many challenges, the biggest of which was pleasing his father; a man who ran rehearsals holding a belt, and who admitted to spanking the boys when they made mistakes. “If you messed up you got hit,” Michael wrote in his autobiography, Moonwalk. Sometimes [you got hit] with a switch, sometimes with a belt.”
Through it all, Mr. Jackson insisted that his strict discipline was purely for motivation and to drive his sons to succeed. He often directed his critics’ attention to the many number one singles and Grammy awards the group had won. The problem was, for Michael, being the center of attention of the massively popular group put him under constant scrutiny from his father. So failure was never an option.
The constant criticisms left an indelible mark on the singer, who recalled feelings of insecurity about his looks stemming from the relationship. “I had pimples so badly and it made me so shy,” the King of Pop told talk show host Oprah Winfrey in a 1993 interview. “I’d wash my face in the dark. I wouldn’t want to look in the mirror… and my father teased me. He would tell me I was ugly.” The star would later undergo numerous plastic surgery procedures in an attempt to not only buoy his self confidence, but to gain his father’s approval.
Many have wondered why Michael stayed. Why didn’t he just leave the stressful situation? Could it have been his need to gain his father’s attention, or did he feel trapped? Or…maybe, he was just scared to leave?
In a 2003 interview with the BBC, Michael admitted to being so scared of his father that he became physically ill when he saw him. “I was scared, so scared that I would regurgitate,” he said. Imagine being so frightened at the sight of someone that it makes you sick to your stomach?!?
It wasn’t as if he never made a move to get out, with family, sometimes, you just can’t. In 1979, the year his first solo album hit the charts and after more than two decades of enduring a strained relationship with his father, Michael Jackson made his first move to break free, by firing Mr. Jackson as his manager. He also kept his father at arm’s length when it came to his solo career.
Mr. Jackson tells a different tale of his strictness. Less than a month after Michael Jackson’s death, he spoke out on ABC news’ Primetime and refuted his son’s abuse accusations against him, “Michael was never beat as they call it,” he said. “Everyone spanked their kids when they did wrong,” he explained. While Mr. Jackson acknowledges that he was tough on Michael, he insists that it was all out of love. “I was very demanding, but I got things done,” he said. “I do what’s right. And I love my family. My son. And that’s about it. I try to perfect everything I do.”
Michael would later admit as an adult that although his father was tough, on him, and seemingly terrorized him, the experience had helped him deal with being in the spotlight at a very young age. And despite all of the accusations of abuse at his father’s hands, and the strained relationship Michael endured, Mr. Jackson remained a prominent part of his son’s life. He attended Michael’s trials and stood at his side and was steadfast against all sexual abuse and child molestation allegations brought against the star. But, was there an ulterior motive to his actions?
A few years ago, the two men made amends, and all seemed to be hunky dory, though it was recently revealed, after the pop star’s death, that he did not include his father in his last will and testament. Now, why would he do that? Many in the media have accused Mr. Jackson, of not being mournful enough after Michael’s untimely death last June. But, Mr. Jackson continues to be a champion for his son, in spite of their history. He has spoken out on the circumstances surrounding Michael’s death, his sexuality, and his legacy. “I was very proud of my son,” he told reporters last year. “The legacy of Michael will still go on, I promise you that.”
How much of a role do you think Michael’s estranged relationship with his father played in some of his life choices such as his ever changing facial features and his low self esteem? Was Joe all to blame? Also what role do you think Michael’s relationship with Joe played in his relationship with his own children?
Claudia Atticot has been a writer and journalist for more than 15 years. Most recently she worked as a Senior Reporter at Time Magazine for Kids; Time Inc.’s classroom publication. Atticot also writes children’s books for Red Chair Press and freelances for various publications and blogs. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and four-year-old son.
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