in six days’ time, the world lost a teacher. but more importantly, a father lost a son… and three children lost a father.
indeed, your father; regardless of the issues you may have had, did provide basic tools in order for you to be the person you became. all of our parents do that. it’s up to us to utilize the tools in positive ways.
my father was a genius when it came to the way he taught us staging, how to work an audience, anticipating what to do next, or never [to] let the audience know if you are suffering or something’s going wrong. he was amazing like that.
this is what you said about your father in 2007 to ebony magazine. our first teachers are always crucial in how we interact with the world. which is why it troubled me, when i first read it, to look at how you learned to conceal pain through performance. i can only imagine how you had to run out on stage and smile after you were beaten or told you were ugly.
and i can instantly recognize why ‘smile’ is your favourite composition, with its words of finding light through despair. when you said these words in england a number of years ago, i felt empathy.
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, from the earliest age, to be the best performers we could be.
He had great difficulty showing affection. He never really told me 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. And if I did an OK show, he told me it was a lousy show.
He seemed intent, above all else, on making us a commercial success. And 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 showed me love. And my father never did that. He never said I love you while looking 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.
and of course, the small things count- these things which impact a lifetime:
I remember once when I was about four 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 five minutes later. But because of that moment I have this special place in my heart for him. Because that’s how kids are, the little things mean so much to them and for me, that one moment meant everything. I only experienced it that one time, but it made me feel really good, about him and the world.
i think you have definitely provided tools for your children to remain strong in these times. it’s like the time you quoted michelangelo: when you took note of the ability to make your art permanently relevant in our consciousness, despite you not being physically present; i can see you’ve done the same thing with your children. perhaps recognizing the inevitability of your own transcendence, you instilled values in your children which continue to resonate through their actions and personalities.
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 with me wherever I went, how I always tried 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 a park or a movie with me.
So 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 that he faced. He may not have been perfect, but he was a warm and decent man, who tried 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 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 have all 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.
And when I think about this, of how I hope that my children will not judge me unkindly, and will 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.
i always forget how the ‘anniversary’ of your transcendence rolls around the time the solstice begins, and father’s day arrives… a time of change, regeneration and intergenerational connections has been marred with darkness. again, we have the silencing of a man whose children no longer have a father.
just as many children no longer have fathers, due to police or military terrorism, abandonment, abuse or illness… these men raised children on their own. these men were not the biological fathers, but they raised children with the same intent.
my heart goes out to all of you.
hopefully, all those who have lost fathers or father figures, have been provided with the proper tools to move with strength in this ever-increasingly dark world. “prepared and unashamed,” as you once sang.