Prior to the revelation of a will, Kathryn and Joe Jackson filed for custody of Michael Jacksons three children. When the will was filed, it was discovered that Michael Jackson directed his mother Kathryn to take custody of his children. The will further stated that were she to predecease him or be unable to fulfill the role of guardian, that he wished his children to be raised by his lifelong friend Diana Ross. Despite being one of nine children, it is particularly telling that he made no such endorsement of either his siblings or his father Joe Jackson.
The Jacksons were the little family from Indiana that rose from obscurity under the steel will of Joe Jackson. Today we are in the awe of the musical legacy left behind by their greatest star – Michael. In this time of mourning we are left to consider the cost of the gift that he left us with.
Michael paid for celebrity by sacrificing his childhood. He put his feelings to music in the song “Childhood”:
People say I’m not okay
‘Cause I love such elementary things…
It’s been my fate to compensate,
for the Childhood
I’ve never known…
Have you seen my Childhood?
I’m searching for that wonder in my youth
Like pirates in adventurous dreams,
Of conquest and kings on the throne…
Before you judge me, try hard to love me,
Look within your heart then ask,
Have you seen my Childhood?
The loss of his childhood would haunt Michel to his dying day. It was a sacrifice that his father Joe Jackson felt was necessary. Joe has enjoyed the role of patriarch and the second-hand fame he has achieved through his children. When BET held a tribute to Michael, Joe was the only family member in attendance.
Joe Jackson has taken every opportunity to raise his public status. When asked what the next step was by Don Lemon of CNN on the red carpet, he immediately began to speak about a record label he was attempting to promote, rather than discussing funeral plans for his son or the future of his grandchildren. He claims that he took the opportunity to promote his record company because that is what Michael would have wanted him to do. He further stated that he was crying on the inside. Each person deals with grief differently; however, it is quite incomprehensible that a loving parent would so easily cast aside the death of a child to promote a business venture.
Michael was a success in spite of Joe and not because of him. When one examines the life that Michael led, it is clear that it was filled with issues stemming from a very troubled childhood. What is ‘Neverland” but a palace dedicated to loss and suffering in the guise of play and whimsy? If Joe’s so-called methods were great, why did Michael feel the need to dedicate millions of dollars to attempting to escape his father? Why did Michael state that even as an adult the sight of Joe was enough to make him vomit?
Michael and LaToya have both spoken of being beaten with belts as children. Beating a child with a belt is not a form of discipline, it is abuse. Though Barry Gordie, the head of Motown records, claimed to have no knowledge of the violence in the Jackson family, it is hard to believe that such a terrible secret was not more widely known – and summarily ignored for the sake of profit.
In 2001 Joe went on the record to defend his behaviour in the German-language publication Daily News:
“There wouldn’t be so much crime these days if parents were prepared to punish their kids a little and take care that they stay on the right track.”
When Joe Jackson expresses a desire to be the legal guardian to his grandchildren, one cannot help but wonder if he has already begun to count the potential economic advantages that guardianship could entail. Forty percent of the trust will go directly to Katherine to revert to his children after her death and forty percent is to go directly to his children. Joe is a man that is clearly used to having his will obeyed and any objection on the children’s part may lead to a repeat of the experiences that their uncles and aunts survived.
Today, as Joe publicly claims to love these children and professes a desire to see that they get an education, one must ponder how much of this is posturing for the benefit of the cameras. At the peak of the Jackson 5’s fame, the family was regularly portrayed as happy and close even though their home was filled with violence. How many people would have bought their records, if they knew that behind the charming smile of their lead singer Michael there was a lonely, terrified, and abused child? Joe, like most abusers, made sure that his behaviour remained a dark family secret.
Children are defenceless and depend upon adults to advocate on their behalf. Placing the Jackson children with anyone who has a history of abuse would be a mistake.
Just because someone is related to you by blood, does not mean that they will have your best interests at heart. For Joe Jackson, his children were a meal ticket and a passport that whisked him away from brutal labour in a factory. It did not matter what the cost was; for Joe, any penalty was justified, if it equalled economic advancement.
Children are not the equivalent of property and therefore one cannot simply assign them in a will. It will be up to a court to decide whether or not to uphold Michael’s decision to place them with his mother. Though Kathryn and Joe have lived separately for years, they still occasionally share the same abode and Joe’s influence is still very much apparent in family affairs. Kathryn was unable to protect her children from his violence and therefore it is plausible to suggest that she may fail her grandchildren in the same manner.
Joe was never formally charged with abuse and therefore it is questionable whether his past actions will be taken into account; furthermore, if no one stands up to contest the placement of the children with Kathryn and Joe, it is doubtful whether a full fledged inquiry will be launched. In their father’s death, Prince, Paris and Blanket may gain a legacy that was his worst nightmare.