It was the cry heard around the world when 11 year-old Paris Jackson said, “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine . . . I just want to say I love him so much.” From coast to coast, eyes wept for her sorrow and tears trickled down faces as a poignant realization set in, Michael Jackson, the icon the alleged pedophile was a father. Not just a father of one child, but a father of three. Wow. All of this says that Michael Jackson celebrated Father’s Day. He made sure his children had a capable if not loving, nanny, Grace. He played games with them like dangle infant Blanket from the balcony. He even willed his children to his mother knowing she would love them unconditionally. Michael Jackson was a father. I know what many of you are thinking not another post about Michael Jackson. True, there are countless blogs and news articles about the King of Pop’s death. However this post is more about redefining masculinity than about Michael Jackson.
Holding constant the many allegations surrounding Michael Jackson’s indiscretions with children, I find myself ruminating if not secretly obsessing over the question of whether men can love, nurture, emote, and innocently embrace children without physically, sexually, and psychologically violating them. I know many people reading this blog would say “Yes, men can.” But before you answer this question, let me restructure the question: Do we believe that men can love, nurture, emote, and innocently embrace children without physically, sexually, and psychologically violating them? And I would venture to say if we are honest with ourselves, the answer would be variations of no’s and conditionalities “of yes, but . . .”
Perhaps, I should restructure the question even further: Do we see men loving, nurturing, emoting, and innocently embracing children without thinking to ourselves, “Something is wrong with that man, he must be mentally unstable, a pedophile, or gay?” Once again, if we are honest with ourselves and recognize how we internalize sexist thoughts, the answer to the question is quite evident. Given patriarchy, I believe it is difficult for us to believe that men can L-O-V-E children and greatly desire to be in their presence. We are okay with men providing material and financial support for their children (especially the government), but when men move into the territory of radical love we question their motive and their manhood. Well, what do you mean by radical love? I am glad you asked this question.
My feminist academic jargon definition would define it as men who challenge hegemonic definitions of masculinity and disown privileges garnered through proper masculine behaviors. However, my colored school teacher ethos would define it as men seeking to be unconventional in their approach to rearing children. They are the dads who “choose” to stay at home with their children while their partner labor outside the house. They are the fathers who endure years and years of therapy to deal with their emotional immaturities. They are the men who are unafraid to show affection, care, and love for all children irrespective of the child’s biology. As bell hooks states in Communion, these types of heterosexual men threaten the foundations of patriarchy because they show “that sexist, masculinist behaviors once believed to be innate not only is learned, but also can be unlearned.”
Perhaps, my obsession with this question of men loving children stem from my own absent and abusive father issues. Of all the heterosexual men I have encountered in my 26 years of life, I have only met one man who exudes this radical type of love. This is not to say that other men in my life are hopeless patriarchal barbarians because they are not, they like most men unquestionably enjoy the rewards of male privilege. This one man I know who’s seeking to exude this radical idea of love is a man married to a woman who’s well known for her feminist concerns and beliefs. One day as I sat in his study talking with him, he said, “Its taken him many years of therapy to understand the power and the need of emoting and that sensitivity is not weakness or unmanly and that men now-a-days lack initiation into embracing their emotions because everything around them tells them they are not suppose to emote and show love because if you do than you are not a man . . . you are something else.” After hearing this and observing his care, concern, nurturing, and non-dominating love for his partner, child, and congregational children, I was left completely baffled asking the question, Can we [can I] believe that men can love, nurture, emote, and innocently embrace children and non-dominance in their intimate relationships? I don’t know, however, this one man makes me think that it may be plausible.
So, when 11 year-old Paris said she loved her father against the backdrop of the media’s desire to let it be know Michael Jackson was an alleged child molester, I caught myself asking the question, given how we are socialized to see men as the bread winners and non emoting patriarchs, can we fathom let alone conceive of the idea that Michael Jackson was simply a man who loved children in ways that women are allowed to love children. I can not count the many times I have laid in the bed with the child I was babysitting either to put them to sleep or to settle them down to rest. And let’s be honest about our sexist thinking, women are no more capable of radical love than men, but yet we trust women with the care of children.
Does all of this mean that I am saying Michael Jackson is innocent of his alleged crimes? No, because I do not know, but what I am saying is that it’s difficult for us to believe and to accept that men can love, nurture, emote, and innocently embrace children. It is far easier to believe that men like Michael Jackson are child molesters, gay, and mentally unstable than to believe that they are men who simply love because it goes against the very fiber of what we have been taught about men. Yes, it was a cry heard around the world, “my daddy was the best father ever . . .”