The Man Behind the Man

In Interesting, Lifestyle on June 29, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a step or two in his shoes. I agree with Alfred Edmonds of Black Enterprise magazine.  Michael died but Joseph Jackson is still alive. A true test of our sincerity might be to honor, in life, his contributions to America’s cultural fabric.

Joseph’s parents separated when he was young. He went to live with his father, however, upon attaining the age of 18, he left Oakland CA to be closer to his mother. I can’t imagine what it might have been like to have been raised by a single father in the 1940s. Maybe we’ll never know because people didn’t talk about “certain things” back then. Without proof or direct knowledge, I suspect that he was an abuse survivor but he persevered nevertheless.

After failed careers, first as a boxer then singer, he found work in Gary, Indiana operating a crane at the local steel mill. Despite a lifetime of setbacks, he kept going and held on to the American dream of achieving more for his kids than anyone had achieved for him.  From this foundation, Joseph Jackson ignited an empire.

Don’t judge him the way you would Matthew Knowles or Clive Davis. He had none of their advantages, except maybe a bigger dream, more courage and a tolerance for risk. He was black, poor & uneducated but figured out the music business and deciphered America’s racial hypocrisy. At a time when we were still trying to overcome, he out-produced, over-delivered, out-performed, out-negotiated and over-achieved. He did it all with neither a roadmap for success nor a support net to catch him if he fell.

The complexities of Michael’s affairs are tremendous. There are musical assets to consider, some his own, some acquired, some inherited. There are debts to be paid and children to be cared for.  For the most part, Joseph had been shut out of Michael’s life and it appears he’ll be shut out of Michael’s death as well. He was once head of household and head of an empire. The career in music was his dream and now, after Berry Gordy, Motown, CBS, MTV, Sony and countless others have benefitted from that dream, he is looking for affirmation as the seed from which so many successes were birthed. Surely we can empathize with Joseph’s loneliness at this time.

I listened to the press conference today and the BET interview yesterday; my initial thoughts were that of an opportunist. Having had time to reconsider, a different vision comes to mind.  I see a man striving to be recognized for his accomplishments, striving to become relevant again, striving to regain the dignity that so often eludes African American men born before desegregation.

If the announcement of a record company is the vehicle that gives him this, then so be it. Joseph Jackson dragged a family from working class beginnings to world class status.  His attempt, however feeble, to shepherd next chapter of the Jackson legacy via the promotion of a record company, clothing line or other venture for wealth creation, is nothing more than a cry for attention and approval. He played more than a minor role in Michael and the family’s success. I would go so far as to say he has accomplished more in his lifetime than most of us ever will. For this, we need to show deference.

Did he make mistakes along the way, sure. He made a lot of mistakes… he pushed to hard, he controlled too much, he allowed his faults to cloud judgments, he considered the feelings of others too little, he let his drive be the driver at the expense of all else. And he paid and continues to pay for those and many other mistakes.  But who amongst us is perfect? Joseph is in his final years. He is in mourning, he doesn’t hear well, he has a gargantuan sense of pride and he is currently the face of the family. Lets give him a break. If this promotion turns out to be a freak show, so what. Since when have we been above participating in a freak show.

If we are to sincerely and honestly honor Michael, lets demonstrate respect for his legacy, his privacy, his family and his father.


It was important for me to write this post because my relationship with my father is not unlike that of Michael’s with Joseph.  Despite irreconcilable strains, I haven’t lost sight of his influence on my values, my work ethic, my outlook, development and sensibilities. While I accept that our relationship may never improve beyond its current state, I would hope that his dignity be a reflection of the mountain of good he accomplished in life.


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