Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Michael Jackson, O.J. Simpson, and Father's Day

My parent's generation will remember him as the fresh-faced, "voice beyond his years" youngest brother and lead singer of the group "the Jackson Five." My generation of course, will remember him as the undisputed "King of Pop," who revolutionized both the audio and video aspects of popular music. Tragically however, these mental pictures will be replaced as emerging generations remember only a strange, bizzare, hermitic, and possibly mentally disturbed weirdo.

But what hath Michael Jackson to do with Fatherhood?

Actually, Jackson's story has a lot to say to today's fathers. So in fact, does the story of O.J. Simpson. Again, visions of the charismatic, Heisman Trophy winning pro-football hall-of-famer have been replaced by that of a sinister, underhanded, violent philanderer. Whether or not one accepts the 1995 "not guilty" verdict which gave Simpson back his freedom, the facts presented in that trial revealed a jealous and extremely violent side to the ex-football star.

These are two prime examples of the kinds of men our society is creating, according to Terrance Moore, who authored the 2003 book "Wimps and Barbarians: The Sons of Murphy Brown." Playing off the infamous sit-com plot of a single woman having a son, Moore suggests the "real life" version of Murphy's son (who by now would be a late teenager), would likely resemble one of two kinds of young men that exist today: wimps, or barbarians.

Quoting Moore in an article last year, Al Mohler suggested that the "barabarians" can be easily recognized "wandering about in parks, recognizable by their sloppy dress, their lack of linguistic ability, their crudeness of manners, and their treatment of women. . . .When barbarians actually use words, their speech is most likely to be laced with profanity." Like it or not, Simpson is the model "barbarian," as is illustrated in previous 911 calls by his late ex-wife Nicole Brown.

On the other side of this dismal picture is the "wimp." Moore states that "Many of today's young men seem to have no fight in them at all. Not for them to rescue damsels in distress from the barbarians." Mohler elaborates, stating that the wimp "is incapable of living up to his responsibilities as a man, and shows no valor in his public or private life . . . .The wimp is always looking for the easiest way out of a problem." Enter Michael Jackson!

The one time "King of Pop" is now, for all practical purposes, a reclusive, child-like boy in a man's body. His own self-admittance of his reticence to grow up is embodied in his actions with the young boys who stayed with him at his California home, and is further evidenced by the child-beckoning atmosphere that Jackson often avails himself of at his "Neverland" ranch. It seems that Peter Pan isn't such a myth after all!

But Simpson and Jackson aren't alone! Their respective approaches to how they cope with life are merely reflective of the wider populace. Terrance Moore's answer seems simple enough, when he states that "the prescription for what ails our youngest males might be reduced to two, simple instructions: Don't be a barbarian, Don't be a wimp. What is left . . . .will be a man!" But a sobering question remains: Who will give these instructions?

It is obvious that Jackson's father will not be among those to take this responsibility. Joe Jackson is described in MTVs biography of his son as "by all accounts an often ill-tempered disciplinarian." When he organized the Jackson Five, his famed temper became notorious, and his son's mortal fear of his retribution should they blow it on the stage made for stressful nights of performance. In short, this Gary Indiana steel worker seemed to care more about fame and money than his children. And we thought this all started with "Showbiz Moms and Dads!"

Studies abound that demonstrate how this kind of exasperating discipline can crush the spirit of a boy so that he grows up to be a wimp instead of a man. But even worse than the exasperative father is the absent one. Single parent households have grown exponentially over the past two decades, largely due to fathers who have refused to accept responsibility for raising their children. While this certainly has an effect on daughters, it is especially damaging to young men. A few years ago, Dr. James Egan, a child psychiatrist at Washington D.C.s children's hospital, cited qualitative research that constrasted the single parent home where the father had abandoned his family with the single parent home where the father had died. In the home of the deceased father, Egan asserted that Dad still has a place of authority and moral leadership. Negative behavior by the children could often be corrected with "Would your dad approve of that?" In the home of the abandoned child, this question would be met with "Who cares," or even worse, "Who?" Dr. Egan's provocative conclusion?

...."A dead father is a more effective father than a missing father."

Steve Farrar echoes these semtiments: "I believe that if you look at every major pressing social issue in this country, whether it's teenage pregnancy, child abuse, drive-by shootings, teenage suicide, or the divorce rate, and reduce each of these problems to its lowest common denominator, you will find in each case the same root cause. That cause is a lack of male leadership."

Bottom line: Boys need men to learn how to be men! And sons need their fathers to learn how to lead families!

-We should teach our sons to love God with all their hearts, and to be consistent and dilligent students of God's Word.
-We should teach our sons to see women, not as merely sexual objects to be possessed, but as lifetime companions to cherish, protect, lead, provide for, love, and respect. This of course begins with the inflexible demand that they respect their mother, and continues as we "coach" them through the dating process, and see to it that they become capable leaders of their homes.
-We should teach our sons to accept personal responsibility for mistakes and failures. Boys need to be taught once again to make wrongs right.
-We should set the example for our sons by bringing them rather than sending them, or taking them) to church to worship God with His people.
-We should teach our sons to have a good self image, but at the same time to not think too highly of themselves. Teach them that at the end of the day, they aren't any "better" than anyone else.
-We should model for our sons how to love our wives. We should teach them that God's ideal is no less than a lifetime commitment between one man, and one woman, and warn them that anything less than this ideal is a distortion of the picture God intends to paint in marriage of the relationship between Christ and His church.
-We should teach our sons that the world owes them nothing. Conversely, they should learn from us to appreciate the value of hard work, and demand their best efforts in academics, sports, and manual labor, so that they grow up with a sense of purpose, and won't be afraid of working hard to acheive that purpose.
-We should teach our sons that work, while noble, isn't an end unto itself, but rather a means of providing for one's family and making a valuable contribution to society. The hopeful result of this will be their eventual resistance to ignoring their responsibilities to family in order to climb a "corporate ladder."

To be sure, these are high marks to which we should aspire, and they don't guarantee results. Many a parent has misread Proverbs 22:6 as divine promise rather than as a universal principle of divine wisdom. But one thing is for sure: The return of Biblical fatherhood is something for which our society is long overdue. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to raise our children, and especially our sons, in this way . . . .

. . . .after all, we don't want to raise Michael Jackson, and we don't want to raise O.J. Simpsons. What we want are real men!

Earl Rainey was one of those who knew in the end what he wanted his sons to be. He wasn't a Biblical scholar, but my strong evangelical convictions have their genesis in his admonishments that I should revere the written Word of God. He wasn't an internationally known evangelist, but my love for the unchurched began while watching him, in the bottom of an oily pit underneath a broken down semi-truck, speaking to the mechanics who worked for him about Jesus. And he certainly wasn't perfect. But my views on God's sovereign grace were seeded by watching him grow in his own faith. And today, when I read Psalm 1, I see my dad. May God be pleased to allow all of us still raising our sons to leave an identical legacy.

Speaking of which, I hear my five-year-old boy calling! I better get to work!

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