An Open Letter to Joe Jackson

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Dear Mr. Jackson_

The occasion of your child's death is a moment when all parents, including me, offer you every wish for strength and God's healing power in the face of your loss. Any father or mother can sense the tragedy it is to lose a son or daughter, yet no one who has not suffered such a loss can truly know your pain.

I would write no more than this were it not for the fact that you have used the occasion of your son's passing and the attendant publicity to also promote your own business ventures, including your new record label. This makes me feel it important, as a psychiatrist with access to the media, to reach out to you, with other parents and their adult children "listening" in.

The foundation of our nation assures each person in this great country of certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Great leaders and courageous soldiers have safeguarded these rights for our citizens, and they would make a decent Bill of Rights for parents raising children, too. Fathering a child, you see, means far more than participating in a child's conception and witnessing his birth; it means doing everything possible to optimize that child's life. This requires many acts of love and self-sacrifice. It pays immeasurable dividends in the growing self-confidence and autonomy you witness developing in the child you care so much about.

Somehow, perhaps because of pain suffered in your own early life experience, you stole that God-given potential for healthy development from your son. You have admitted lashing him with a belt or a switch when he failed to perform dance steps to your standards. According to him, you called him ugly when acne affected him as a teenager. You brutalized him by placing your own pathologic need for control and for "success" above his needs for security and comfort and self-esteem. In a very real way, you buried enough of his love for himself that he was no longer comfortable with his race or age or sexuality or even his great fortune. Trying to please a father who beats you with a belt for missing a dance step will do that to you.

Now, even when saying goodbye to your son, you think of yourself and your business. You are deprived of a purer life and love. This makes me feel badly for you, but feel worse for the son you injured so deeply.

Some will see you only as a monster. I know that monsters are made through cruelties suffered in life; they never spring fully-formed onto the planet.

In your quiet moments, I hope that you can dig up the roots of the emotional and physical violence you visited upon your child. One of the wonderful things about still being on the planet is that you always have some chance to win back the potential for real humanity buried inside you.

Here's a hint: Success or failure in becoming human isn't measured in record sales or reflected in the lenses of television cameras. You have to look much, much deeper.