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Opinions of Saturday, 4 July 2009

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Ghanaian Immigrants' Kids and Their Michael Jackson's Syndrome.

The Echoes of Michael Jackson: Blame your parents for your shortcomings and Iniquities.

RELAX THIS IS NOT an Off-the –wall tribute or thriller .I have no interest in rubbernecking or trivializing Michael Jackson’s death---people make mistakes.

However, there are lessons to be learned in every situation and tragedy .I believe from others, we learn our most vital and valuable lessons in life .Second, only to our own mistakes and unique experiences, we learn best from the experiences of those whom we most admire and respect---and in rare cases those we detest.

As we all react with sadness of the sudden death of a songbird, Pop-superstar and dance - machine, Michael Jackson ,there are other dimensions to his life that are emerging which need examination, attention, explanation , exclamation mark and reflection .It also mirrors the thinking of some Ghanaian immigrants’ kids in the diaspora who don’t get it.

His death brings up some important points in parenting, our kids’ fantasies, peer pressure and society’s unrealistic expectations.

The sad part of Michael Jackson’s “HiStory” is that his father, Mr. Joseph Jackson’s role in his life has been dissected and discredited to minimize its value and importance. And, that has cheapened the currency of parenthood in general and fatherhood in particular.

Sadly and suddenly, Michael Jackson’s death has brought all the social “experts”out of the woodwork who are analyzing his father’s role in his twisted and turned life. They even attribute Michael Jackson’s downfall to his father’s disciplinary role. Oh, puh-lee-ze! Give me a break!

Question: What did his father do to warrant all that negative publicity in the media?

Let me see if I got it right: First Mr. Joseph Jackson saw the talent his five boys possessed at, a very, very early stage of their lives and he worked hard to cultivate them. Yes, he pushed them to be what they could be. Perhaps seeing the number of kids in the family and the income of the household, his only ticket to a better life for his family was to harvest those talents and their creativity, to get out of the web of poverty. I’m talking about the afroed, pre-plastic-surgery, brown-skinned Jackson era.

Yes, he encouraged them to practice and practice and study. Yes, they had home tutors and they did not have enough time to play around and be influenced by the other neighborhood’s kids who were equally talented as them. But they were different and much disciplined because their father was very protective to a fault. However, that is what every responsible parent is supposed to do. If you don’t believe me look around in your community, every successful kid you know has parents who go against the conventional wisdom.

The truism of life is that, democracy works well in government, but not in parental consensus management .Democracy does not work for parents especially, when you want to feed your family and want a better life for your kids and see their future in constant struggle with other forces within the society.

In the eyes of the law and eyes of God, I guess we are all born equal, but thank God we are not born the same. Knowing this simple truth is a big step to realize your potentials, talents and limitations. In other words, mastering the art of finding what is good for you and your kids, is very important as a parent.

Through Mr. Jackson’s leadership and parental guidance his kids became successful beyond their own imaginations. Michael in particular became a multimillionaire in his 20’s, when his contemporaries were struggling on college campuses or at the McDonald’s food assembly lines, flipping burgers. So in a nutshell, was his father’s crime to seek the welfare of his kids and nurture their talents and career to yield an enviable dividend? It’s unfair to beat this man in the media circuit for playing his meaningful role as a father and a provider.

He exemplifies the kind of parent most of our kids need-especially those who have lost their bearings and took the idea of the so-called ‘American Dream’ as shopping and consumption of material things, instead of playing to their personal strengths.

All began in Gary, Indiana: Looking back, at the former neighborhood of the Jacksons family in Gary, Indiana it is obvious that the father of five boys and three girls had no other choice, but to push his kids to live up to their God- given potentials. Not only did he literally take ordinary kids and turned them into extraordinary celebrities, but he also turned them into money -making machines; with unyielding amount of hope and belief in the power of perseverance and passion. Let’s be mindful of the fact that there were equally talented kids besides the Jacksons, who did not make it that far. Could it be that they were not that fortunate to have a good parent who could push and guide them? There is every indication that the family was super –poor, so he had to do whatever he could to get his family out of the hands of poverty. As a result his kids’ success defied everyone’s expectation.

Was Mr. Jackson too strict on his kids? Probably he was, granted the limitations of every human. But even if he is a strict parent, I have my reservation. How did that affect the rest of his children who most probably were subjected to the same treatment? Does he love his kids? I can bet with my last dollar on it that Joe was a loving father. .The fact of the matter is Michael Jackson would have been nothing if had it not been for his father’s intuition and stewardship.

To point out the obvious, Michael had potential, but very limited opportunity to succeed due to his race at that time, had it not been the tenacity of his family. So whether his father was strict or not is not the issue because he turned the Jacksons’ potential into pots of refined gold that made Michael laugh all the way to the bank at a very, very tender age; while the rest of his age group barely survived.

Just like the Jacksons’ family who escaped poverty by migrating from Gary, Indiana to protect and nurture the family’s “assets”---the kids’ talents, most of us (the first generation immigrants in the diaspora) migrated from our home land to escape poverty so as to enable us to give our offspring a better life than we had, growing up in Ghana. In a way, if our quest to create a better life for them is seen as pushy and abusive, let it be.

The substance of this episode is that when Michael made it in the entertainment world he surrounded himself with ‘advisers ‘and social “experts” who did not give a fig about him.They only concerned about his money and thought of his father as a threat to their own interests .So they found every way to discredit his father and his vital role. It was an attempt for them to fix their own leaking financial faucet.

Then came the allegations of been abused by his father .Yes, they said Michael was allegedly abused by his father because he was robbed of his childhood. I beg your pardon? Oh, Lordy, what is wrong with this world? Remember, we are talking about a person who perhaps had the best childhood :love ,toys and other life amenities than 95percent of us reading this article never had .The only crime of abusive behavior Michael was subjected to was that his father pushed him to live up to his potential.

Unfortunately, the western world, particularly the United States, has perpetuated this idea that it’s someone’s fault if one’s offspring has some frequent encounter with the law or fails to get a handle on life and its turbulent twists .In other words, if you don’t make it then it’s your parents’ fault. Ironically, these are the same people who think raising your voice when you talk to your kids is” abusive”, and yadda, yadda! You can not raise your eyebrows to register your disapproval of your kids’ actions or misgivings. It’s considered a “crime”. Halba!

Nevertheless, the Ghanaian immigrants’ kids—particularly the “imported” ones from Ghana – are picking up on this syndrome, to their own detriment. Every Ghanaian immigrant parent in the diaspora knows very well the life back home, the dangerous life potholes and the value of education. We’re always protective of our kids—who are sometimes quick to adapt to the lifestyle of the host country, without any reservation or examination.

Yes, we try to tell our kids to study hard to enjoy the so-called American dream. We don’t want them to stay out late, and voice our disapprovals against their friends who have questionable characters .And of whom we think can make our kids deviate from the main goal which is economic and political freedom. It’s this goal that has made us self-imposed exiles.

However, to our kids, they see all that as a way to “‘control “them---whatever that means. Some even go as far as turning the control thing into “abusive”, which allows the Child Protection Agencies to dictate to us as to how to treat our kids and manage our own households. I remember a friend of mine whose kid wanted to kill herself because the father advised her to pull her grades up after failing academically two times .The school authorities ran with it, accusing the father of “ abusing his kid” .“Abuse” has been over –rated and that results in the real abusive cases being treated with soft gloves.

Oftentimes, that diminishes our parental roles and ability to function in the best interest of our kids. Mindful of the fact that the Ghanaian immigrants’ kids in our host countries were brought there for a purpose---a purpose which can not be compromised or negotiated. Because so much is at stake, we can’t let today’s short-term gratifications over cloud tomorrow’s big goals. For every successful kid, there are powerful parents who not only believe in their kids’ potentials, but, realize what failure will cost.

The big questions are: How do we as parents maintain our parental equilibriums, cultivate our kids’ talents and future, guide them and stay within the social boundaries set forth by society and the so-called social ‘experts? They only see things in their narrow prisms, with very limited knowledge of our history, tribulations and circumstances.

Every child needs a backbone to help him/her make it through the atrocious and hostile streets of our host countries.

Those of us in the States, we have to guide our kids against the temptation of indulging in whimsies---- staying out late, attending wild and crazy parties, experimentation of drugs and hard liquor—not to mention the possession of deadly weapons. America’s culture clash and relative freedom sometimes give our kids a false hope and assumption that all the things they watch on televisions are ‘real. Therefore they can paddle their fantasies all the way to the bank. Their super materialistic consumption appetite also makes them question everything and anything their parents do, irrespective of the intent and ramifications.

Thanks to the social network and text message systems, parental roles have been replaced and diminished. Kids these days depend religiously on their virtual friends they meet on the net than their own parents because these” friends” always tow their line of thinking.

Yes, it’s easier to side with their friends than to question them. It’s easier to listen to their friends, the political pundits and television news anchors than to study, read and search to discover the truth about an issue or to actually read about a subject the friends they meet on line tell them about. It’s easier to blame someone or your parents than take responsibility.

Whilst we might stumble once in a while in the course of trying to do the right thing for our kids we should not forget the fact that we migrated with a purpose and goal. Like every immigrant before us, Ghanaian immigrants traveled abroad with a well-defined goal. After all, no one travels abroad from Ghana for greener pasture unless one wants to work hard to achieve his/her goals. That work ethic coupled with the fear of failure also play a role in our decision-making process .So sometimes our kids see us as being control freaks .The fear of failure is the driving force behind our protective nature which our kids sometimes despise.

To me, the fear of failure scares the hell out of me. It also gives me the strength to fight against the temptation of short –term gratifications, in lieu of a long-term investment which can yield value.

The love Mr. Jackson (has) had for his kids was/is very organic. It might not be the best, but it carried them to places they never dreamed .It also gave them other enviable worldly possessions, fame and unyielding celebrity stature .If all that is not a monumental achievement with biblical proportion, then nothing is.

Most Ghanaian immigrants’ kids particularly those who were brought from home are caught up in the concept of “we- all- born- equal”. Therefore whatever the majority of people are doing must be right or they won’t be doing it. And, anyone, including parents has no business telling them what to do.

As a result, some of us (parents) stop enforcing accountability for ourselves and our children. We are afraid to offend them because it‘s easier not to do anything than do something. We are afraid to talk to our own kids, spend time with them, and teach them valuable life lessons because the system has put too many limitations on our role. The last time I checked however, parental role is a 24/7 job.

Over the course of the next several weeks and months we’re going to witness and learn a great lesson .If that period is going to teach us anything, it’s this: The consequences of disowning your parents or how surrounding yourself with strangers can cost you your life , money, house and self-esteem.

Michael’s trials, triumphs and turbulent history started when he drifted away from his roots and parents. While he was getting all the attention and fame, his father was getting hammered by the media. It got people gabbing with the operative word” abusive” to demonize him. Remember, we are talking about a person who once upon a time owned a mansion filled with a zoo, amusement rides and other life amenities reserved for the Saudi -Arabia monarchy. But, he died in a rented house. What a sad way to close the curtain on a life started with hope, dreams and possibilities!

At this point, whether Michael’s father was responsible for his son’s downfall, physical transformation, transgression and trepidation or not is irrelevant because this may not ease the pain. But, given the way things turned out: From the heart-stopping thriller music to robotic dance moves, let’s”B-e-a-t It, “because it’s all ‘HiStory ‘, no matter who was right or wrong.

I’m just off- the- wall trippin’ with emotions because I’m just a man in the mirror!

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi NJ, USA

*The author is a social commentator and the founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment and Apprenticeship of Asuom.E/R