Would you want Joe Jackson raising your kids?

The King of Pop's children are now living with his saintly mother -- and the tyrant who made him the man he was

By Kate Harding

Published June 30, 2009 3:31PM (EDT)

A week ago, if any of us gave a thought to the welfare of Michael Jackson's three children, we probably didn't imagine they could end up with a more disturbing father figure than their actual father, an accused child molester (not to mention baby dangler and inveterate weirdo). On Monday, however, those children were placed in the temporary custody of their paternal grandmother, Katherine Jackson -- meaning, apparently, that Michael's father, Joe, will also have access to them. The same Joe who, according to several of his children, was physically and emotionally abusive, whipping them with belts when they failed to perform to his standards. The same Joe who arguably made Michael Jackson the person he was -- both the magnetic child superstar and the profoundly troubled, stunted adult. And the same Joe who -- in a Monday press conference described by a talented writer I know as "icky, icky" -- took the opportunity to announce a new business venture before addressing questions about his son's untimely death.

Although Katherine is the sole named custodian and has reportedly been estranged from Joe for decades, her husband indicated in that icky, icky press conference that they are sharing responsibility for the children. "We're going to take care of them and give them the education they're supposed to have," he said. "We can do that." He added that they're enjoying being around other children who are "small" like them (the kids are 7, 11 and 12). When asked how Mrs. Jackson was doing -- about to bury a child and take on raising three more at the age of 79 -- Joe Jackson smiled broadly and said, "She's fine, thank you." Oh, OK, then.

The permanent custody arrangement remains uncertain -- Debbie Rowe, mother of the older two, has not yet said whether she'll seek custody of her kids; the surrogate mother who gave birth to the youngest has never been named; and it's still unclear whether Michael left a legal will (a lawyer claims a 2002 will is legal, but Katherine and Joe, the latter of whom was left out of that will, are claiming their son died intestate). But for the time being, the children will be living with the same people who raised their father. Katherine, a devout Jehovah's Witness, has rarely been described as anything short of saintly, and the kids' longtime nanny, Grace, will reportedly be staying on for the foreseeable future. But it's hard not to wonder if Prince Michael I, Paris Katherine and Prince Michael II are only moving out of the Neverland frying pan and into the Hayvenhurst fire. 

Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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