Why are troubled stars' dads so creepy?

A banner week for mortifying paternal behavior

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published October 23, 2009 7:24PM (EDT)

Parents just don’t understand. Like, say you’re a once promising young actress whose career is stalled and whose high-profile relationship recently ended. And then suddenly you have to consider obtaining a restraining order against your dad after he mouths off about wanting to take you "to an undisclosed location” to get you straight.

Or you’re a British singer known for your powerful pipes, big hair and predilection for drugs and alcohol. You’ve been laying low a few months, trying to get your life together, and then your dad tells the British press all about your “fantastic” new boob job.

Or you’re a blond pop star in the midst of a comeback after some impressive screw-ups, and then Fox gets wind that you’re so “out of it” you just do whatever your manager father tells you to.

Or you’re the most famous 16-year-old in the world who just feels like taking a Twitter break, and then your dad starts tweeting about how he wants you to stay.

All of this, by the way, is within days of Jon Gosselin's getting sued by TLC for his rampant media appearances, and Richard Heene facing criminal charges for the balloon boy fiasco.

Stop it, dad, you’re embarrassing me!

The creepy showbiz dad has been with us since Hildegard of Bingen’s parents pimped her out to the convent. But no longer content to stand on the sidelines, a new breed of doting father has emerged -- tireless, opinionated, and possibly more desperate for attention than his famous offspring. And the fact that so many of these TMI-dispensing dads are talking about their young, famous and notoriously troubled daughters just adds an extra coating of ick to the whole business.

In a week of shameless spotlight hogging, it’s Mr. Michael Lohan who has distinguished himself most. First, he appeared on Friday’s "Maury Povich Show" to share how he cries that his daughter has become a “hollow, hollow person.” Then told X17online.com, “If I can't get a conservatorship, then I'm going to take her to an undisclosed location and get her straight. But I know I'm gonna get charged with kidnapping.” Today, he  has an open letter to Lindsay in the new InTouch that reads in part, “Let me help you get your life back so that you can build it to where you once were."

Lindsay, meanwhile, has displayed a charming lack of self-awareness by telling Us magazine, “I'm so hurt that someone who calls himself my father needs to use the press to communicate with me." 

For troubled stars on the other side of the pond, however, things are looking up. During an interview Wednesday on a British morning talk show, Mitch Winehouse spoke of the need for more funding for drug rehab in the U.K. and daughter Amy’s own recovery. He then digressed about the singer’s “fantastic” new boobs, adding his relief that he didn’t have to pay for them. Joe Simpson, your previous comments about daughter Jessica’s “double D’s” have just been massively owned.

No one would suggest that Lindsay Lohan, still smarting from her disastrous debut as Ungaro’s artistic director, is experiencing the best of times. When the 23-year-old showed up at a gala in New York this week, her haggard, apparently cosmetically enhanced appearance was front-page news. (Let’s put it this way: She made Donatella Versace look good.) And Winehouse, who is at work on a new album, has her own history of questionable judgment. It's just that after a few reckless sound bites from Dad, one begins to wonder where they get it.

Of course not every show business daughter has a disturbing tell-all memoir in her future, and far be it from us to suggest a cause and effect between dubious parenting and a penchant for driving into sidewalks or heckling Bono. But if I had the kind of father who went around talking about how fabulous my breasts are, I’d be shitfaced 24/7.

Why do these guys do it? Good dads, we believe, love their daughters -- they let them dance on their feet when they’re little and fret over their suitors when they’re big. When the relationship is healthy and appropriate, there’s an almost romantic element of mutual adoration.

But the weird dad is in a class all his own. He too easily reminds us of the shudder-inducing older man/much younger woman cliché, then he makes it all that much more vivid by gassing on about his beautiful, troubled daughter’s physical attributes or wanting to “detox her myself.”  I'd say it’s a fine line, but honest to God, it’s not that hard. And it smacks of bonus jealousy and competitiveness and, if she’s over 18, some intense control issues.

There’s nothing worse for a parent than to stand by helplessly and see your child in pain. But anybody who thinks that going on Maury is going to make it better is perhaps not being entirely honest. The bottomless public appetite for scandalous celebrities makes it unnervingly easy to get airtime or magazine space on a famous daughter's gin-soaked coattails. Easy to be a hanger-on first and a parent second. The world is chock-full of girls going wild because they didn’t feel they got enough attention from their fathers. Congratulations, Lindsay and Amy, your antics have commanded the attention of yours. And in the process they just happen to be soaking up plenty for themselves.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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