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A lost boy becomes a father

By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / July 2, 2009

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The first image that comes to mind, when you think of Michael Jackson as a parent, is that famous photograph of him in 2002, dangling his infant son over the third-floor balcony of a German hotel. It’s outrageous, shocking, inexplicable.

And exactly what a child would do with a baby doll.

Maybe that’s the secret to understanding Jackson’s strange, disturbing habits when it comes to his three children, now 12, 11, and 7. In public, he treated them the way a small child would treat a pretend baby or a giddy schoolyard friend. He gave them funny names (two sons are named “Prince,’’ though the younger one goes by “Blanket’’). He concealed their identities through an elaborate game of dress-up, covering their heads with feathered masks or translucent veils.

Did he love them? He said so. There’s little reason to think otherwise. Kids love babies: pushing them in strollers, helping to feed them, making them laugh. Kids love play dates. And life on Jackson’s sprawling Neverland ranch, with its carnival rides and llamas, seemed like nothing if not a long and elaborate play date.

That Jackson the hot cocoa companion could also be Jackson the father - disciplinarian? bedtime ogre? biological dad? - strains credulity, which is why all of those parentage rumors persist. In his early 20s, Jackson seemed, if not a font of testosterone, at least a moderately virile man; in “Billie Jean,’’ he sang credibly about fathering an illegitimate child. By the time he started having children of his own - two from his three-year marriage to dermatology nurse Debbie Rowe, one from an unnamed surrogate mother - his features and voice and demeanor were steadily becoming more feminine, which is to say, more childlike.

Rowe later claimed, in court papers, that she was inseminated by an anonymous donor. Maybe she was right. Children don’t mind the details of how babies are made. They simply know what they want, and want it immediately. Which helps to explain what Jackson once told journalist Martin Bashir about the birth of his middle child, Paris: “I was so anxious to get her home that after cutting the cord . . . I snatched at her and just went home with all the placenta all over her.’’

It probably didn’t happen that way; even Hollywood doctors, one would hope, don’t indulge that level of make-believe. Yet two parts of that story are true. There was a baby girl. And Jackson got to take her home.

Word was that Jackson wanted more; he talked of adopting from Third World countries, Angelina-style. Even with his acquittal on child molestation charges, he probably would have been turned away. Social service agencies get some say into whether a man is adult enough to raise kids. But if biology complies - or money intervenes - anyone can bring a child into the world. Even a man who is more of a lost boy himself. JOANNA WEISS

(Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters/File 2002)

Complete Michael Jackson coverage

Michael Jackson through the years
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Michael Jackson through the years
A look at the King of Pop's high-profile life.

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