“This is a story about control. My control. Control of what I say, and control of what I do. And this time, I’m gonna do it my way.” –Janet Jackson, Control
In 1986, the year that Janet Jackson became my role model, she provided a template for breaking free from a domineering father in the dramatic nine-minute “Control” video. Be strong, be firm, and be excellent–that was her message. For a timid 13-year-old kid, Janet’s message and her soft-spoken delivery of it helped to engender a devotion that has lasted 35 years.
Rereading the posts of the last couple of weeks, I noticed a subtle, recurring motif. What about the Britney Spears documentary compelled me to devote an entire entry to it? Why do I care so much about how women are treated in the South? What one song did I link to when discussing Southern music? (So that you don’t have to scroll back to it, it was “Daddy Lessons” by Beyonce´.) What’s really going on here?
Well, as it happens, I have daddy issues. My father has loomed as an influential figure in my life. I’ve tried not to be like him even more than I’ve tried not to be Southern. (The overlap between the two should go without saying.)
The issue of the treatment of women resonates with me because there were mistakes I saw my father make with my mother. I see Jamie Spears yank Britney into a conservatorship, and on some level I think of the amount of control my father tried to exert on my life. Even years after his passing, I default to driving to Nashville using Briley Parkway instead of directly through downtown because he insisted that I use that route when visiting him.
My father had wonderful qualities, and he passed to me a love for knowledge and discourse. Our relationship, though, was fraught with disconnects–on worldview, on morality, on politics, and most importantly, on character. At no point could you convince my father that he didn’t have all the correct answers and all the correct feelings for everyone in his life and in the world. His answers were absolute. His feelings centered on control.
I’d never thought about the resonance of the Control album for me as a function of my relationship with my father, but I have written about my daddy issues before. I have called my dad a bully, and compared his M.O. to that of our most recent ex-president. To some who knew him, this depiction may seem uncharitable at best and slanderous at worst. But it is and will continue to be the way I see the relationship.
My advocacy for social equality and the value of personhood, along with my frequent detachment from all things Southern–these tentpoles have gone up, at least in part, in response to my father’s way of looking at things.
This post is fair warning for those of you who believe in honoring one’s parents and speaking well of the departed. I refuse to gloss over my difficult relationship with my father. I assure you, his presence will continue to loom in these posts. (Which, in a way, is great, because he always wanted me to write about him. Wish granted.)
The irony and the justification for this uncompromising position is that my father was the same way–determined to speak his peace in the face of headwinds. Like I said, I did learn a few things from him–but as with being Southern, some of them I learned in the negative.
How not to be is also a valuable lesson.