Recently, I saw the cover of the most recent Rolling Stone magazine, which featured a tattooed and shirtless Justin Bieber with the caption, "Bad Boy -- Why Justin Bieber Just Won't Behave." Intrigued, I flipped to the cover story to discover a series of disturbing pictures of Bieber and the below opening paragraph:
Late on a Monday night in mid-January a slightly stoned Justin Bieber leans back on a couch in a North Miami strip club's weed-scented VIP room, casually accepting lap dance after lap dance... More than once, Bieber pauses mid-grind to lean over and fist bump his dad, a hard-eyed 38-year-old who's always up for some family fun. Jeremy Bieber split with Justin's mom when Justin was a toddler, and wasn't around afterward. But, he has, as of late, accepted the place of honor in his superstar son's entourage. The position comes with perks: Jeremy, a tatted up former carpenter and pro-am mixed martial arts fighter, sips beer while enjoying the overflow from his 19-year-old son's parade of strippers.
I'm a 52-year-old guy and clearly not in the "Belieber"demographic. Nonetheless, I have followed Bieber's rise from the beginning, since the day a co-worker excitedly mentioned him. So, I spent an embarrassing number of hours looking at YouTube videos of the musically precocious phenom. Oddly, I was drawn to him and I soon found out why: Like me, he was a son who grew up without his father.
I have a special place in my heart for fatherless boys because I know well their lonely journey. A boy has a hole in his soul in the shape of his father. God whispers into the womb of his mother that there is a man who will love him like no other. But, if his father is unable or unwilling to fill this hole, it can leave a wound that is not easily healed.
I am a wounded soul and believe that Bieber is too. Why? Because a father's rejection is a deep, and often, unnoticed wound that can fester for years. I know mine did. Only someone who should love you deeply and unconditionally can hurt you deeply by rejecting you unconditionally. So, after years of dealing with my issues and helping others, I have a sense about these things. I "feel the pain" of the fatherless.
Therefore, I had some concerns about Bieber's growing celebrity. There were known unknowns. First, I knew that if Bieber had the kind of father who would leave him as a toddler, when Beiber was his most vulnerable, he had the kind of father who would seek to re-enter his life when Bieber was his most successful. And, I knew that Bieber would probably let his father in --regardless how dysfunctional the relationship, and the objections of his mother.
There is a pull much stronger than the strongest mother's apron strings that beckons a son from boyhood to manhood. It's the pull of his father's "presence," even if his father is absent. A son has to make sense of his relationship with his father. He has to determine what it means to be a man. An African proverb says, "I am who I am because you are who you are." So, a boy's destiny is linked to his father's history.
Unfortunately, mothers don't often understand this dynamic and usually aren't prepared for the havoc it can cause. Too often, she will see her son's pulling away as a rejection. And, young boys generally don't have the verbal or social skills to help her see things otherwise. But, sometimes the most important "performance" in a boy's life requires the audience, applause, and approval of just one fan... his father. I suspect that Bieber, despite his millions of fans, has longed for this much of his life. This certainly would help explain why Bieber has connected so strongly to a father who is facilitating his journey down a well-traveled, destructive path. Indeed, it's no surprise Bieber is all tatted up, increasingly handles problems with physical aggression and drops the "f bomb" with precision. Alas, "like father, like son" is not a cliché.
Given Bieber's celebrity, one can miss the important "why" behind his behavior and relevant lessons for those who seek to understand and help fatherless boys. Today, one out of three kids, two out of three in the African-American community, grow up in father-absent homes. There are too many communities with less commercially marketable, but no less valuable, wounded "Biebers." To heal the wounds of these boys, we must first acknowledge the wounds exists and their impact on a boy's life. But, too often, as I suspect has happened in Bieber's case, we don't. There is still a prevailing social narrative that says fathers don't matter. Also, we are reluctant to acknowledge the link between fatherhood and healthy marriages, even though research shows that marriage is the best societal glue to connect fathers to their children.
There are also important lessons here for fathers, especially those who have abandoned their children. I recently released a book titled, Bad Dads of the Bible-8 Mistakes Every Good Dad Can Avoid. Jeremy Bieber certainly committed a mistake by abandoning his son. But, he has committed other mistakes as well. You see, a good father doesn't exploit the hole in his son's wounded soul to enjoy the "overflow" of his son's reckless response to his father's absence. He is careful to be a healer, not an enabler of bad behavior. Moreover, a good father provides, nurtures and guides. He doesn't prey on his child's vulnerabilities and insecurities. After all, there is a long line of folks willing to do this, especially if you're Justin Bieber.
You see, Justin Bieber doesn't need his father to be his lap dance pal or pot-smoking buddy. He needs Jeremy Bieber to be a good dad now. He needs his father to grow up, step up, and "daddy up" before it's too late. So, why won't Justin Bieber behave? Unfortunately, the sad answer is just a fist bump away.
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