The Daddy Shady Show

Upstanding Suburban Citizen Eminem Sets the Fatherhood Standard

And in 2002, for some reason, pop-icon pops have been especially visible. Ozzy became the latest in a long line of TV fathers-know-worst, right up there with Dan Conner and Homer Simpson and Tony Soprano. Michael Jackson, whose greatest hit ever had him insisting "the kid is not my son," made a spectacle of himself on a Berlin balcony. Liv Tyler's old man played Santa on Lizzie McGuire. And a People magazine cover even proclaimed, "Jon Bon Jovi: Secrets of a Rock Star Dad."

Hearing about all those other papas, though, sometimes gets Betty Kresin's goat, especially when congresspeople pick on Marshall. "I just think, well, they don't know my grandson. Have you ever seen my grandson take Hailie to the fourth or fifth floor of a hotel room—like, well, I won't mention any names—and dangle her out the window?" she protests. "Did you ever see him bite the head off a bat or a dove?"

In a way, though, the real precedent for Eminem's handy tips on modern parenting might not be a fellow dad at all, but rather his fellow Michigander Diana Ross—the one who wailed in the Supremes' "Love Child" about how she "started my life in an old, cold tenement slum/My father left, he never even married mom. . . . We'll only end up hatin' the child we may be creatin' "; the one who, in "I'm Livin' in Shame," hid her life from her embarrassing mother, "who had a grandson two years old I didn't even show her." Is Detroit the real deal, or what? Though Eminem's mom probably won't pass away making homemade jam.

illustration: Steve Rude

"Ninety-nine percent of my life I was lied to," he complained in an early lyric. "I just found out my mom does more dope than I do." His songs went on to tell us how he felt like someone else since hanging his original self from the top bunk when he was 12, how his brother and sister never called him until they saw him on TV but now everybody's so proud he's finally allowed to set foot in his girlfriend's house, how he yelled "you fuckin' homo" at his dad's funeral, and how he won't let his daughter attend his mom's funeral.

A couple of which stories, one can possibly conclude, might even be true! But mostly, ha ha ha, he's just playin', ladies (and America). You know he loves you. "If my music is literal, and I'm a criminal, how the fuck can I raise a little girl?" he asks. Which isn't to suggest he doesn't have issues. Has anybody mentioned how oedipal his first movie is—how he and Kim Basinger are always falling all over each other, even in bed? Weird. Still. "How the fuck you supposed to grow up when you weren't raised?"

And by that, he doesn't just mean himself; he means his audience—all those little hellions feeling rebellious, embarrassed their parents still listen to Elvis. He never knew he'd get this big; never knew he'd affect these kids, never knew they'd slit their wrists. He's a role model: "Don't you wanna grow up to be just like me/Smack women, eat 'shrooms, and OD?" White America, he could be one of your kids—little Eric looks just like him, and Erica loves his shit. "How many retards will listen to me, and run into the school shooting when they're pissed at the teacher?" He's the one they can look up to better, so tonight he'll write his biggest fan a "fuck you" letter.

He only cusses to upset your mom, he says, so kids hide his tape like bad report cards. Then they get drafted: "All this terror, America demands action/Next thing you know, you've got Uncle Sam's ass askin'/To join our army, or what you do for their navy/ You're just a baby, getting recruited at 18." But since he makes "fight music for high school kids," at least the grunts will be well trained. He'll take seven censored kids from censored Columbine, stand 'em all in line, add an AK-47, a revolver, a nine, and that's a whole school of bullies shot up all at one time. "I was put on earth to annoy the world/And destroy your little four-year-old boy or girl."

Or maybe not. Last year, though nobody much noticed, he decided to donate part of his pay-per-view special's ticket proceeds to Boys and Girls Republic, a suburban Detroit school whose mission is "to help at-risk youth, one at a time, become contributing members of society." The Republic, though, refused Eminem's gesture, opting to avoid endorsement by a performer whose lyrics seem to run counter to the school's sense of nurturing.

Drawing on statistics from the Census Bureau, Center for Disease Control, Department of Justice, and more, an (admittedly probably not entirely unbiased) organization called the Father's Rights and Equality Exchange computed a few years back that kids from fatherless homes are five times more likely to commit suicide, nine times more likely to drop out of high school, 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances, 14 times more likely to commit rape ("this applies to boys, of course"), 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and 32 times more likely to run away from home. But by all sane measures, current workfare and child-care laws are stacked starkly against single mothers; think of Bowling for Columbine's Flint, Michigan, mom, working two minimum-wage jobs while her six-year-old son finds his uncle's gun and accidentally shoots a classmate. And as Queens College political scientist Andrew Hacker pointed out earlier this month in his New York Review essay on the Gores' new book, single-mother families "now account for more than a fifth—21.9 percent—of all households with children, over double the proportion of a generation ago." Even more surprising, Hacker notes, is the increasing number of families in which no mother is present. Single-father households "now make up 5.7 percent of all those with children, almost five times the ratio for 1970," Hacker writes. "Fathers now make up 20.1 percent of all single parents."

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