By Anna Merlan
By Roy Edroso
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While he's yet to quote any such statistics verbatim, it's impossible to listen to much of Eminem's music and not conclude that he's thought a lot about what they add up to. "It's a sick world we live in these days," he says. Think of little Eric, who's gonna jump off the terrace because the people who should've been watching him apparently aren't parents. Or Em's number one fan, Stan: "I never knew my father neither/He used to always cheat on my mom and beat her/I can relate to what you're saying in your songs/So when I have a shitty day I drift away and put 'em on." Next thing you know he's on the freeway with his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk, and he just drank a fifth of vodka. So Slim Shady suggests counseling, but doesn't get the letter to him fast enough to change Stan's life, which Slim has somehow decided is his responsibility.
Frankly, Eminem seems convinced that the state of a lot of America's youth is his responsibility right now. Or his fault. Or something. No wonder his grandma thinks Marshall wants a whole brood of kids. If he's not Michael Jackson (and they sure do seem to share certain neuroses: about how sex is kinda icky, for instance), maybe he's Bing Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary's. Except where Bing said if you hate to go to school you may grow up to be a mule, Eminem says he can rap so fuck school, he's too cool. But that's just a minor detail.
And it's not hard to understand why he's so determined to properly raise the one kid who really is his responsibility. "How do I rate myself as a father?" he pondered on WKQI-FM's Mojo in the Morning show in Detroit earlier this year. "My Aunt Betty's screaming 10, 10; I don't know, I do the best I can. On a scale of 1 to10, like a 20." And OK, maybe that doesn't take into account the time he told both Kim and Hailie that he was taking Hailie to Chuck E. Cheese's, then instead took her to the studio to record "'97 Bonnie and Clyde," the goofier of his two Kim-murdering classics. (But hey, have you ever hauled rugrats to Chuck E. Cheese's? Flying pizza slices everywhere! It's hell on earth.)
And anyway, that was ages ago; times have changed. "I look at Hailie and I couldn't picture leaving her side/Even if I hated Kim, I grit my teeth and I try to make it work with her at least for Hailie's sake/I maybe made some mistakes, but I'm only human/But I'm man enough to face them today." He loves his daughter more than life itself, he says in the sappy ballad with her name in its title; she's maybe the only lady he adores. But his insecurities could eat him alive. "I'm a responsible father, so not a lot of good I'd be to my daughter, laying in the bottom of the mud/Must be in my blood 'cause I don't know how I do it/All I know is I don't want to follow in the footsteps of my dad, 'cause I hate him so bad/The worse fear that I had was growin' up to be like his fuckin' ass." There's a hellhound on his trail. "I sold my soul to the devil, I'll never get it back," he says in "Say Goodbye Hollywood." "It's fucking crazy, 'cause all I wanted was to give Hailie the life I never had."
And here he is in 8 Mile's title track, talking about his little sister from the movie, played by Chloe Greenfield ("Yo, she's the cutest girl in the world, besides Hailie," he told Mojo), who, while working on the film, he invited home for a play date with Hailie so she could know him better: "Ain't no tellin' what really goes on in her little head/Wish I could be the daddy that neither one of us had." He's alwayswishing life could be more normal. In "The Way I Am," he hopes "you freaks" would at least have the decency to leave him alone when he's out feedin' his daughter.
Ever wonder why people are so determined to reach for white picket fences, supposed normalcy, a nuclear family? Well, try growing up without one. My own parents both died when I was a kid (mom: uterine cancer; dad: suicide), and my stepdad walked out on Christmas Day when I was in high school. Before that, I'd spent over a year at the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Home for Children, just up the Farmington Hills road a piece from the Boys and Girls Republic. Got married at 21, had three kids by the time I was Eminem's age, got divorced (very amicably, fortunately) a few years later. Sherman, who's 11, likes Eminem the most. He was psyching himself up for an early-Sunday-morning peewee hockey practice in Bucks County last month, listening to "Lose Yourself" from 8 Mile("Lonely roads, God only knows/He's grown farther from home/He's no father/He goes home and barely knows his own daughter"), and said, "Eminem makes being a dad sound hard!" So I answered, "Yeah, Sherman, and Eminem only has one kid!" But Sherman was right. And so is Eminem. And Sherman also has a point when he can't figure out why some people get so upset about so many things Eminem says (even on the clean versions that Sherman's allowed to listen to, not that I'm naive enough to think kids can't hear whatever kids want these days), after everybody already heard him tell Stan outright that he's saying that shit just clownin', dawg.