In 1982, I was home sick (was that the year I had the chicken pox? or just strep throat? I don’t remember.)
My father brought me mint chocolate chip milkshakes, word puzzles, and, one magical day, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Yes the album.
I still remember taking it from him in the driveway. Staring at it, puncturing the plastic with my thumb nail, unwrapping it, tracing the bedazzled michael with my finger.
I played that album every day. I read every word. I studied it, studied Michael. It was the first album I introduced my dad to. The first time he sat on the couch reading the lyrics and listening, while I worked the controls and “explained” it to him. This was different than when we listened to Jim Croce or Three Dog Night, singing along as we washed dishes, or dancing in the living room to Herbie Hancock. This was mine.
I remember watching the moonwalking on Motown anniversary show. I remember him asking how my mom and I could like the Paul McCartney duet called “The Girl is Mine,” defiantly unfeministedly. We rolled our eyes and sighed and I probably made up some explanation, yes at ten, that it was ironic or something. My mom knew better to just say because she did.
Thriller was the album that played during those few years at the end of my childhood, late elementary school – girl scouts, shiny jacket clubs, dr. scholl’s clogs my dad eventually “banning” girls from wearing on the deck – too many casualties! Later there was Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Duran Duran, The Police. But first … there was Michael.
At some point I realized this was the same Michael from this group called the Jackson Five and some of those early solo hits, somehow familiar in a place deeper than my subconscious. My dad surely knew this – he loved jazz and soul and R+B, but he didn’t let on. He let me tell him. We learned about MTV. We watched the spectacle that was the Thriller Video. Thriller, the song my girlfriends and I would play to scare ourselves on early babysitting gigs.
Thriller’s what played on the one radio station when we went back to the beach for that last summer, August 1985, the summer my dad was dying. Moonwalking in my beloved pink patent leather “grown up shoes” I stepped on his foot…and it hurt him – my strong, fit, laughing father yelped. And my world changed.
He was gone September 1 that year.
So my dad didn’t see Michael’s “Bad” or his decline and descent into strange-at-best behavior, his seemingly exponentially increasing loneliness inverse to his rising fame. He didn’t see the light go out of Michael’s eyes. Not in this world, on the earth anyway.
I know my dad did see of course – the ups and the downs of musical and personal history – ipods and graduations, and being published and laptop computers and the birth of my niece, and Jon Stewart and Obama, mixed with 9-11 and war and the loss after his own of my two grandfathers, the mistakes we made, the ways I did and did not do him proud.
I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot again. I do always, every day, but there are waves, times when the current is so strong… an anniversary, a landmark, perhaps my upcoming marriage and the joy in the core of my heart these days, perhaps watching my niece transform from baby to person with traces of him everywhere in her laughing bright soul.
There is a video montage to my memories — the beach, going for walks, reading books, laughing, watching MASH, cooking out and playing baseball in the backyard, those glorious moments when he was proud. And there is a soundtrack – “Any Day Now…,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and today at least, a few favorites from MJ. Right now, “Human Nature” is playing. And I think my dad is smiling.