Other people's family fights always make me uncomfortable. That's why I cringed a little last week as I watched Ryan O'Neal's oldest son, Griffin, spewing a few choice memories about his nutty father on Larry King Live. The younger O'Neal (now four years sober) pulled no punches as he told tales of being forced by his dad to do cocaine at age 11 and how, supposedly, Ryan had hit on his own daughter, Tatum (at Farrah Fawcett's funeral, no less!). When asked when he'd last seen his father, Griffin replied that it was "the night that he tried to shoot me in the face."
In response, Ryan O'Neal has given his own interview (out in this month's Vanity Fair), where he says the reason he hit on his own daughter was because he didn't recognize her. Apparently, the two have not seen each other in years. Ryan (who later in the article refers to his daughter as a "bitch") admits that he was not always the best father, but is at least maintaining a strong relationship with his youngest son by Farrah, Redmond O'Neal, whom he visits regularly in jail.
Hollywood families have been in the press a lot lately. After weeks of speculation on the fate of Michael Jackson's children, there was a collective sigh of relief on Thursday, when their grandfather, Joe Jackson, announced that at least, he would not be involved in their upbringing. This from the guy who reportedly beat young Michael and his brothers with a belt every time they missed a dance step.
Let's face it. Being a parent is tough under the best of circumstances, but trying to raise a family in the wilds of show business carries with it some big challenges. Several mega-celebrities have opted to pull their families out of Los Angeles altogether and relocate them to slightly less dangerous territories in Montana, Colorado or the Midwest, in the hopes that their kids will not be swept into L.A.'s ever-swirling underworld of loose morals and wanton drug abuse.
I suppose what a great many famous people don't realize at the onset is that parenting requires a great deal of the one item that most celebs don't have much of: time. People at the height of their careers work long hours, sometimes in distant locations for weeks (or months) at a time. The work is draining, all-consuming and doesn't necessarily stop for inconvenient things like soccer matches or a childhood bout of the measles. The pressure to "ride the wave" leads people to think they can catch-up on their "quality time" after the film wraps or the series goes on hiatus. But in reality, children are in a constant state of change; always developing; always soaking up their values and patterns of behavior, based not on what they are being told via a crackling cell phone call, but by what they observe and experience on a daily basis. All the "I love you's" in the world don't mean much when you only see your parents at breakfast every other week or so. Unable to man the fort themselves, well-meaning celebs frequently hire dutiful stand-ins like nannies, housekeepers and assistants who do their best to create some kind of stability, but eventually these folks move on, leaving the kids to start over with a new employee who is ostensibly hired to "care."
The other oft-ignored reality is that some of the qualities that make a person a wonderful artist don't necessarily make them a great spouse or parent. Talent requires enormous commitment. And it usually comes with a healthy amount of ego and competitiveness attached. Opting for a career in show business can lead to a very prolonged adolescence and a life forever governed by all those fabulous rules from high school -- like "Who's the most popular this week?" or "Who got invited to the prom?" Honing your talent sometimes means giving over to a certain degree of self-absorption; which can in turn lead to a sense that you are the center of the universe and all those around you (including your offspring) are merely satellites orbiting your general fabulousness.
Truthfully, I'm grateful that my parents were not famous. Dean and Ruth were regular, working-class joes, who were always around, day-in and day-out. By the time I was a teenager, I sort of resented their unrelenting presence, but in hindsight I've come to appreciate that when I was at my most formative, they hammered a few values into me that have proven handy to have in the murky world of show business.
I recently saw a TV interview with the remarkable Stevie Nicks (still gorgeous and going strong at age 60). When asked why she'd never married or had kids, she was unapologetically forthright. "I knew I wanted to be an artist and I wanted everything that came along with that. I knew I needed to be free to fly to New York on a moment's notice and if I was married or had kids, that would have been hurtful to them. I never wanted anyone else to suffer for my choices."
God knows there are many celebrities who have managed to raise seemingly healthy, happy families. For some, maintaining that delicate balance between the business and "real life" has worked out well, but it often requires tough choices, like occasionally dropping out of the business altogether for a few years. I remember reading an interview with Jodie Foster who was talking about her decision to forgo making movies in favor of a daily routine of picking up her kids, helping with homework and refereeing unruly family dinners. When asked why she didn't hire a staff to take care of those duties, she replied, "What would be the point of that? Isn't that the reason you have children? So you can take care of them."
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