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Miley Cyrus performed Sunday at MTV’s Video Music Awards and, for what it’s worth, she got exactly what she wanted: attention.
Her performance was a study in excess. From the aggressively lolling tongue to the skin-colored bikini to the simulated sex acts with a foam finger to a whole lotta twerking, Cyrus was out to prove—again—that she is no longer a Disney diva. In truth, her wholesome image was dead and buried well before her VMA performance, so Sunday was really more about digging up the corpse and burning it.
“Haven’t been to a strip club in a while, but good to see nothing has changed,” comedian Bill Maher tweeted about Miley’s performance. Director Judd Apatow, whose films Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin aren’t exactly family entertainment, lamented the innocent Miley Cyrus of old. He tweeted out a poster from her the old movie So Undercover. “I will always have this version of Miley,” he wrote. “Let’s live in the past and heal.”
The New York Times called Miley’s VMA appearance a “shambolic, trickster-esque performance.” MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski said it was “disgusting and embarrassing.” Salon.com’s Prachi Gupta wrote, “If an alien species came across footage from last night’s MTV VMAs and watched it, trying to determine whether we’re a race worth saving, Earth surely would have been blown up by now.”
My reaction was, I guess, a little of all that: Shock, disgust, anger, sadness.
But I think what I thought on the most is this: Miley Cyrus is someone’s daughter.
What if she were mine?
I have a daughter a year younger than Miley. She’s a sophomore in college studying psychology and holding down two jobs. I’m so proud of who she is and who she’s becoming. I don’t worry about her following Miley’s example.
But when you’re a father, those moments of pride are sometimes balanced by moments of sadness or anger or disappointment. Emily’s not perfect and never has been. She sometimes makes decisions I don’t agree with. She sometimes makes mistakes.
Those times can be exasperating when a child’s growing up: You get frustrated with the parent-teacher conferences or the little lies or the broken curfews. And yet, if there’s a saving grace in these times, it’s that you can do something about it. You can sit them down and talk. You can dole out punishments. You can set new, better rules. You still have a chance to teach your kids a few lessons—set them on a better path before they walk out the door.
But what do you do when they’re already gone? What do you do when they’re 20? When they have their own money? What’s a father to do?
I suspect that, as hard as fatherhood can be when they’re kids, it can be harder when they become adults. When they’re all grown up but they still have a lot of growing to do. When they turn prodigal on you. All the standard tools are gone. You can’t spank them. You can’t ground them. You can’t take away privileges or force them to listen to you. The last arrow you have in your quiver is love. Plain ol’ love. And sometimes, it seems like that love is a puny thing indeed.
And yet, it works. We see that love and patience work in the story of the Prodigal Son. We see God’s love and patience work in our own rebellious hearts. And sometimes, it even works with our kids. We leave the door open a crack and the porch light on, even when they swear they’ll never come back. And sometimes, days or weeks or years later, they come back. Love draws them back.
Hours after Miley’s performance had undergone withering criticism online, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley’s father, tweeted this:
“Thanking God for so many blessings tonight. Continue to pray for world peace. More love … less hate.”
I don’t know exactly what Billy Ray meant in his tweet. Some believe that he was showing his support for Miley’s performance, and that may be. But when I read that, I don’t necessarily hear vindication for what Miley did. I hear a dad trying to protect his daughter—his little girl, who he probably still loves as much as anything and doesn’t want to see her hurt. Sometimes, even when your daughter makes a mistake—a big one—the only thing you want to do is take her into your arms and hug her. Protect her. Help the hurt go away.
But however he meant his tweet, Billy Ray’s right about one thing. The world could use more love. Sometimes as parents, it’s the only tool we have to bring our children back.
Paul Asay (@AsayPaul) is a contributor for Dad Matters and a senior associate editor forPluggedIn.com.
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--Before my post gets buried in an avalanche of finger wagging and slut-shaming posts, I'd like to point out that the name of Robin Thicke (the 36 year old, married, father who was the object of 20 year old, single Miley's bump and grinding at the VMSs) did not appear one single time in this blog post. That's pretty telling. Double standard, much?
--That's a good point. I think Paul was just trying to address the situation he knows personally - as a dad of an older daughter.
But you do bring up the fact that Robin Thicke's name and role in this has generally been left out. Maybe that's where the real double standard lies. Why aren't men held just as responsible for perpetuating the cycling of disrespect towards women? Interested to hear your thoughts on that...
--As a mother of a 19 yr. old son and 17 yr. old daughter...my view on why everyone has issues with Miley and not Robin Thicke..I've never heard of him until this summer..so for all I know he's a one hit wonder..Miley is known in just about every household, and I think for me it's a matter of.."what happened?" I remember when she first came a hit and my daughter watching her and all I could say was..hope this isn't another Britney Spears.. We've all kind of watched Miley grow up so I think it just brings out more criticism that from that for some married 30 something we won't remember in 10 yrs. Miley was a true talent...it's hardbreaking for a parent to see it wasted...atleast it is for me.
--Big Poppa, no finger wagging or slut shaming here. You may be right, there may be a double standard here. But so much of the attention towards Miley might be at the at the deviation from the person she said she was, the person we though she was. Though I didn't watch the show and just saw snippets of it, I have to wonder what is going with with this girl. It isn't a cry for attention...she is shrieking!! My heart breaks for this young woman. All these young celebrities who loudly profess their faith and values are sitting prey.
--Just to clarify, Billy Ray said later that his tweet was about Syria, not the VMA's. He said that he hadn't even been watching the show.
Thank you for the wonderful blog post though.
--i saw the entire performance, guys. And katiesmom710 is absolutely right. Miley is shrieking, maybe even howling for attention. Being a 20 year old female myself, and feeling the pressure of a society where sex sells and women being slutty and promiscuous are "in style" more than women who have self respect and wholesome morals, I can say I kind of know where Miley is coming from. At times, I myself have felt as though the only way to get attention was to act out and do something wild and "OMG WTH" worthy so that people would notice that, hey, i'm still here, and i'm struggling. Somewhere along the way, Miley was most likely given bad advice. Her view of how to get attention and how to be noticed was warped and twisted to the degree that she began to believe that the only way to be noticed or appreciated was to be as sexual and as degrading to herself as possible. And she sure was noticed. Just not in a positive or uplifting way. This in part, is due to her parents being more of her "best friends" than the actual parents they should have been. Her mother was her manager when she was Hannah Montana and from the pictures that I saw of her, she was a 30 something woman trying to dress like a teenager. The job of a parent is not to be the "BFF" parents are supposed to nurture and care for their children, provide guidance and instruction, discipline where necessary, and to be the Iron fist when the child is disobeying or straying from the path the parents have laid out. Now, that doesn't mean they aren't there for when the child needs someone to talk to or confide in. In addition to being the law enforcers of the child's life, they are also supposed to be there to comfort their child and help their child through the difficult stage of adolescence and transition smoothly into young adulthood. Now, that being said, it seems as though Ms. Cyrus' parents were more lenient than they should have been. Being a youngster in the entertainment industry probably didn't make things any easier either. Having that kind of pressure on you at all times has to be hard. Miley is a lost and confused soul, one of many in this world. Kids and even young adults, who act out, are craving attention and structure. They want to know that there is someone there for them who cares and who can help them along the crazy path of life. Believe me, when I watched this disastrous spectacle, I honestly tried to tell myself that Miley was a trashy slut and that I hated her, but I just couldn't. More than anything, I felt sorry for her and felt her cry for attention.
--This post is all good and well, but I have to agree with the double standard BigPoppa raised. Where is the responsibility of the older, male producers? Her managers? Agents? Married Robin Thicke?
Also, let's go further with this forgiving post- why doesn't the concept of the prodigal child apply to all young adults-- male and female or all races-- who've gone astray? I've yet to read one positive post mentioning anything about a prodigal child when it came to Trayvon Martin. But that doesn't apply to young, black males...
--@BigPoppa and Sam Hoover, I totally agree that Robin Thicke, Lady Gaga, and everyone else who appeared at the VMAs are someone's child, and God's child too...so everyone could come under criticism for their actions that night, not just Miley, who was once a 'Disney kid' and the daughter of a one-hit-wonder country singer from the early 90s.
(Is that why she's coming under fire for being indecent, rather than Lady Gaga, who ended her performance dressed like Botticelli's 'Venus' in a sea shell bikini, which she wore for the entire 2hrs afterward?)
@DJenkins As far as who Robin Thicke is, he's the 36 yr old son of TV actor Alan Thicke...who interestingly enough played the TV dad to Kirk Cameron on the 1980s sitcom 'Growing Pains.' If that isn't an interesting 'Six Degrees of Separation', I don't know what else is. lol.
--@SamHoover: I should have been clearer. I wasn't trying to single out the (very nice and well intention-ed) Paul Asay. I meant in general. All the outrage since the VMAs has been directed at Miley, even in the more liberal outlets, while Thicke has been getting a pass from everyone up to and including his wife.
A couple more thoughts:
1.) Maybe if everyone from her family to her management didn't spend so much time trying to mold her into a "nice Disney girl", she wouldn't feel the need to go to extremes to break out of that mold.
2.)There is a whole different conversation going on in part of the African American community about this incident, and that is about cultural appropriation of twerking by the very white Cyrus. This has been a very interesting week for sure!
--I saw some pictures that was enough for me however Miley needs our support there was more than one person up on that stage and you can't tell me it wasn't known... what was going to happen... how many times have you heard of Hollywood "any press even bad is good press" so what goes around keeps on going. MTV’s Video Music Awards get it together you had the final word.
--Ok, keep in mind too that they rehearse these performances before actually doing them for shows like VMS..so Thicke knew EXACTLY what was going to happen before it did..his bad. He's responsible for his actions, and will be held accountable to his family but this was about raising children that are of age and that you have no way of reigning in because well.. you can't after they are of age and making their own money. To me, it's proof that "of age" needs to be raised to something like 25 at least. There is no real poor Thicke here. He knew. Praying for miley and her family that she'll find clarity and peace and learn that she doesn't have to try so hard to be the star she wants to be.
--I seem to recall that we went through something like this with Elvis. People were appalled at his appropriation of African American culture and his twerking was so scandalous that on television he was only shown from the waist up. Ms. Cyrus will likely end her days fat and rich, performing in Las Vegas.
--BigPoppa, I think the reason Robin's name hasn't been discussed is because it was said that she didn't do any of this dancing in rehearsal so apparently he was not aware of what she was going to do. If you notice he just stand there and sang, she was doing all the work.