I have a confession: I love Justin Bieber.
But not for the reasons my daughters do.
My 12 and 8 year old girls are riddled with Bieber Fever. Between the two of them, they have 64 posters of the 17-year-old teen idol on their walls. My older daughter has his life size cut-out next to her bed. “Justin” makes me scream every time I bust into her room to put away laundry or open a window for much-needed fresh air (too much nail polish and hair products in a small space). Both girls listen to his music (if you can call it that) night and day, walking around the house sporting headphones and dreamy looks.
Here’s why I love Justin. Although he is as innocent as a vanilla cupcake, his life story has helped my daughters and I discuss some unpleasant romantic realities. Way back in 1994, Justin’s mother, Pattie Mallette, was 16. She had unprotected sex, got pregnant and decided to keep the baby, who turned out to be Justin. (He may make a dreamy boyfriend, but he was a baby with diapers and drool and all the rest.) Justin’s father left the scene almost immediately. Along with him went Pattie’s hopes and dreams for college and financial independence (cue sappy muzak in surround-sound). Pattie and Justin lived with her parents (horrifying to my girls who both clamor for a NYC apartment) and then in low-income housing for over a decade. Poor little Justin taught himself to play the piano, drums, guitar, and trumpet. Justin’s mom worked menial, low-paid office jobs to buy them food, shelter, clothing, and an Internet connection so Justin could post his singing self on YouTube.
In 2006, when Bieber was 13, both Usher and Justin Timberlake got interested. The Bieb moved to Atlanta with his mother and he signed a contract with Island Records. He began making money. Lots of it. At 16, the same age his mother became a teen mom, Justin Bieber became the youngest solo male to hit #1 since 13-year-old Stevie Wonder did in 1963.
And surprise – Dad returned to the scene! Dad and Pattie finally got married (she was 29 by this time). They had two more children together. It quickly became apparent that money and fame – not love – fueled Dad’s revived interest in family life. When Mom cut off the funds, Dad left again. Leaving her again. This time with three children to support.
I love pop culture. Scratch the surface (and believe me I do) and there’s nothing pop about this story. My daughters and I have had many heartfelt conversations about the perils of romantic love and teen pregnancy, the reality of the sacrifices involved in parenthood, and male reluctance (sometimes understandable but always reprehensible) to be involved, supportive, responsible fathers.
But I also discovered there’s not a lot of truth to this story, either. Justin Bieber’s mother was 18 when she got pregnant – not 16, two years that can make an enormous difference in a person’s maturity. Who knows why Justin’s father left – maybe he argued responsibly that neither of them were ready to become parents. He eventually married a different woman and had two children with her; he never returned to Pattie and never left her in the lurch with more babies.
My 12-year-old daughter has seen the Justin Bieber movie six times (the Director’s Cut twice). She’s read everything written about him in USWeekly and People. So I figured she was right on the facts. But the story I told above turns out to be her fuzzy retelling of Justin Bieber’s life story.
I’m not setting the record straight now that I’ve discovered the truth. I figure Bieber Fever can do my girls some good as a cautionary tale of how not to live their lives. Justin’s story is a modern fairy tale complete with useful contemporary morals. Watch out for unprotected sex! Use that condom! Beware of those love ‘em and leave ‘em boyfriends! Be nice to your parents so they will support you when you need help! Follow your dreams!
Thanks, Justin. I may never like your music or your haircuts, but I appreciate what you’ve taught my girls.