Sometimes it’s really easy for people to forget that the child who walks and talks beside us hasn’t been there forever. Obviously strangers on the street wouldn’t know any better but plenty who know us know that he hasn’t been ours since birth. Yet, this doesn’t stop them from dropping some of the silliest one liners on us that make us shake our heads.
We weren’t responsible for teaching him to walk and talk, but you’d be forgiven sometimes for thinking that he might have had a had in it. You see our son, precious as he is, when he came to us had a specific fascination with a pop star that’s well, somewhat contentious to those with a more discerning musical taste.
Now when I say fascination, I may be laying it on lightly, obsession may be a little more of an accurate description.
The artist in question, is one Justin Bieber.
Yes that’s right, the hair flipping, high voiced “baby” crooning, panty dropping, teen super star of the world.
Our boy is a Belieber , he has the Bieber fever and we realised pretty quickly there was nothing we could do about it.
In his scarce collection of belongings that came with him from his old house to ours came a throng of belieber material. Two copies of his movie on DVD, his albums (yes there was MORE than one?), posters and even, wait for it, the doll. Yes, there was a JB Doll, pint sized and plastic just like the boy it was created from in all it’s glory.
But this was a shameful obsession for Flash, one approached with great trepidation. You see he had seen and he had heard the word from his peers, the Biebs wasn’t the coolest person in the world around school, well not for the boys anyway. So his approach was always like his own little coming out, he had to test the waters, poke and prod and search for a reaction first.
It was one of those things he had to drop in the first time we met as we asked him about the things he enjoyed, disliked etc.
“Yeah, I like my bike and my cars and stuff and I like music…”
“What sort of music do you like”
“Well you know Justin Bieber, I don’t like him at all! He’s so lame but ALL the girls love him.”
His youth worker at the time casually raised his eyebrows at us with one of those looks, we smiled.
“Really? We’ve heard he’s really popular, lots of people like him”
He looked up.
“Yeah, well I do like some of his stuff, he’s kinda cool…”
An admission, that was like releasing an avalanche.
“Well that’s pretty cool isn’t it?”
You could see the relief of the burden of judgement wash over him.
The thing about this little obsession was different to the ones we had over pop stars as kids. It wasn’t like that time I had scrimped and save to buy the Hanson video, so I could replay it over and over and over to decide which one I wanted to by my boyfriend.
Like the N’Sync and Backstreet boy posters that adorned my walls as a teenager and the slight obsession I had over Nick Carter for the better part of a decade.
This was an idol fascination. He truly looked up to the Bieb’s as someone that he wanted to “be” or at least be like. In all of the simplicity of his childhood and his search for attention and acceptance he was thinking “If I can just be like this guy, then more people will like me” which was essentially some smart thinking. He’d done the math, millions of girls like this guy, so wouldn’t it make sense to be like him? If he could master the magic of the Beibs then surely more people would love him, right?
However this only spelled itself out in the most painful and entertaining of ways.
We had a small BBQ with one half of our family shortly after he’d moved in and once he had them gathered in the houseand was feeling sufficiently comfortable he figured it was time to pull out his signature move.
“Ummm Excuse me, can everyone stay here for a minute, I need to show you my dance.”
His captive audience awaited.
The music started.
“Opps! No! Wrong song! Just wait!”
Stop. Start. Run out.
What followed was impressive.
He entered down the hallway, baseball cap pulled down over his face, plastic guitar across his back.
*Stop. Head down. Dramatic pause*
The head slowly rose upwards as he stared at his adoring crowd, the performance was upon us.
He knocked it out of the ball park, A plus for effort. He memorised some of the top Bieber moves, the air grab, the pointing at the adoring fan in the audience, even some of the actual dance moves.
The hat flew off across the room, he ran, jumped and slid across the room on his knees, the guitar came round as he smashed out his best solo effort, his adoring crowd cheered appropriately.
The song ended, the whole family applauded.
“Wait, I have to show you my next dance!”
He proceeded to play a different song and entered the room dramatically again.
This time, performing the same exact dance, move for move, to a different song. His repertoire was strong, but not diverse.
Turns out this was a habit formed at school of all places.
On Fridays in a somewhat “Show and Tell” style segment they were allowed to chose things to show and do for the class. Apparently it had become a ritual that on Fridays he would perform his dance to the class, the exact same dance, each week.
To their credit his classmates never mocked him or teased him and in amongst all his anxiety and swirling mass of thoughts and ideas in his head he had the confidence to get up and do it week after week.
Therein lies the conundrum.
How to teach this exuberant child that has the confidence and the resilience to get up and perform like this to his peers and to relative strangers about how to reign it in and harness it without shaming him. At the end of the day there’s nothing wrong with his choices, he could be singing the Spice Girls and wearing a TuTu for all we could care. But this was about drawing the line of obsession and reading peoples interest and engagement to appropriate the best time and place and the best performance, plus work on that choreo just a touch.
Those were the questions we started to have over the weeks, the subtle poking and prodding.
“That’s a really great set of dance moves, but I noticed they were really similar to the last set, have you thought how you could change them up between songs?”
Finding different ways to shift his thinking and gauge his understanding of how people digest and perceive him was and still is an ongoing process but an important one. Later down the track he would end up in speech and drama classes that saw him thrive, like one of his fathers his seems born to perform.
But ultimately what was most frustrating at times was those little things that sometimes people would say, those little “WTF” moments. After they’d see his dance (he’d do it for strangers if we let him), we’d hear the odd laugh or smirk;
“Clearly you can see he’s learning from you”
“Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”
This would be all well and good if perhaps we’d raised him from a baby, but these comments sometimes could be deriding our confidence in raising him to be his own person. Not to mention our general disdain for Justin Bieber and combined talent at being terrible dancers, this part to him was all him and those comments serve to almost strip him of his identity by playing it back onto us.
He’d had nine years to formulate his own personality which was thriving and to have anything “flamboyant” about it thrown back to the fact he now had two gay dads could be frustrating. The comments would never come with malice, always in jest, usually from those we loved and treasured most. Still they added more weight to the growing complexities of raising a very energetic young man in a world where all eyes were on us and who we were raising him to be.
That’s not to say we don’t see our behaviours moulded on him on a daily basis. As the years go by we see him growing and developing, picking up pieces from the world around him. We hear his language start to shift, his vocabulary and his enunciation start to change to become reflective of ours. Sitting down cross legged one day I looked across to him beside me and it was almost comical, subconsciously he was sitting identically, book in hand with his legs crossed engrossed in the pages as my very own mini me.
It’s not like we walk him up and down the house and teach him how he should walk.
“No! Faster! Head up!”
“No! Move the hips from side to side!”
“But some SASS into it boy!”
“And 1 and 2 and 3 and STRUT!”
“Where’s that pout? And point! Hair toss! And laugh!”
He’s a little person cultivating his own identity, piecing bits together form all the world and around him. Bits will come from us and from others. Whether those bits and pieces come together to make a straight man or a gay man are irrelevant. The only thing we’ll hope for is that they create a confident man capable of being whoever and doing whatever he puts his mind to. Maybe he’ll be the next Bieber one day? Who knows? Anything is possible.