For all the hasty preparations, hand-wringing over security, breathless media competition to scoop details and soul-wrenching performances, the essence of Michael Jackson’s memorial service came down to 20 poignant, powerful seconds: the moment when 11-year-old Paris-Michael Jackson inched up to the microphone and, in a statement no one saw coming, referred to the late pop superstar as “Daddy.”
It was a remarkably humanizing moment. Then again, it was remarkable just to see Jackson’s three children in public to begin with.
A fiercely protective father, Jackson rarely brought his brood out into public, covering their faces in veils and party masks to protect their identity when he did.
Now here they were, unveiled, before an audience of thousands at Staples Center and millions more around the globe. Starting out seated in the front row, the three youngest Jacksons eventually joined the rest family onstage as the two-hour service wound to a close.
Dressed in the same dark suits and yellow ties as the rest of the Jackson men, 12-year-old Michael Joseph Jr., known as Prince Michael, chewed gum and toted the memorial service program; 7-year-old Prince Michael II, known as Blanket, held his program and clutched a Michael Jackson doll.
Paris, wearing a black dress with white trim, turned a small patent-leather purse over in her hands as other family members spoke. And then a dramatic hush fell over the crowd as family members whispered that the little girl, whose lifetime of public exposure amounted to a small handful of paparazzi photographs, Paris-Michael wanted to say something.
She furtively emerged from the tight circle of family members, who rushed to lower the microphone to her level. And with her uncle Randy on one side and aunt Janet on the other, Jackson’s little girl stood center stage.
“I just wanted to say,” Paris began weakly.
“Speak up, sweetheart, speak up,” Janet encouraged, sweeping the girl’s long hair back. “And get close.”
Paris put one hand behind her neck, another on the microphone, and began again.
“Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine,” she said, her tiny voice cracking.
Rebbie and Marlon Jackson moved in closer to comfort their niece. She shut her eyes tight.
Then she wrapped her hands — little fingernails painted red — around the microphone and fought back tears as she continued: “And I just wanted to say I love him — so much.”
She collapsed in tears into her aunt’s arms.
“It’s OK, baby. It’s OK,” Janet Jackson said as she held Paris close. Prince joined in on the hug.
And all at once, Jackson wasn’t the larger-than-life “King of Pop,” or Wacko Jacko the tabloid freak. He was a doting father who had left three adoring young children behind.
He was “Daddy.”