Did you see what "music mogul" Sean Combs — aka P. Diddy, aka Puff Daddy, aka Puffy, aka Sean John, aka Whatever — gave to his teenager earlier this year for his 16th birthday?
With MTV cameras rolling, Combs presented his son, Justin, with a Maybach automobile. Price tag: $360,000.
There are all sorts of things wrong with a father giving his son a Maybach, of course.
What if the kid wanted a Bentley?
You can decide if you think it's appropriate to give a 16-year-old a car that costs twice as much as an average home in the United States, but doesn't it just sound like a bad idea?
In a formal interview, journalist Martin Bashir asked Combs if he thought the gift provided a "sensible lesson." Combs' response: "It wasn't even about a lesson. It's what I wanted to do. I can do whatever I want to do with my children."
He's right, but he's wrong. He can do what he wants with his children, within reason, but he is clueless about fatherhood, and he did teach his son a lesson whether he wanted to or not.
It comes with the territory.
"I don't have to explain to you or anybody else because nobody knows the way I raise my children," he told Bashir.
Actually, he has given us a glimpse of how he raises children. He has reportedly fathered six children by different women. Justin is, according to one report, "his love child from a fling" with a clothing designer. Asked what kind of example this set, he replied, "All of my kids are taken care of. They all go to the best schools."
But, as Bashir noted, he doesn't live with them.
Even the dopey Combs conceded that his children "deserved more personal time" from him.
Presumably, he is too busy being Puff Daddy, or whatever he calls himself these days, and running Bad Boy Entertainment and building his "entertainment empire."
Look, let's not mistake what Combs does as a father for fatherhood. He'll get Father's Day cards from his kids on Sunday, but let's hope nobody thinks he fills the role.
Being your kid's homie is not the same as being his Daddy.
There is a big difference between being a Diddy and a Daddy.
Writing a check for $360,000 is, in most ways, much easier and simpler than being a good father.
Fathers live with their children when they have the choice. This can make life rewarding but also more complicated and certainly less selfish and, some would say, not nearly as fun as being a "music mogul."
When you live under the same roof with your children, you are part of their lives — the ups and downs, the teaching, the discipline, the car pools, the coughs and colds, the Little League games, the bedtime stories, the dance lessons.
Fathers don't just show up for the fun stuff — the 16th birthday party with a 1,000 guests, including "celebs" — and then disappear.
Puffy doesn't know what he's missing if he never gets to tell a kid to brush his teeth before going to bed. A father is on call 24 hours a day. He can't make up for his absence with occasional "quality time," or by buying Maybachs or even a fleet of Lear jets.
Being a father means you can't always be his kid's friend, not all the time anyway. Kids have friends; they need a father.
A father can't buy a child's respect or love, even with a Maybach. He earns it by being a steady, loving presence in his life. Most fathers can't and shouldn't give kids everything they want, but they can give them the other things that matter more.
A father can tell a kid all he wants about how to be an adult and how to make his way in the world and be a good person, but the lesson is more effective if he shows how this is done — if he lives it.
What Combs has shown his kids is that you can break the law — he has faced several legal charges — and all you have to do is hire lawyers and/or change your name, again and again, and the problem is solved.
He has taught his children nothing about delayed gratification, that if he wants something, such as a luxury car, they can just buy one or someone will do it for you. No work ethic or earning is required.
He has taught his son that he has no responsibility for his children beyond, perhaps, being a provider, and heaven help him if he's not filthy rich.
Combs has almost assuredly perpetuated the epidemic of fatherless homes that plagues American families.
Because he has not taught him how to be a father.
Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. Please send e-mail to [email protected].