Legendary performer Michael Jackson did not have a normal childhood by any stretch of the imagination. The “King of Pop” became famous when he was still a young child and was brought up in a family of other performers, too. His father and manager, Joe Jackson, was notoriously strict and pushed his children to achieve excellence.
Life at home consisted of endless practices plus late-night performances for the talented Jackson children. Ahead, check out some of the strangest rules the Jackson kids including Michael had to follow while they were growing up.
The Jacksons never got presents or celebrated birthdays
Growing up as practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses meant the nine Jackson children never got Christmas presents or had birthday celebrations, which was part of that faith tradition. The family also never decorated their house for Christmas, which Jermaine said in his memoir made them all feel like “outsiders.”
Michael agreed with this assessment. “My childhood was taken away from me. There was no Christmas, there were no birthdays, it was not a normal childhood, nor the normal pleasures of childhood,” Michael said in 1993. “Those were exchanged for hard work, struggle and pain and eventually material and professional success.”
They had no choice about joining the music industry
Michael’s mother Katherine was a singer and pianist and encouraged her children to explore their musical talents from an early age. “We were a family that sang all the time,” Michael said of his early years, via Biography.
“We would take the furniture out of the living room and dance. We would have a songwriting competition while we washed the dishes… while we were cleaning. Music was our destiny.”
Legend holds that they became an official performing group when Tito broke the rules and touched his father Joseph’s guitar. After that, they become a group.
They weren’t allowed to call their father ‘Dad’
Joe Jackson had a reputation for being extremely strict with his kids, and that carried over to the names they were allowed to use for him. The story goes that Janet Jackson was once scolded for calling her father “Dad.”
Instead, all nine Jackson children were required to call him Joseph always.
The Jacksons had grueling work schedules
Forget early bedtimes for the kids — instead, the Jacksons were forced to be out late at night performing at local clubs, where they often witnessed some disturbing scenes between drunken patrons.
“I grew up onstage. I grew up in nightclubs. When I was seven, eight years old I was in nightclubs,” Michael said in a Gold magazine interview. “I saw striptease girls take off all their clothes. I saw fights break out. I saw people throw up on each other. I saw adults act like pigs.”
This is allegedly why Michael was so turned off by nightclubs even as an adult.
Joe Jackson believed in physical punishments
According to the Jackson children, Joe’s punishments were much harsher than just spankings. “He used a strap. Yes, he did use a strap,” Katherine Jackson admitted during an interview with Oprah.
“I just remember my hearing my mother scream, ‘Joe, you’re gonna kill him, you’re gonna kill him, stop it,’” Michael recalled during a 2003 interview (via Biography). “I was so fast he couldn’t catch me half the time, but when he would catch me, oh my God, it was bad. It was really bad.”
But ultimately, Joe believed his harsh punishments were justified. In an interview, he said his tough parenting style made his kids “treat everybody with respect.”
They had to rehearse for hours every day
Joe Jackson was a relentless perfectionist who demanded his kids rehearse daily, which cut into their leisure time. Instead of participating in sports and social activities, the Jackson kids were expected to study, practice, perform, and sleep, which left no time for any fun and playing.
That meant the Jackson kids never had friends or playdates — there just wasn’t any time. Instead, they learned from private tutors for a few hours per day and spent the rest of their time practicing and performing.
Joe Jackson admitted his love was conditional
Most parents tell their children that they’ll love them no matter what. But Joe Jackson apparently told his kids that he only cared about them if they kept singing.
“I hate to repeat it,” Michael said during a 2009 interview, via The Daily Beast. “But one day he said—and God bless my father because he did some wonderful things and he was brilliant, he was a genius—but one day he said, ‘If you guys ever stop singing, I will drop you like a hot potato.’ It hurt me.”
Despite all the rules, the Jacksons seem to unanimously agree that they wouldn’t change anything about their childhood, weird rules and all. As Jermaine said in a 2011 ABC News interview, the kids “wouldn’t want to be raised any other way.”