Miley Cyrus performed Sunday at MTV’s Video Music Awards and, for what it’s worth, she got exactly what she wanted: attention.
Her performance was a study in excess. From the aggressively lolling tongue to the skin-colored bikini to the simulated sex acts with a foam finger to a whole lotta twerking, Cyrus was out to prove—again—that she is no longer a Disney diva. In truth, her wholesome image was dead and buried well before her VMA performance, so Sunday was really more about digging up the corpse and burning it.
“Haven’t been to a strip club in a while, but good to see nothing has changed,” comedian Bill Maher tweeted about Miley’s performance. Director Judd Apatow, whose films Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin aren’t exactly family entertainment, lamented the innocent Miley Cyrus of old. He tweeted out a poster from her the old movie So Undercover. “I will always have this version of Miley,” he wrote. “Let’s live in the past and heal.”
The New York Times called Miley’s VMA appearance a “shambolic, trickster-esque performance.” MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski said it was “disgusting and embarrassing.” Salon.com’s Prachi Gupta wrote, “If an alien species came across footage from last night’s MTV VMAs and watched it, trying to determine whether we’re a race worth saving, Earth surely would have been blown up by now.”
My reaction was, I guess, a little of all that: Shock, disgust, anger, sadness.
But I think what I thought on the most is this: Miley Cyrus is someone’s daughter.
What if she were mine?
I have a daughter a year younger than Miley. She’s a sophomore in college studying psychology and holding down two jobs. I’m so proud of who she is and who she’s becoming. I don’t worry about her following Miley’s example.
But when you’re a father, those moments of pride are sometimes balanced by moments of sadness or anger or disappointment. Emily’s not perfect and never has been. She sometimes makes decisions I don’t agree with. She sometimes makes mistakes.
Those times can be exasperating when a child’s growing up: You get frustrated with the parent-teacher conferences or the little lies or the broken curfews. And yet, if there’s a saving grace in these times, it’s that you can do something about it. You can sit them down and talk. You can dole out punishments. You can set new, better rules. You still have a chance to teach your kids a few lessons—set them on a better path before they walk out the door.
But what do you do when they’re already gone? What do you do when they’re 20? When they have their own money? What’s a father to do?
I suspect that, as hard as fatherhood can be when they’re kids, it can be harder when they become adults. When they’re all grown up but they still have a lot of growing to do. When they turn prodigal on you. All the standard tools are gone. You can’t spank them. You can’t ground them. You can’t take away privileges or force them to listen to you. The last arrow you have in your quiver is love. Plain ol’ love. And sometimes, it seems like that love is a puny thing indeed.
And yet, it works. We see that love and patience work in the story of the Prodigal Son. We see God’s love and patience work in our own rebellious hearts. And sometimes, it even works with our kids. We leave the door open a crack and the porch light on, even when they swear they’ll never come back. And sometimes, days or weeks or years later, they come back. Love draws them back.
Hours after Miley’s performance had undergone withering criticism online, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley’s father, tweeted this:
“Thanking God for so many blessings tonight. Continue to pray for world peace. More love … less hate.”
I don’t know exactly what Billy Ray meant in his tweet. Some believe that he was showing his support for Miley’s performance, and that may be. But when I read that, I don’t necessarily hear vindication for what Miley did. I hear a dad trying to protect his daughter—his little girl, who he probably still loves as much as anything and doesn’t want to see her hurt. Sometimes, even when your daughter makes a mistake—a big one—the only thing you want to do is take her into your arms and hug her. Protect her. Help the hurt go away.
But however he meant his tweet, Billy Ray’s right about one thing. The world could use more love. Sometimes as parents, it’s the only tool we have to bring our children back.