Op-Ed: On Brian McKnight And Why Women Shouldn’t Be Comfortable Being With Men Who Abandon Their Kids

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Celebrity Fight Night

It seems like just yesterday that Brian McKnight was a beloved singer whose music embodied the type of love many aspired to have. But instead of being remembered for this legacy, the singer’s image is tainted by his own actions, specifically, repeated headlines regarding his relationship with his adult children, or lack thereof.

The star has a tumultuous relationship with the four adult children he had during a previous relationship and with his first wife, songwriter Julie McKnight. The 54-year-old isn’t ashamed to admit publicly that he’s washed his hands of them. Recently, he went as far as calling his offspring “a product of sin.”

The kids in question include his sons Brian Jr. and Niko, in addition to his daughter Briana and son Clyde. Many of them have called him out publicly for seemingly abandoning them over the years. One of McKnight’s followers recently left a comment supporting him being estranged from his kids.

“I wanna big up my man right here. He gets it,” the crooner responded. “In order to live a life that you love, you have to get rid of the evil and the negativity—even if that evil and negativity is related [to you].”

McKnight was clearly referring to his four kids as the “evil and negativity” he needed to separate himself from.

The singer had another child, a son, in 2023 with his current wife, Leilani Malia Mendoza, whom he married in 2017. The “Anytime” artist also claims her two children as his own while disowning his biological kids. When a fan condemned his actions towards his kids and commented that McKnight was going against God, he replied, “God wasn’t talking about children that are the product of sin which these are.”

Op-Ed: On Brian McKnight And Why Women Shouldn’t Be Comfortable Being With Men Who Abandon Their Kids
HOLLYWOOD, CA – FEBRUARY 09: (L-R) Brian McKnight Jr., Brian McKnight, Niko McKnight arrive to the The love of R&B Grammy Party at Tru Hollywood on February 9, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/WireImage)

It is alarming how McKnight can be both numinous and dark simultaneously. I don’t know the intricacies of the singer’s marriage to Leilani, but her silence is equally concerning as Brian’s disdain for his own children.

Should women be comfortable being with a man who willingly doesn’t mentally, emotionally, physically, or financially look after his children? While the issue is multilayered, for the most part, I’d say a resounding no. 

To be silent when a man abandons his children is to be complicit. Silence enables men like McKnight to feel justified and even self-righteous about abandoning children they created and should be committed to loving unconditionally.

I am familiar with this silence because I was once in a relationship with a man who was a lackluster father to his child. Out of fear of rocking the boat, I didn’t call him out for being absent, and I deeply regret it. My silence was self-betrayal; it muddied my integrity and created misalignment with my values.

As a girl who grew up with daddy issues, I often condemned men who didn’t carry their weight as fathers, yet there I was, building a life with one. Also, as a woman who claimed to be pro-women, watching my then-man give his middle finger to the mother of his child and leave her to raise their baby alone was all types of wrong. My redemption for this is changed behavior. I do not and will not date men who don’t show up for their kids, and I’m unwavering about it now. I can’t trust the love of a man who abandons his kids because that man doesn’t love himself.

I learned the hard way that while a deadbeat baby daddy may not be your issue when you don’t have one, it can quickly become your issue when you enable and procreate with one.

Leilani can’t make Brian want to connect with his kids, and some will argue that, as his wife, it would be wrong to call him out. Still, I wonder whether delusion helps her sleep at night or whether dissonance keeps her up. I also wonder whether she’s an active participant in this circus.

I also understand that parent-child relationships can be complex and sometimes fractured to the point of what seems like no return. But in no lifetime should a parent publicly slander their children, be passive-aggressive to the point of only acknowledging stepchildren, and spew this type of vitriol to strangers when there are options like a diary, therapy, and mobile phones. It is also possible as parents to condemn our children’s behavior while still loving them.

As women, it isn’t our job to handhold men and tell them how to be responsible humans. If their parents didn’t do that, it is their job to reparent themselves. However, it is our job to honor ourselves and, if we care anything about women, to stand in solidarity with them. A way to do that is by rocking every boat.

Make it uncomfortable or damn near impossible for men to be deadbeats in your presence. For me, that means both speaking up and leaving. If more women took this stance, we might have a generation of men who are held accountable and consequently forced to sit in their shadows and address the trauma driving their harmful behavior – or be alone.

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