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Why Is Elon Musk Dragging His 3-Year-Old Around the World?

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Musk and X arrive at a meeting of the Italian far right Fratelli d’Italia governate party in Rome, Italy, on December 16, 2023.
Photo: Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu via Getty Images

On a rainy night in early April, Elon Musk brought his young son X Æ A-12 — whom everyone calls X — to the Lobster Club for a party for a PBS documentary screening. “The younger Musk wandered around the restaurant wearing a Tesla shirt,” while his father schmoozed with guests, the New York Times reported, under a headline that read “Partying on a Tuesday With Elon Musk and His 3-Year-Old.”

The photos from the party show a cheerful Musk leaning in to chat with the film’s executive producer Kathryn Murdoch. Had Tesla shares tumbled after disastrous first-quarter results? Did the market-research firm Caliber say the day before that the Tesla CEO’s right-wing rants and public feuds were likely “contributing to the reputational downfall” of the brand, hurting sales? Yes, it had. But how adorable did Lil X, as his father has also called him, look in that photo?

The message, intentional or otherwise, was clear: This was not the erratic, share-tanking shitposter you’ve heard about, but a cuddly dad who has it all.

Nor was it the first time that X, Musk’s eldest son with the singer Grimes, had been carted around the way children his age might clutch a stuffie. What’s weird is how little flak Musk gets for this behavior, which often gets chalked up to charming eccentricity, Musk being Musk. His fatherly antics are met with admiration on the platform formerly known as Twitter, which he owns, evidence of Musk showing his personal commitment to stanching the population collapse he rarely fails to mention these days. “At the end of the day, birth rate is all that matters for civilizational continuity,” he recently posted, bemoaning the rise of young people who identify as LGBTQ. Schlepping one of his ten known children around becomes just another way to show how much skin he has in that doomerist game.

All this obscures the fact that one of the world’s richest men is ensuring that his young son is photographed constantly, reportedly against his mother’s will, while seemingly denying him the routine and socialization of a healthy childhood. Why? A read of the public record suggests Musk’s behavior is at once a calculated attempt to soften his own image, an intense attachment to this particular child, and, per RadarOnline’s reporting of Grimes’s custody filings, a willingness to use X as a pawn in their custody dispute.

X has been spotted since early toddlerhood standing atop conference tables or clambering around Musk’s worksites. When X was 2 years old, Musk’s biographer Walter Isaacson wrote that he witnessed him at 10 p.m. climbing on a moving spotlight during a solar-roof construction. (Musk intervened at that point.) Last April, according to X’s mother, watching his dad’s Starship rocket explode had given X “like, a three-day PTSD meltdown.” While Grimes and Musk were still together, she sounded concerned about X’s ubiquitous public presence. “Whatever is going on with family stuff, I just feel like kids need to stay out of it, and X is just out there,” she said in a 2022 interview with Vanity Fair. “I mean, I think E is really seeing him as a protégé and bringing him to everything and stuff.” A few months later, X was at the first meeting with the Twitter brass after Musk acquired the company.

The custody dispute between X’s parents, which began last year, has only seemed to heighten his visibility, even as Grimes claimed that she herself had been unable to see the boy. In September, the day after Musk filed suit in a Texas family court in an apparent preemptive strike against Grimes trying to adjudicate in friendlier California, Grimes tweeted at Isaacson to “tell Elon to let me see my son or plz respond to my lawyer.” She soon deleted it, but it sounded like a genuine cry for help.

Later that month, Musk was filmed bouncing his son on his lap in a meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who a little uneasily asked where Musk’s “wife” was. Musk told him, “We are separated and I take care of him mostly.” When someone posted the video calling him “the SuperDad Elon Musk [heart hands emoji],” Musk replied, “Lil X is my emotional support human.” Isaacson also quotes Musk jokingly calling his son his “cuteness prop.”

In November, X was spotted on the SpaceX livestream with Musk in the control room for the launch of the second Starship rocket, which also exploded. In December, X was onstage at the annual conference of far-right Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, clinging to his father and cowering a bit before the audience; even after being shooed into the wings, he scrambled back onstage to grasp his father’s leg. “Make more Italians to save Italy’s culture,” Musk instructed the audience, on his population-panic hobby horse.

Two weeks later, RadarOnline reported on a court filing Grimes made alleging that Musk, who cited numerous security threats against himself and his family in getting the custody filings sealed, was using X as a bargaining chip in their dispute. “He has refused to let mother see [X] unless she consents to jurisdiction in Texas,” the filing was quoted as saying. (Texas, unlike Grimes’s preferred jurisdiction of California, caps child support.) “He has on countless occasions secreted [X] from mother and taken him to Texas over her objection.” The status of the case, including whether they’ve come to an agreement, is unclear, since the Texas court proceedings were sealed from the public in December at Musk’s request.

This January, as Musk attempted to do cleanup after endorsing an antisemitic conspiracy theory, X was photographed perched on his father’s shoulders at Auschwitz. Official guidelines state that the site of the murder of over a million people is not recommended for children under the age of 14. In March, X was at a Tesla factory in Germany.

If Musk has been using X to burnish his family-guy image and negotiate custody with Grimes, he also appears to have developed a real psychological bond with him. Avowedly scarred by his allegedly abusive father, who among other things had two children with the much younger woman he’d helped raise as his stepdaughter, Musk has been open about his desire to never be alone. (In an interview with Daily Mail, his father denied the abuse allegations described in Isaacson’s book.) For years, this took the form of tempestuous relationships, including three marriages to and divorces from two women, one of which involved an ugly battle over a postnuptial agreement with his first wife, Justine.

In 2022, one of Musk’s twins with Justine turned 18 and filed papers in Los Angeles County Superior Court to register her gender transition to female and change her name to Vivian Jenna Wilson, her mother’s maiden name. By way of explanation, Wilson wrote, “Gender identity and the fact that I no longer live with or wish to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form.”

From the earliest days of his career, long before he renamed Twitter, Elon Musk has nurtured an obsession with the letter X: The early payment company he co-founded that eventually was subsumed by PayPal was X.com, followed by SpaceX, Tesla’s Model X, and so on. (He didn’t care if it sounded like adult entertainment.) The name Vivian had been given at birth began with an X. On Reddit, where devoted ex-Grimes fans obsessively track her and Musk, one theory had it that Lil X had been anointed to step in the place of the first X-named Musk. To Isaacson, Musk compared Vivian cutting him off to the death in infancy of his and Justine’s firstborn son. An unrelated deposition made public this week confirmed the rumor that Musk has a burner account in which he seems to pose as Lil X and post things like ​​“I will finally turn 3 on May 4th!” — his son’s actual birthday — and “I wish I was old enough to go to nightclubs. They sound so fun.”

Right after Vivian’s repudiation was made public, in July 2022, Musk broke an unusual nine-day Twitter silence by sharing a photograph of his four teenage sons and him meeting the pope. According to Isaacson, this upset the boys: “One of them even cried.” Another “asked him to not tweet out pictures of them without their permission. Musk got depressed, dropped off the group chat, and a few minutes later sent word that they were returning to the U.S.”

X, of course, cannot yet protest.



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