Although I spent today waking up at 5am for work like any other day, in a way, today is probably one of the most significant days of my life. 17 years ago I lost one of the most important people in my life, or rather, not in my life.
Growing up my family had its share of struggles and by the time I reached my teenage years I felt the pressure to be the man of the house. My parents divorced when I was young and I lived most of my life with my mom, stepdad, 2 brothers and a sister. My siblings and I share the same mother but I am my father’s only child. I knew my real dad growing up and he was always a phone call away but when the family moved away from my hometown of Sacramento, my visits with my dad became few and far between. They also became more of a “how much fun can we pack into a weekend visit” type of thing.
When we moved, I was not even to double digits in age but with my stepdad working graveyard shifts and sometimes working out of town for weeks at a time, my love for my mother wouldn’t allow me to be anything less than the man of the house. Maybe the Leo in me had something to do with that prideful nature, as well. My stepdad never once let any of us kids go hungry but we at times found living space a challenge. For a time, a local campground became our home, which when you’re a kid seems like a vacation. I can’t imagine the stress as a parent. Not can I imagine the stress of moving your family of 6 into the house of a couple from the local church. Though, I am forever grateful that we had a roof over our head, no matter how much I didn’t appreciate it at the time.
These experiences led my stepdad to working harder than he probably ever expected. Eventually he got moving forward in a career that allowed us to live more comfortably but it required him to travel quite frequently. As I moved into my teenage years, my stepdad’s work seemed to take him from home more frequently, leaving me, the oldest of the children by about 4 years, as the man of the house.
My father and stepfather are both incredible men. They’re both worthy role models of how to be a decent human being. But as a teenager taking on responsibilities of a household, I was searching for someone else to figure out how to grow up and be a man. Part of it is my defiant nature but part of it was just me trying to figure out life.
My parents were strict so I wasn’t allowed to listen to music with cussing in it. Of course, had they known about my taste for Newport cigarettes and alcohol, that would have been the least of their concerns for my 14 year old rebellious nature. Nonetheless, even the Beastie boys were off limits when I was in the house. I can only imagine had my stepdad been home when I would listen to “gangster rap.” I mean, my grandparents thought I was in a gang because I began wearing my hats backwards. Which goes to show how fearful and conservative the family was.
In the summer before my first year of high school I remember hearing “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” It made me want to listen closer to the words of the music I was listening to. I didn’t understand how someone who was dressed “like a thug” could write a song that so vulnerable. In fact i had pretty much given up on writing, which prior to that i had successfully competed in a number of state writing competitions. When high school came around I was too busy hanging with the cool kids and skipping class to be writing so I kept it to myself from that point on. But that was just the beginning.
As I grew older and tried to figure out my path, I connected more and more with Tupac’s music. To the point where I would listen to songs over and over again, studying them. When Me Against the World came out I was 15 years old. It was like nothing I had ever heard. It was the struggles I was feeling and experiencing. The love and hate I felt towards everyone and everything as a teen. And the feeling of being trapped. I wanted to write. I wanted to be a thug. I wanted to have all sorts of girls. I wanted to have a relationship with my dad, my mom. I wanted everything to be different and I truly felt the entire world was against me most of the time.
I listened to that cassette so much that it eventually stretched and became distorted sounding for many of the songs. That album made me realize it was ok to be me. It was ok to say “fuck the world” and “I love you, mom.” And that it even the hardest struggles, there will always be a way though them.
That summer I played Dear Mama for my mom. She cried. I cried. It was a very powerful moment in my life. I’ll spare the details but that song probably brought me closer to my mom than anything. It was the first time I think my mom understood “even though I act crazy, I gotta thank The Lord that you made me.” I was just kid that was trying to find my way and still be the man I needed to be to help raise my siblings.
Still to this day, I send my mom a text message to tell her I love her every time I hear Dear Mama. Thank you, Tupac.
I’ll never forget coming home from school that day. We weren’t allowed to watch MTV but since he had been shot I had been trying to sneak to watch everyday when I got home from school. When I heard the news he had died, tears welled up as I tried to fight back the tears. But there wasn’t a chance and that was ok because through his music, I learned that shedding tears didn’t make me less of a man. It’s a part of being a man.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 17 years since Tupac Shakur passed away. Exactly half of my life. I miss his poetry and his music. I miss what he might have become.
I believe that angels come in all shapes, sizes, colors and even beings. They lead us in ways we may never have the cognizance to understand but sometimes, we are lucky enough to recognize them and acknowledge them. I’m blessed to have had the music and poetry of Tupac to guide me in my life.
For me Tupac is exactly that, an angel, and every year on September 12th and June 16th I write to show my gratitude for the guidance from a man I never knew but understood as much as I could understand myself. To be able to understand that T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. (The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone) isn’t about being a thug. It’s about loving children and being that guiding light. It’s about standing for what you believe in. And most importantly it’s about expressing yourself, connecting with people in a language they understand and making a difference in this crazy world that takes great people before they’ve made the miracles that are destined for all of us to create.
Rest In Peace.