Voices: The Black Sheep Who Helped Me Be Who I Am

Every family has that one uncle who won't be tamed—if they're lucky.

My Uncle John passed away two days ago, my father’s brother. My cousin notified me through an Instagram direct message that I didn’t see until last night at 9:45, two days after it was sent. Due to too many unfortunate events, I haven’t talked to my dad’s side of the family in over a decade, since my father’s passing. So Instagram is how I’m made aware of notable events among my blood ties. After a few minutes, it starts to sink in that my once-favorite uncle is no longer with us. My Uncle John.

My Uncle John was the black sheep troublemaker of the family. I loved him and gravitated toward him as a small child. He was always up to something, and I wanted in.

He grew up in and around Long Beach, California, during the late sixties early seventies, rode motorcycles, loved to surf, and with his best friend Sam, his partner in crime and my “uncle” as well, set a Guinness record in his late teens for riding a skateboard downhill somewhere in the area as fast as hell.

Uncle John was a badass Hispanic man who lived life on his own terms. He told it to you straight, like it was, and never sugarcoated things. If you were out of line, he told you, only once, and you listened. Looking back, he was one of the first people to introduce me to the real world in so many different ways. No matter what transpired over the years, he’s the one I have a real soft spot for. I’m sad to hear he’s no longer with us, but smile at the memories I’m lucky enough to have and the ways shaped who I am today.

First and foremost, he instilled in me the importance of respect, for my elders, and real OG’s like his friend Sam. Sam was in The Outlaws biker club and eventually cut all ties from our family and his life-long best friend, my Uncle John, for our general safety. They taught me about one of the most important things in life: respect. They showed me what it was, who was deserving of it, how to get it, and how to lose it.

Uncle John taught me what a strip club was and told me all about his encounters with the dancers. He told me about sex and his version of how to court a female. He taught me about what was expected of a man, or at least a man of the streets. He taught me about cars, surfing, and motorcycles. He taught me swear words, how to give my dad shit, and how to mouth off and get away with it. All of these lessons were much to the chagrin of mom and dad. My father had chosen the opposite path in life; so it was always fun playing along with the exploits of my uncle. He was like a pirate that I was somehow related to.

He was also the first person in the world that brought weed into my life.

My Uncle John was a Cheech and Chong lookalike and enjoyed smoking weed just as much. From the long wavy black hair to the mustache and attitude, he would have done well as their roadie in a different life. He had an Outlaw tattoo on his shoulder and had the smile of a bulldog that only a mother could love. I can picture him on the driveway of his house, shooting the shit, half high/half happy in his baby blue mid-thigh corduroy shorts straight out of the seventies, sandals and t-shirt.

That was him. Everyone in the family accepted him who he was. Because of his love for weed and perma-stoned demeanor, he was always laughing, always telling me jokes and stories of mischief he’d caused during his younger days. While he was high, which was always, he typically interacted with me like I was just one of the dudes—not like the little nephew he had to be proper around.

At some point or another in every family affair, Uncle John would disappear for a short while and then pop back in the mix as happy as ever with a big smile, a few good jabs at whoever was within range, and we all kept the party moving. The weed was never really a big deal. It was just part of his deal. What made him cool to me was that he didn’t give a shit and just did his thing at all times.

As I sit here thinking about the past, the good and the bad, trying to figure out how I feel, it seems that the only fitting thing to do to pay my respects, feel close to him one last time and send him off on his journey to the next life is to grab a nug, say a prayer, and smoke one for my Uncle John.

I’m not sure there’s really any other genuine act, one that feels more right, in the wake of the news and family circumstances. I never smoked with him. I didn’t even dabble in weed until I was out of contact with my family. Still, from time to time while smoking weed over the years, I would picture my father rolling in his grave as I thought about my old Uncle John and mentally shared the joint with him. It was like a continuation of the fun we had during my childhood, our own little inside joke.

For now, we’ll have to continue the wait to share that first joint, but it’s nice to know that whenever I want, I can grab some weed, say a prayer, and remember the good old days once more. God speed, Uncle John.