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‘Hamilton”s Lin-Manuel Miranda on Fatherhood and Legacy

The award-winning playwright on his similarities with Alexander Hamilton, “creative loneliness,” and the greatest gift he can give his children.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda has won Grammys, Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for the Broadway play he wrote and starred in, Hamilton. Now, the multi-talented performer can add one more accolade to his impressive list: father of two.

His second son with his scientist-attorney wife Vanessa Nadal is just a few weeks old, joining the family along with older son, three-year-old Sebastian.

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“It’s wonderful. It’s very surreal,” he said of watching his newborn change dramatically over the course of a week. “There’s one song in Hamilton that is truly autobiographical; There’s no historical precedent for it, it was just a song that came out while I was writing. There’s a moment where Eliza is singing to Hamilton, it’s called ‘That Would Be Enough.’ That’s the thing that changes,” he said of a new parent’s priorities. “You have this new person that, with any luck, is going to get some of the attributes of the love of your life [and that’s enough].”

With a new baby, he was certain that he’d be out of the office for at least two months. Then, Oprah called. 

“It’s the only thing I’m leaving the house for,” Miranda said as he sat with the talk-show icon on the famed Apollo Theater stage in Harlem, New York. Oprah brought Miranda, The Late Show host Stephen Colbert, Oscar-nominated director Jordan Peele, actress Yara Shahidi, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah and actress Salma Hayeck there for the latest edition of her live series, Supersoul Conversations.  Of course, as a dad of two children under five years old, the playwright had his children on his mind, and he was thinking of their future.

Much like his play’s inspiration, Alexander Hamilton, Miranda’s been thinking a lot about legacy. 

“The biggest gifts my parents gave me (and I say that as I look at my sister in the audience, because she got these too) was one, I think, immense pride in our culture. We grew up in New York. We grew up on 200th Street. So we spoke Spanish at every business we walked into. We always were speaking Spanish and English and always spent the summers in Puerto Rico. So there was a great sense of connection to where we came from and where they came from. That’s a real gift. And the gift of also being sent to Puerto Rico. So you can’t speak English with your parents. The grandparents don’t speak English, so it’s sink or swim and make yourself understood. That was a real gift.”

The other gift they gave him was independence, or as he described it, a “sort of glorious, benign neglect.” 

“My parents both worked really hard. I have never known either of my parents to have just one job. They always had many jobs at once, and they worked really hard so that we could have the things we wanted,” he said. “So I had this enormously rich, imaginative life.” He called it a “creative loneliness.”

With him and Nadal both flourishing in their careers, however, their two children will have an entirely different upbringing, full of access, opportunities and support for their creativity. Oprah asked how they plan to parent children who will have a childhood that will be so much easier than their own. 

“The most important thing you can give your children is empathy. It’s the number one tool in your toolbox as an artist. You can do anything if you can imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. That’s the whole gig as a writer and as an actor. I had to figure out what Aaron Burr cared about,” he said of writing the “villain” in Hamilton’s story. “I had to figure out what Alexander Hamilton cared about. Your only tools are research and empathy.”

And, perhaps, time. It took Miranda seven years to complete Hamilton, taking each grain of inspiration and building upon it. Hamilton’s story spoke so strongly to Miranda because of Hamilton’s status as an immigrant from the Caribbean. 

“[Hamilton] got a scholarship, and that’s what got him off the island. And that’s exactly what happened to my father. My father got a full ride to NYU grad school when he was 18 years old. He’d already graduated from the University of Puerto Rico by the time he was 18. So I am the dummy slacker of the family,” he jokes. 

When he discovered that this founding father was an immigrant, everything he knew about Hamilton started to make sense. “I went, ‘Oh. So he had to work this hard.’ because that’s, that’s the gig, right? You work three times as hard and you’re promised maybe a fraction as much, and he knew those rules going in. That’s why he invented a financial system and the Coast Guard and the New York Post Office.”

The other similarity between Hamilton and Miranda is that both of their home islands were destroyed by a hurricane. Miranda has been on the ground in Puerto Rico partnering with non-profits to establish a $2.5 million recovery fund, water, food and more after Hurricane Maria hit in the fall of 2017. He released a single, “Almost Like Praying,” with guest vocals from legendary performers Rita Moreno, Gloria Estefan and more, with all proceeds going towards hurricane relief. Still, he’s hoping for more efforts to restore quality of life in the U.S. territory.

“Puerto Rico is still forty percent without power. How many months later? My parents’ hometown does not have power. They have been running on generators, waiting in line for gas for four months. The gas situation has eased; the money situation has eased. But for a while, the ATM would put a cap on how much you could withdraw,” he said. “There are places that are harder hit, and they’re still as if the hurricane happened yesterday. And there are places, metropolitan areas, where it’s better,” he said of the island’s biodiversity of mountainland, beaches, rainforest and metropolises. 

In January 2019, he will bring Hamilton to Puerto Rico and reprise his leading role, offering extremely discounted $10 tickets to Puerto Ricans. “It’s impossible to talk about this without crying, so I’m just going to cry while I talk about it,” he said, explaining how important it is for him to bring Hamilton to Puerto Rico. He’d already been planning to tour there since his first New York Times review, but the hurricane’s devastation expedited the announcement.

“It is coming at a time when it can be of great use,” he said, with pride. The money made from tickets purchased by tourists will go to restoring arts funding in Puerto Rico. 

“When you did your Tony acceptance speech, you wrote a sonnet about Hamilton. You said, ‘This show is proof that history remembers. We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger. We rise and fall, and light from dying embers remembrances that hope and love last longer,’ Oprah said, quoting Miranda. “That feels like a prayer.”

“It is,” he responded. “It was a prayer that came out of a really tough day [just after the mass shooting at the PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida].”  

“So I was like, ‘I can’t freestyle rap to this moment. I will not be able to meet the moment that way.’ It demands something else.”

So, he wrote a sonnet that spoke to the grief of the moment and to the heart of the musical. Though Hamilton died the youngest of the founding fathers, his story lived on, thanks to the work of his wife, Eliza Hamilton. 

“So it’s speaking to both Hamilton and this notion that we’re going to go through trying times and we’re going to go through challenges, Lord knows we’re going through challenges, but if we’re survived by the people who love us and remember us, then we’ll kind of go on forever.”

Watch this talk on Oprah’s Supersoul Conversations on February 27, on OWN.

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