SINCE THE UNTIMELY PASSING OF HIS SOUL MATE, KIM PORTER, SEAN “DIDDY” COMBS AND THEIR CHILDREN HAVE EXPERIENCED THEIR SHARE OF GRIEF AND GROWING PAINS. IN THE AFTERMATH, THE SELF-PROCLAIMED BAD BOY FOR LIFE HAS HAD TO LEARN THAT HIS LOVED ONES COME FIRST—AND HE WOULDN’T HAVE IT ANY OTHER WAY.
The outpouring of love and grief following Kim Porter’s sudden death last fall surprised even those of us who knew her. On the morning of November 15, 2018, one month before her 48th birthday, she didn’t wake up. She was a stunning, poised, world-class beauty who lived a glamorous public life, yet she never considered herself a celebrity. Weeks after her passing from pneumonia, strangers were still posting heartfelt tributes. It felt as if we were mourning royalty.
Kim started out as a model whose beauty took her from Columbus, Georgia, to New York City in the early nineties. Sean “Diddy” Combs (he’ll always be Puff to me) had a crush on her when she was working part-time at Uptown Records. He was an ambitious record man who dreamed of making great music and building a cultural institution. When they fell in love, those of us who knew Puff understood that she was The One. They would turn out a red carpet with what she called their “Black love.” “When we got dressed up, I couldn’t believe anyone could be that beautiful in real life,” Puff told me in this interview. “She was like a gazelle.”
Like all great women, Kim was complex and known as much for her kindness as for her self-possession. She and best friends Eboni Elektra and Nicole Johnson were instrumental in promoting talent like Janelle Monáe under the banner of their company, Three Brown Girls. Kim’s small, tight-knit circle of friends sustained her, but it was her four children who were the center of her world. Privately, Kim helped Puff grow into a better man and father. When she began dating him, she was a single mother and insisted that she and her son with Al B. Sure, Quincy Brown, came as a package deal. Puff honors that to this day.
Years later he and Kim would welcome their own son, Christian. But Puff also made Kim suffer publicly. Although she grappled with accepting his daughter Chance—born weeks before the couple’s twins, D’Lila and Jessie—the pain he caused her never compromised her dignity. Her last Instagram posts celebrated their unconventional family: the children they shared and Puff’s other children—including oldest son Justin—whom she loved as her own. Now, on the first Mother’s Day without Kim, Puff recalls the moment his world was turned upside down—and given new focus.
dream hampton: ESSENCE has made a historic—and possibly controversial—decision to put a man on the cover in celebration of Mother’s Day. This isn’t so much about you as a single father but as a tribute to Kim Porter. Her sudden passing affected people in such a profound way. Talk to us about that day, please.
Sean “Puff” Combs: It’s a testament to who Kim was, how she touched people, the grace and poise she had, the way she changed a room as soon as she entered. She was unforgettable. That day turned my world upside down. Three days before she passed, she wasn’t feeling well. She had the flu, and she sent the kids over to my house so they wouldn’t get sick. One night I was checking on her, and she was like, “Puffy, take care of my babies.” She actually said that to me before she died.
That day must have been so hard, just managing the news and making sure you got to your kids before they saw it on social media.
I jumped into mommy mode. I sent people in every direction to try to make sure the kids would not hear about it on social media or the news. I had to get to the girls’ school and find Quincy, who was onset in Atlanta. Christian was on a plane, and I had his phone disconnected so he wouldn’t read it in the air. Every time Kim and I talked, it was about the kids. It was what she cared about the most. We’d check in as friends, of course, but we never had a conversation that didn’t include the kids. It was like some superhero sh-t. I ain’t even gonna lie. On some level I knew she was training me for this. I knew that I had to be ready to do whatever I was supposed to do if something like this ever happened. There was screaming and crying when I heard the news, of course, but I had to ask myself, What would Kim do? I was scared, and I was crying out to God—and to her—and almost immediately Kim’s voice kicked in, and I could hear her saying, “Make sure you take care of my babies.”
What has life been like for you since? How have you changed as a father?
Before this, I was a part-time father, you know? My family was always first, but there are countless times when I chose work over everything else. But every day I can hear her telling me to go and spend some time with the kids and make sure everybody’s all right, like she would do. I’m just a lot more present, and, most important, now my kids come before anything else in my life.
How is the family doing?
Kim was about love, and all of that care she gave to us every day, we just came together. It really made me proud that even though I didn’t get married, Kim and I, along with the other mothers of my children, raised a great family. We have a great family. The way we’re handling it is together. From Sarah [Chapman, Chance’s mom] to Misa [Hylton-Brim, Justin’s mother] to all of Kim’s friends, the grandparents—it takes a village. We’re doing really well because her passing has changed us and made us love each other more. I’m happy to say that, because at first I really didn’t know how we’d be doing. But God is the greatest. And it’s because of Kim we’re doing this well, because of the way she loved us. We wouldn’t be able to love any other way. Her spirit wouldn’t let us.
Of course, I worry about the girls. One day I asked them how are they being so strong. They said that, in a weird way, their mother had taught them how to deal with death. About six years ago, Kim’s mother [Sarah Porter] was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and we moved her to L.A. She passed away about a year and a half later, so the girls saw their mother deal with losing her mother. Now, ironically, they are teaching me how to deal with Kim’s passing.
On Kim’s Instagram page a few months before she died, she had a beautiful post with all three of your daughters in the ocean, and she wrote about accepting Chance, who is only a few months older than her twins. It was public that she didn’t want to meet Chance in the beginning, and she was being honest and open about accepting the kind of family you created.
Yeah, that took time, right there. The position I put her in, I would have to say that I knew I had hurt her in a deep way. That betrayal really affected Kim. There were days I didn’t know if we’d ever be okay, days I thought I may have lost my best friend. The healing took time. But at the end of the day, she couldn’t deny who she was, which is a loving person. She knew how important it was that we all get together and become one family. She never wanted separate family units. She didn’t want it like that, and I didn’t want it like that. It was a lot for Kim to put away the way she felt about what I did and become the leader of this unconventional family.
I remember you posting that people will never understand what you two had. What did you mean? Can you say more about that?
Yeah, there are levels and dimensions to love – especially love between a man and a woman. There’s this place that almost goes beyond friendship. It’s where two people actually feel a level of responsibility to love each other forever. There was total trust. It went beyond us being involved intimately or in a traditional relationship. It really felt like the pure definition of unconditional love, but it was even a little deeper than that. Whenever I was around her, I felt as though God had his hand in it. I always felt like God had sent her. Nobody could love me the way she loved me, especially as, you know, as crazy as I acted. I mean, she loved me through some real s—t. She loved me through all of my - what is it called?- philandering.
Yeah, that would be the word.
Yeah…she loved me though all of the bulls—t and kept her head up. Not for one second did she stop loving me. Shen never stopped, and the love I had for her was equal.
When I was preparing for this conversation, I looked back at notes from the book we were working on in 2000, and I remember you talking about Kim. It was after Jennifer (Lopez) and you were saying that you could never stop being with Kim and that was a big part of why your relationship with Jen broke up. Knowing you since you were 20, I know how hard you’ve sometimes tried at love. I understand what you’re saying about her loving you unconditionally, but what about you? Did you ever feel like, “I keep trying and failing and f—king up at love”? Do you have regrets about anything that happened in your relationship with Kim?
No, I don’t have regrets. On social media, somebody commented, “You should have married her,” and I replied, “I played myself.” I wasn’t being all the way honest with my lover for her to myself and even to other people I was in relationships with. But I don’t have any regrets about how things went. They went the way God wanted them to go, but I was playing with love and it’s not really to be played with. I definitely took for granted that Kim would just be with me forever. I never thought something like this could happen.
The girls are at such a pivotal age. They’re about to come into their teenage years. I know that you have your mom, and of course you still have Misa and Sarah, and the twins also have Kim’s father. And I’m so happy to hear her friends are close, because Kim’s friendship circle was so tight. But now you have to raise two young women without their mother. Do you have a plan for this? Or are you over there freestyling?
I was really concerned about that, so I went to different women and asked them, “What can I do to be the best father I can be to my girls?” They all told me, “Number one is to listen,” to make sure that the girls can speak to me about anything, that they know and trust that I’ll really listen and won’t judge them. They also told me I can’t be controlling.
That’s good advice.
If you try to control, it’s going to push them further away. I wouldn’t say I’m freestyling. I would say I’m putting in the work to fill shoes that are almost impossible to fill. I don’t think that a man can actually ever fill the shoes that a mother fills, so knowing that, I’m trying to step into the mommy-daddy role and accept help. With Quincy, Christian, Justin, Chance, Jessie and D’Lila, they all need different things from me. I’m having conversations with my kids that I never would have had before, and I’m getting to know them in a deeper way.
My last question is about Mother’s Day. It’ll be the first without Kim. For a lot of people, you’ve been an inspiration for how to be a father to a blended family. Your Mother’s Day posts are kind of epic! You literally give all your children’s mothers respect and love. I’m sure other people are watching, and they see how it can be done.
The truth is, Mother’s Day is gonna hurt this year. We’ll definitely celebrate all the mothers. We’re not getting in the way of that. But honestly, anybody who lost a mother or lost a soul mate knows it takes time. They say time heals all wounds, but when it comes to your mother, or mothers, I don’t think that’s the case. And that’s not a negative thing, because, as people, we need wounds. Sometimes we need the opens wounds of life so we don’t make the same mistakes again. (Pauses. Sobs.)
I’m so sorry, Puff.
I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna think of something. (Sighs)To be honest, I really don’t know what I’m gonna do.
You’re doing so good, Puff.
This hurts so much. I know people want to hear good stuff. I know in the end this story will be positive, that the family will be okay, but it hurts. There isn’t a way around that. I want this article to have a happy ending.
It doesn’t have to be a happy ending. This is where you’re at.
I wanted to do this because I wanted everybody to know how special all mothers are. I don’t think anybody can ever understand how hard it is to be a Black mother. When it comes to who are the strongest beings on the face of the Earth, it would have to be Black mothers.
That’s a good place to end it, Puff. It’s unfair what happened to Kim. It’s unfair to her children, to her friends and to you, and it’s okay for you to feel the way you feel and to express, to show this part. Thank you for trusting me with this. You’re in my prayers all the time.
All right, thank you. Happy Mother’s Day to all. Love.