I have decided to take this whole experience a step further, and continue something I started a few years ago. I launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a year-long photographic project on The Homeless Paradise, where I plan to capture portraits and the intimate lives of those who are homeless in Hawai`i.
This is my way of taking my personal experiences a step further, in hopes of giving others an opportunity to share their voice. There have been many times when I felt embarrassed because of where my father was. I recently had a job interview where I was asked the question:
Have you ever experienced failure, or felt like you have failed?
It took me a moment to really consider any failures in my life because I try to be an optimist. Sure, I have had setbacks in life and experienced certain challenges, but I don’t see them as failures. And I certainly do not regret anything in my past. But there was a pattern of experiences where I had felt like I failed.
All those times when I met my father on the streets, and I had to turn away from him to go back to work, back to school, or pick-up my children… I felt like I had failed him and myself. I felt like I had failed society because I had spent so much of my time and energy trying to live up to my personal standard and expectation of helping people. I felt like I failed because I couldn’t just snap my fingers and “make it happen.”
It was soul crushing in some ways. I was my own worst critic during that time, and felt like a hypocrite for being in law school and not being able to do every single thing possible to get him help. Many of my closest friends and family constantly had to remind me that I was doing all that I could, and that I needed to maintain some degree of separation so I could have some normalcy in my life.
Those days when I saw him were the hardest. I learned that I was a horrible actress in the beginning, and my emotions were written all over my face. There was no hiding that something was terribly wrong, and one day I just started crying in front of my sons. They were soft, curious, gentle, and my youngest just came over and wrapped his little arms around my neck.
I felt like I failed my life’s purpose in helping those who needed it most. Nothing I was actively “doing” on a day-to-day basis seemed like it was doing anything to make his circumstances better. Those were the darker moments. And, when my grandmother passed away after a long fight with cancer, I only prayed that she could now understand the desperation I felt despite not being able to do as she asked.
There were so many layers of expectation involved, and it was so overwhelming having to simultaneously get to know my father while trying to live the normal life I had built without him. It was like having to face the demons of my past, while holding onto the good I believed was in him. Ultimately, I resolved the conflict by reducing the equation to one thing: love.
Do you love him?
The answer was undoubtedly: Yes.
I do love my father even though he was not there to raise me. I love him and that’s really all that matters, so I was ready to feel the good and the bad associated with him. But at least I would be feeling it all, and trying to walk this journey with him as best as I could.
I have spent a lot of time with those who are homeless, but this was an incredibly different experience. There was no walking away even if I wanted to. It’s just not who I am, and not who I want to be.
I felt like I had failed at that time, but now I realize that it was another important life lesson learned through experience. I didn’t fail him by walking away those days when I had to. I was doing exactly what I needed to do to take care of myself so that I could keep coming back.
I can only imagine what others go through knowing that their loved ones are on the streets today. They all have a story… they all have someone in their lives who feels the way I did. My Kickstarter isn’t supposed to be some sad story about the disenfranchised homeless population. We already know what precarious positions they’re in. What we don’t know is who they are, and what they want known… they are just people.
My father is doing a lot better today, and he is living his second chance everyday. I really didn’t know what would ever come of his circumstances, and the best I could do while living my “normal life” away from him was to figure out a way to stay balanced enough to go back and try again. It is exhausting, and it challenged me to the core. There were days when I went in to work, and could see him roaming the streets below. It was heartbreaking.
I no longer see the silhouette of my father against those hard concrete sidewalks, but I do see the faces of others who have been there just as long. I want to go back… this time, I won’t be looking on from some office window, I’m going to be right there in the “trenches,” where I want to be… at least for now.
I would really appreciate it if you helped fund my Kickstarter by making a pledge:
Until next time…