Road Tests and Second Chances

Dad Passes Road Test

I started off the morning with my Dad at the Dillingham DMV, shuffling through paperwork to get him ready for his road test. The last time I had been to a DMV for a road test was when I was 16 years-old. My best friend’s mom (now mother-in-law) was with me on my third attempt at passing the test. She was (and still is) such a sweetheart. Even after failing the test twice, she continued to encourage me, and shared that it took her kids more than one attempt to pass. I’m not even sure if that’s true or not, but it meant everything to have her support and patience. It felt good to have a mother-figure around…

I thought about my own experience as I shuttled by Dad around at the DMV. I anxiously watched my Dad engage with the check-in receptionist and road test examiner. A part of me wanted to talk to the receptionist for him, but I forced myself to take a backseat and let him do it. He gave her the license and registration, insurance card, and confirmation e-mail I had printed out for him. We walked over to an empty bench and I playfully shared my experience in failing the test. I think it was my way of reassuring myself that it would be okay if he didn’t pass for whatever reason. My heart smiled knowing that we were creating another memory together — making up for a missed opportunity.

His name was finally called and I jumped up closely behind him as the examiner ushered him to the parking lot. I could feel the butterflies of excitement building in my gut and smiled proudly as he walked towards the car. Wait, maybe we should have practiced in my car? I watched as he fumbled trying to get the automatic door opener to work — crap, the battery was dead on that device, he would need to manually stick the key into the car door and turn it. My Dad looked over at me, and I signaled to stick the key into the door and turn. I quickly signaled again while the examiner had his back turned to me. He got it. Phew.

He drove off smoothly… good, I thought. I sat alone in a metal patio chair left obscurely by the wall and absorbed the scene in front of me. Teenagers were rushing by with their anxious parents, an elderly woman in a wheelchair was escorted into her car, and a man who appeared to be homeless stopped in front of a garbage ban to look for recyclables. The vision of my Dad on the streets flashed back into my mind, as I watched this man pluck out empty cans. He looked up and smiled at me, I smiled back. He walked away towards a friend before I could stop him to talk. Another time, I thought.

So this is what it’s going to feel like when my boys get older and it’s their turn to take their road test. I started to get lost in my own thoughts and didn’t realize half an hour had passed. I got up to see if they had returned, and the car was parked around the corner. As I walked into the DMV, I saw my Dad talked to another receptionist and quickly made my way over. Did he pass? Please tell me he passed!

He passed.

He was beaming, a full ear-to-ear grin. His smile reminded me of my older son’s smile. I gave him a hug and stood back to let him get his paperwork processed and have his photo taken.

God, thank you. Thank you for this moment, for this second chance.

I am so proud of him and still marvel at how far he has come in such a short amount of time. He is slowly taking steps towards becoming independent again, and I feel so grateful to witness his recovery. Miracles do happen, it happens to normal people like you and I.  It happens in the quiet details of life, like passing a road test, sharing a smile, watching someone stand tall again…

As I finish writing this blog post, my heart and mind is connecting with the hundreds of e-mails and comments I have received from people all over the world. People who share similar stories, understand the struggle, have experienced the pain of not having a healthy family or upbringing, and especially those who lost their parent(s) and were never able to have that “second chance.” I want you to know that I truly appreciate your messages and am sending you hope, love, positive and healing energy. Thank you for being part of this journey, for reaching out, for caring, and for allowing your heart to be touched by mine. It means everything to me.




Overwhelmed (in a good way)


I am so overwhelmed by the constant stream of positive and loving e-mails from all over the world. I wish I could respond to each one individually. It means so much to hear from those who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, what we went through the past couple of years.

And at the same, although my story seems to immediately appear as one with a “happy ending,” I do recognize that the road to recovery is ongoing. I keep my fingers crossed that my dad will stay in a “good place.”

I met with my dad earlier today and I asked him about his goals. He is still doing well and following his treatment plan, but I can tell he wants to gain more of his independence again. He wants to work, earn a living, and stand on his own two feet without any government assistance. And I know that he doesn’t want to be in an assisted living environment for the remainder of his life. I want the same for him, yet the memory of him on the streets is still incredibly fresh on my mind — especially with all of the recent news coverage that has been coming out.

We talked a bit more about some short-term goals we could work on. Despite submitting online applications to various part-time jobs, we haven’t heard back from any yet. My dad mentioned his desire to be a taxi-driver again. It made me smile. Several months ago, I wrote about how I’d love to see him smile again… stand tall again, and drive a cab again. It may very well happen… 🙂

I suggested that we go to the DMV tomorrow to setup an appointment for his road test. He has his Driver’s Permit, but has to go through steps to get his license again. I’m really looking forward to it — it’ll be another new experience and memory shared. We’re still taking things day-by-day, and learning what it means to have a relationship and maintain it. It’s sweet and endearing. I’ve learned that we don’t mind sitting quietly together. Sometimes, all we do is eat our food in each other’s presence. We occasionally look up and smile at each other… laugh… and share a few thoughts and then depart with a hug. Other days, he’s in a really talkative mood and asks a lot of questions about my life, work, school. I take it day-by-day and try not to have any expectations. I think that’s what helps to keep us on this path together.

*deep exhale*

All of this is so overwhelming (in a good way). And I continue to be amazed with how small and interconnected my community is. Just the other day, I serendipitously met a woman who turned out to be the owner of the store that my father frequented before he became homeless. She remembered when he was a taxi-driver and witnessed his slow physical and mental deterioration. She also recalled my late-grandmother… It was really hard to share that my grandmother had passed away before my dad got off the streets.

It has truly been a roller-coaster ride and it’s this kind of spontaneous and unexpected occurrence that continues to validate my heart and mind. I am so glad that others have been touched in a positive way, and have reached out to me with their own stories. I spent so much time being afraid and hiding from the reality of my dad’s circumstances… and in my own life… but if you step back and really look at it for what it is, you realize it’s just l-i-f-e and everyone has some painful experience they overcame or are trying to overcome.

We can’t control things even if we want to. People have asked about my thoughts on the homeless “issue,” and I oddly accept that the homeless condition will never completely go away. Life isn’t black and white — there are shades of experiences that people go through. Some will go in and out of homelessness… some will choose to live on the streets, others may be incapacitated and require legal assistance and/or medical interventions to get back on track. But no matter what the circumstances are, the most important thing to remember is that they are people. And people deserve to be treated with respect even if they’ve hurt you. Maybe that’s just my way of breaking negative cycles that have been passed down generation to generation.

This life is happening now. We are here now. And I’m really grateful for the opportunity to share positive energy with my dad today.

We do what we can, with what we have, when we have it. Thank you for sharing this life journey with me… keep smiling, keep loving, keep trying to find it in your heart to forgive, and it’s okay if self-preservation means you have to walk away so somebody else can help. Sending my warmest wishes to all the readers tonight.



Beating All Odds – “Hobo Bob”

Myself, Hobo Bob, and Theresa

Myself, Hobo Bob, and Theresa

For the readers who have been following along from the beginning of my entries, you may recall the experiences I mentioned of when I was a little girl living in Honolulu. I was about 8 years-old and my parents were separated at the time. My days were spent rollerblading the streets of Waikiki and talking to people I didn’t know. I befriended a few individuals who were living on the streets, specifically one man who sat in front of the old Fun Factory by Lewers Street.

I met that man today. Over 20 years later. His name is “Hobo Bob.”

Early this morning, I was catching up with my dad and decided to swing by Ala Moana Beach Park before heading to a doctor’s appointment. Something was pulling me in that direction and as I drove up to the Waikiki Yacht Club entrance, I saw a couple sitting on the corner under their tent. They were a sign. I pulled over and parked my car along the street and slowly walked over to them.

I smiled… made eye contact… waved… and there he was, smiling back at me with his piercing blue eyes. God, he looked so familiar. He introduced himself as “Hobo Bob,” and asked for a cigarette. I apologized and said I didn’t smoke… because it was too expensive. Okay, so that’s a half-truth. I don’t smoke because I don’t like cigarettes. But he didn’t have to know that.

I took a few more steps towards him and shared that I have something else he might like. I lowered my backpack onto a dry patch of grass next to him and his partner, Theresa. Small talk. People oftentimes wonder how I manage to interact with complete strangers. I really just let them initiate by either saying hello or looking into my eyes. I’d like to think I have a pretty good sense of people if I can see their eyes. His were good. They felt familiar and comfortable. I could feel that he was good. So were hers.

I showed them one of the bracelets and explained what they were for, and one thing led to another and I told him the story about my dad who had been living on the streets for a couple of years. His eyes lit up and he said he knew who I was talking about. He seemed intrigued, surprised, and somewhat in disbelief that I was his daughter. Just to confirm that we were talking about the same person, I pulled out my phone to show him photographs of my dad. Yes. Yes. Yes. That was him.

The photograph I showed to Hobo Bob.

The photograph I showed to Hobo Bob.

Hobo Bob had interacted with my dad a few times. He always tried to give him some food, asked if he needed help… anything. The midday sun was shining so bright on Hobo Bob’s face. I could see the tears forming in his eyes and he got all quiet. Then he looked up at me and said, “It is a pleasure to meet the daughter of that man… thank you.” Another circle came together today.

We spent a lot of time talking about my dad, and I wanted to learn more about Hobo Bob’s story. It turns out he had been in and out of homelessness for nearly 30 years. He is a Vietnam veteran and is well-known in the homeless community. Shortly after learning how “connected” we were through my dad and our mutual experiences, I mentioned that I had walked these streets as a little girl and passed out change  and McDonald’s cheeseburgers to one man in particular who would always sit near the Waikiki Fun Factor and in front of McDonald’s across from the Red Lobster in Waikiki. He had a beard.

It couldn’t be… could it? 

Hobo Bob started going through his past… I could see he was struggling to sift through all the memories and faces he had seen. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, over a million faces… certainly we couldn’t remember any one specific encounter. I tossed out obscure details from my memory of that time in my life. Rollerblading. Firecrackers. Policemen in the area. The laser tag game room. Then he said something.

“Do you remember those parrots?”

Y-E-S! I remember those parrots! Those beautiful phoenix-like creatures that I could never afford to hold. There was a woman who owned a whole family of those parrots, and I remember seeing them right next to my friend who lived on the streets.

There was no other person during that time with a beard like his. And Theresa confirmed it. “He has always kept this beard.” What are the odds that I would come across the man who I reached out to over 20 years ago, and learn that he had also tried to help my dad? I can’t make this stuff up even if I tried. Somedays, I wake up and have to laugh at the incredible sense of my humor that my maker/creator has for me. I am so grateful for the never-ending synchronicity… and the constant reminder that this is what I was meant to do.

Almost two hours had passed by and I knew I had to leave to make my doctor’s appointment, so I quickly made sure to capture their portrait using the Impossible Film, and had them share one word to describe their experiences on the streets. Dicodami (“Dichotomy”). Tremendes (“Tremendous”).

Words to describe their

Words to describe their “Homeless Paradise” experience.

As we were getting ready for me to leave, Hobo Bob asked for us to take a quick photograph together. Our first selfie. He said, “Now you can show this photograph to any homeless person you walk up to.. you show them.. they know Hobo Bob and you will be protected. They can’t mess with you now.” 

I thanked him and gave him a hug. I told him I would be back… he can count on me coming back. As I drove off and looked over at them sitting just as they were when I arrived, I marveled at how beautiful life could be. These heart-to-heart moments… if there is one thing that has not changed since the first and last time I saw Hobo Bob, it’s the feeling of this raw human connection that has no end. It’s like the bridge to the divine, when every worldly “thing” strips away and we see each other’s beautiful soul. I live for this. I love for this. And I would die to protect this.

The journey continues… I’ll be back for you Hobo Bob and Theresa.



‘Ohana and Kaka’ako

Sam resting in a friend's makeshift shelter in Kaka'ako.

Sam resting in a friend’s makeshift shelter in Kaka’ako.

Some days my Creator/God/Universe seems to speak louder than others. Today has been one of those days. I finished my last law school examination for the semester this morning. I knew exactly where I wanted to be. Kaka’ako. Just last week, I was in Kaka’ako for a Spring Symposium on Homelessness and Policy Change, hosted by the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Partnership for Social Justice. I was invited to speak and share my candid experiences on trying to assist my father, and the project that I have been working on. It is such a peculiar feeling driving up to a location and passing rows and rows of tents filled with children and families without homes, and then parking in front of them to walk over to an auditorium so I can speak about their social condition.

It was a privilege to be able to share our story, their story. At the same time, I knew I had to drive away that night and I wouldn’t be able to reach out to anyone. So, I’m glad that I was able to spend some time getting to know the families in Kaka’ako again.

Capturing the quiet moment before the JABSOM Spring Symposium on Homelessness and Policy Change.

Capturing the quiet moment before the JABSOM Spring Symposium on Homelessness and Policy Change.

On the drive to Kaka’ako, I thought about Mother’s Day… my mother. And I know that this blog has largely been focused on my father, but I continued to think about the woman who carried me into this world. Although I don’t have a relationship with my mother today, I know that we both love each other. I follow her advice to “do what makes me happy,” and hear her words of support and encouragement. Wherever she is today, I know that she is proud of me and, “as long as you’re happy, I am happy.”

But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about her smile, the shape of her eyes when she laughs, the way our noses crinkle the same way. My Creator/God/Universe must have known that a part of me was longing for my mother this morning because I felt her energy through a woman named “Nani.”

Nani has been sober for a number of years and is currently “in transition,” as she applies for jobs and continues her education/training for better employment opportunities. She is the “Aunty of Kaka’ako” from what I gathered. Humble, focused, caring, and somewhat of a watchdog for the kids in the area. With three children of her own, she prioritizes their education and makes damn sure that the other kids go to school, too. But she also recognizes that she can’t be a parent to all of them, and at some point, the parents need to step up and take responsibility.

My mother was actually the opposite of Nani, but Nani said something to me that really resonated with me this morning. “You are doing what your parents never did for you. You took a different path and you are prioritizing your kids. That’s what I am doing and I am not going to be here forever. By forgiving your parents and me forgiving mine, we make things pono.”

Nani and her close friend looking contemplating the best word to describe their portrait in the polaroid.

Nani and her close friend looking contemplating the best word to describe their portrait in the polaroid.

Life is about making things “pono.” I completely agree with her philosophy and approach in life. Nani’s focus and determination is infectious… even to me. She is a great example of someone who is on the streets due to economic circumstances, and intends to get a better paying job so that she can have a better living situation. In her own words, she said that Kaka’ako is a village. People do help each other out, try to maintain respect and civility, but things can get out of line just like anywhere else. She tries really hard to “keep the peace” and help the children and teenagers, so they don’t run astray. I admire her. And I know I will be seeing more of her when I go back later this week.

As I drove back home, I thought about the interconnectedness of life again. This continuous theme of cause and effect — the people in my life and how our paths cross in ways that magnifies/crystallizes the experience of living. Maybe it’s because I seek it out. Call it an encampment, an eye-sore, a public nuisance, a village, or whatever you want… but, I know that Aunty Nani sees it as family. They’re all families trying to survive.

Amazingly, I checked my inbox right before I started writing this post and received an e-mail from an ongoing supporter of my Kickstarter project. Over the past few months we exchanged a number of e-mails and he shared a bit of his own personal story and dedication for social change. I was touched when he shared that one of his daughters wanted to get a tattoo of the Hawaiian word for family (‘ohana) as a way to remember her ailing grandfather, who has since passed away. It turns out that three of his six daughters decided to get the same tattoo to honor him by.

Again… the interconnectedness and theme of family is so strong here. In the e-mail, he mentioned the part about “Lilo explaining to Stitch that ‘ohana means family and although theirs may be tiny and broken, it is still good.” This resonates with me for a number of reasons. First, because I felt the same way as a child. Second, because that quote was referenced during my Kickstarter campaign when ‘Ohana Health Plan helped to support my project. Life is so intriguing when you look for the connections and today’s experiences continue to reaffirm my path.

With the permission from my friend from Canada, here is a photograph of the tattoo that three of his daughters got together in honor of their late grandfather.

With the permission from my friend from Canada, here is a photograph of the tattoo that three of his daughters got together in honor of their late grandfather.

Thanks for reading… Looking forward to sharing more as I continue the journey.



Unknown Territory

“You learned to run from what you feel, and that's why you have nightmares. To deny is to invite madness. To accept is to control.”  - Megan Chance

“You learned to run from what you feel, and that’s why you have nightmares. To deny is to invite madness. To accept is to control.” – Megan Chance

I promised myself that I would continue writing in this blog even when the discomfort of the unknown started to creep in. As the world around me continues to propel forward, I find myself wondering where my father is in all of this. He hasn’t been returning my calls.

I’ve called him to see how he is and I’m not sure why he hasn’t called me back. It could be something as simple as just wanting his space, or maybe he misplaced his phone. This is not the first time I’ve been down this road, but for some reason it feels like unknown territory because of where we’ve been in the last two years.

We have both had time to reflect and decompress from the intensity of our recent experiences. I’m sure he feels equally as overwhelmed as I do. I like to stay positive in thinking that this is a period of growth for the both of us, and that he is off somewhere capturing life through the lens. I like to believe that he is regaining a sense of self and growing stronger each day.

At the same time I can’t help but wonder if things are backsliding for him. Nobody wants to see their parents or loved ones on the streets… especially not again if they’ve survived it and gotten to a better place. But this is a reminder of what I had written just a month ago: He is good for today.

I think this is an important piece to touch upon when discussing the “homeless issue.” For those of us who are connected to this social condition, whether it be through our personal or professional gravitation, we can’t “control” an individual’s decisions or thoughts. No matter how badly we want to “fix the issue” or “solve homelessness,” I don’t think it will ever go away. We don’t live in a perfect world, and as “Fox” mentioned in his interview:

“… No one is immune and it could happen to them at any time!”

Sometimes the best I can do is appreciate the good, hope for the best, and help others when I can. Accepting that things are out of my control is not easy, but I know that no matter what happens… it will be okay. It has to be.


The Quiet

"Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood." - Helen Keller

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
– Helen Keller

It has been a quiet month since the Kickstarter was successfully funded, and I feel as if I’ve been in a period of hibernation. I have to admit that the attention I was receiving made me uncomfortable at times. Airing out my “personal life” wasn’t exactly what I thought I would be doing to help the homeless. I had always thought that I could just focus my lens on others, share their stories, and hope that their voices wouldn’t get drowned out by the media storm.

And so here I am. My father is still doing great given his circumstances, and I have been reminding myself to not place any unrealistic expectations on either of us. The relationship will be whatever the relationship will be. I think that on my part, it will always require an exercise in establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. Nothing changes over night.

The project itself has been evolving on many personal levels. I have been spending a lot of time flipping through old journals and a handful of photographs from my childhood. Reliving the past has become such a crucial piece in this process, and I recognize that there are many elements of my past that I would like to share. For now, I am allowing myself the time and freedom to go through these experiences and capture them on paper.

It is not easy. It is ugly and messy. It is complicated and fragile. But it is also painfully precious because it is who I am today.

I am still learning how to be comfortable with all of this. I know that there are many others who still struggle with the feelings woven into a loved one who is/was homeless, mentally ill, and/or abusive. I have felt guilty… helpless, vulnerable, heartbroken. There were times when I wished that I could just walk away from my father. All of my childhood feelings of being abandoned would swell up, almost as if it were challenging who I had become. The little girl in me wanted to kick and scream — she wanted to run away and hide and forget my father the way he forgot about me. But I knew deep down inside that my heart would never be the same if I left him there. It would never be the same if I didn’t do something… do anything.

I had been so afraid of sharing this story because of the unknown. What would people think of me? What if people judged me because I don’t “look” like the type of person who would have a homeless dad? Wait a minute, what would that “look” like anyway? The hardest part has been getting over my own self-created fears in discussing homelessness with the public. I have been emotionally and physically hurt at so many levels by my parents that I feel instinctively on-guard having to discuss homelessness. Why? Because homelessness, as a social circumstance, represents the bottom of the barrel that my father, mother, and I have all experienced at different points in our lives. So, when I see statistical figures or categorical subheadings in a policy brief compartmentalizing the homeless issue based on mental illness, substance abuse, or youth runaways — I think about my father, my mother, and myself as a 16 year-old… in that order.

There is so much beneath the surface. There always is. I hope to continue sharing as the project progresses. In the meantime, I’m still waiting for those darn bracelets to come in. That’s what I get for making a pre-Christmas order of 100 medium-sized bracelets thinking that it would fit the average male. The good news is the large-sized bracelets are in production and should be here by the end of the month. It’s a bit of set-back time wise, but I’m sure it’s all happening this way for a reason. I have learned that patience goes a long way… and I’m sure this project will continue to require a lot of thoughtful periods of reflection, and moments of patience before charging forward.