A New Normal

“Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I’m glad for that.”
Ally Condie, Matched

Somewhere between then and now, we grew into our new normal… we found a rhythm that works for us. I feel really content with where we are, and where we are headed. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because that little girl finally feels the comfort of having her Father. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I love our new normal.

Celebrating my law school graduation with my Father.

Celebrating my law school graduation with my Father.

Just last month, he organized a barbecue at Ala Moana Beach Park to celebrate my graduation from law school. It was the sweetest gesture ever. This was his first time planning a gathering for me. He made a few calls, invited some family members, and gave me specific instructions to bring sausage to throw on the grill. I asked if we needed anything else — a salad maybe? Some rice? Anything? No, he had already designated items to other family members. My job: bring sausage.

It was a beautiful day at the park. Our lives seem to continue crossing at Ala Moana Beach Park — the same park I’ve mentioned in other blog posts. The same place where I met my friends in the “Forest,” the same place where I rollerbladed as a little girl growing up in Honolulu, the same place where I reconnected with “Hobo Bob.” So it was befitting that multiple generations were collectively coming together on the very shores of my childhood, all invited by my father’s direction.

The sky was painted an incredible blue that morning, and everyone brought their appetite. It was quite a fiasco trying to rally all the family members back into one spot to get the barbecue going. The kids were in the water, one of my cousins was fishing with my father at the opposite side of the park, my husband was busy with the kids, and the other family members were busy getting things settled under the tent.

I decided it was a good time to figure out how to operate the grill. I’m a “go-getter.” To my half-sister’s credit, she was somewhat cautious about my approach in attaching the propane canister to the grill. Okay, so maybe I didn’t really know what I was doing… and it wasn’t a good idea to try to flick the igniter while attaching the propane tank — the switch was not a mysterious “lock” to get the tank to screw on.

Thankfully, my husband returned and knew what he was doing. Everyone started to regather around the tent and slowly started pulling out their dishes. We brought our sausage like we were asked. My cousins brought meat as well. And my uncle and aunt… brought meat and a massive tub of kimchee.

Nobody brought rice.

I started to giggle. My husband knew what I was thinking, but didn’t want to say it. Finally I broke the silence and blurted out, “A bunch of Koreans are at a barbecue and nobody brought rice… how are we supposed to eat?”

It was cute. It gave us all something to laugh about together. My father shook his head in disbelief. He went around the circle and asked if they were absolutely sure that he hadn’t asked them to bring rice. This was the first time he had organized a family gathering, and we were all just really proud and happy to be enjoying each other’s company — rice or no rice. I’m glad it happened though… it seemed to break the ice, and helped everyone to feel more comfortable. Who knows, maybe he planned that all along!

The rest of the day was beautiful… the water was perfect for swimming. My father wore regular khaki shorts and shoes. He didn’t have any swimwear with him. I was a little surprised that he would suggest coming to this beach park, and not be prepared to get in the water. And then it dawned on me… I had no recollection of seeing him in the ocean. I had no memory whatsoever of being in the ocean with my father.

How could that be?

We live in Hawai`i. We are surrounded by water. The ocean is such an important part of my life — a source of healing energy, a way to reconnect with myself and my spirituality. I had to take another minute to consider this.

We have to get into the water together.

It took several tries to convince my father that his shorts would dry just fine. We had a paddle board and I begged him to let me paddle him around. I literally broke out into what probably resembled an excited 6-year-old’s dance. I hopped up and down, clapped my hands, grinned from ear-to-ear, and pleaded with him…

Please, please, pleaaaase? Pleaaase? I’ve never asked for anything before! PLEASE get on the paddle board with me! You remember what I said about paddling and how it’s been such an amazing heeeealing experience for me? Pleeeeeaaase?”

I think he was enjoying every moment of my desperate whining. He quietly said, “If you keep pushing me, I won’t do it.” And then he flashed a grin. Okay, so I had to be more reasonable. I went to law school. Heck, I graduated from law school. I quickly adjusted to a new strategy…

Dad, we have never been in the ocean together… and who knows when we will have access to a paddle board again? I’ll be really busy studying for the bar exam, so we may not be able to do this again for a couple of months. This is a great time to make new memories!”

Hook. Line. Sinker. 😉

I watched our feet disappear under the sandy shores of Ala Moana Beach Park that morning. The water creeped up above our ankles and then our knees. We shared a smile, and I soaked up the warmth of his skin under my hands. We were connected. With a little encouragement, my father sat on the paddle board and I was able to briefly standup.

Beach Day

There must have been a little confusion about what was going to happen on the paddle board. I thought I was going to be able to “paddle” away with him on it — he thought he was just going to idly “sit” on the board… on the shore. His reaction was darling. As soon as he realized what I had intended, he gripped the sides of the board and jumped off as fast as he could. I was so close!

Even though we weren’t able to leave the shores that day, I am still deeply appreciative for that brief moment we shared as father and daughter. I hope we can someday explore deeper waters. For now, I am loving our new normal… I am loving these moments that continue to unfold with each passing day.

Wishing everyone lots of love and inspiration in this life journey. Hope you enjoyed being able to hear of another “first” I experienced with my father and my family.


Dear Sebastian C.

“I’ve learned to value failed conversations, missed connections, confusions. What remains is what is unsaid, what is underneath. Understanding on another level of being.” – Anna Kamienska

Dear Sebastian,

I noticed you before you noticed me. I saw you sitting on the bench as my husband pulled up to park. Your matted gray hair, the hunch in your back, and the way your head rolled in small circles reminded me of someone from a recent past. You walked towards me, my husband, and my sons. I saw your first step before they did. I could hear you even though they couldn’t.

I will be back. I heard you. I saw you. And I want to help you. I don’t know who your daughters are, or where they are, but I heard you. I am sorry to hear that that officers hurt you, and that you are hurting. No, I don’t think that’s okay. I know you need more than a roof over your head. I know it isn’t easy to hear the “real you” sometimes, and it’s lonely when you can.

Dear Sebastian, I will be back. Thank you for noticing me too.



The Meaning of Celebration

“Us. All regrets, left them in the sea, smiling at life as if it was a beautiful dream, because if one thing is certain, clearing the strange foreign steam. Like the diamond ring that fits in your finger, we are stronger as a steel linker”
Lucia Ohanian

Just two years ago, I was getting ready to walk down the aisle to finally “marry” the love of my life in a ceremonial manner. Many years before then, we were young, had little to no money, and had our first “wedding” in a courthouse on Maui. I wore capris and a green top, held a yellow flower in my hand, and bubbled with a tearful mixture of happiness and loneliness. Weddings were meant to be celebrated with family, and at the time, I didn’t feel like I had mine. I was 19, in love, but lonely for the family I ran away from.

We vowed that someday we would have a ceremony, but then plans changed and we had two amazing children… and well, let’s just say we went from having little money to relying on social services. But our love, wow… we had grown exponentially in our love (and frustrations), but the love… that’s what really mattered. Nothing could have ever prepared me for the joys and tribulations of motherhood. As the years went on, I told myself that the wedding didn’t matter anyhow… I had always felt uncomfortable with the idea of celebrating events and occasions that involved bringing “families together.” I wasn’t sure who would be there for me — if I could rely on them to follow through.

Somewhere in my late 20’s, I learned to shake the insecurity of not being “somebody’s daughter,” and embraced being myself… being Diana. When my wedding day came two years ago, I finally understood the meaning of true celebration of our lives… of my lifemy soul, and what I was giving to my husband — myself, Diana. It was a beautiful ceremony and gathering of close friends and family. I wish I could say my parents were there, but for various reasons of the heart, they weren’t and my Dad couldn’t.

That day I learned what it meant to truly accept who I am, and where I came from. The feelings of being wanted, loved, and being “somebody’s daughter” are inherently natural. I told my husband that I wanted to see my Dad that night, how important it was for me to see him, and for him to see me. I can’t even begin to express how challenging it has been to compartmentalize my feelings and the reality of the circumstances that could easily have pushed me over the edge.

That night, after our ceremony was over… we detoured towards the area where my Dad would sleep. I prayed that he would be there, even though I knew how hard it would be for me to see him. As we drove down the street, I quickly patted my husband’s arm and said, “He’s there, he’s there. Stop the car.”

Still in my gown, I opened the door and rushed towards him with a flower in my hand. I wanted him to see me, to see his oldest’s daughter on her wedding night. I wanted to share in celebration with him, even if it meant that it would be painful… even if it would mean I would suffer from the heartbreak of not having him in a better place. When he looked up at me, he smiled. He recognized me. I cried in relief that he would at least be able to share that moment with me, to look into my eyes and be proud of this milestone.

This is who I am, this is me, Diana. 

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And here I am. Here we are. My Dad, as you know, is doing much better now. He climbed his Mount Everest, faced and endured his demons, and was able to find some solace in the hope of a better future.

In less than two days, I will be walking down a different aisle. I will be walking down an aisle with my classmates, my family, a handful of whom were there that on my wedding night; we will all be walking to receive our diplomas as the graduates of the William S. Richardson School of Law Class of 2016. And the best part is, I will not only walk with the feeling of finally being “somebody’s daughter,” but also… a wife, a mother, a daughter-in-law, a grand-daughter, a sister, and a soon-to-be aunt.

Celebration is only as sweet as the hardships we endured to get there.

This Sunday, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot running through my mind and heart. My mind is already drifting back to the men of “The Forest,” who encouraged me to take the risk of walking into the ivory tower, to learn how to help people on the streets… to go beyond my photography, and gain an understanding of the system in hopes of finding creative solutions. They believed that I wouldn’t change, that I would only grow. And they were right. I’m reminded of the friends who are no longer with us, but are watching from above and proud that I didn’t quit. And lastly, I see the faces of my husband, my boys, my Dad, and other family and friends… which includes the ones who can be there, and the ones that can’t.

I am grateful. In ways that are deeper than I can express. I feel it, though. And I hope you can, too. Sending you lots of love, Mom… wherever you are. And lots of love to “HL”, too. If you are reading this, come if you can — be part of this journey.



Rare and Hungry for Love

“Hungry for love, He looks at you. Thirsty for kindness, He begs of you. Naked for loyalty, He hopes in you. Homeless for shelter in your Heart, He asks of you. Will you be that one to Him?” – Mother Teresa

I recently had the honor of flying out to DC for the Rare Under 40 Awards Ceremony. The trip felt like a whirlwind, but I came back home feeling energized and uplifted from meeting so many inspiring souls. I have to admit I felt a little out of my element. I never thought I’d go from sidewalks to a red carpet because of this blog, my photographs, and from simply opening myself to others. I wished it could have been Hobo Bob, Darryl, Brian, Nani, or Roxy on the red carpet instead.


The story of my journey with my father may have captured hearts and souls around the world, but it’s the stories of those who I’ve met along the way that continues to weigh on my heart. There are endless waves of Brian’s, Nani’s, Roxy’s… all lined up alongside fences and scattered throughout parks. So many hearts hungry for love.

“What does that mean, anyway?”

We are all hungry for love… validation of our worth, our dreams, and our hopes. It’s easy to doubt ourselves, to shut people out to protect our hearts, to grow hardened from years of living in fear and uncertainty. The world is full of pain and suffering, but the smallest gesture of kindness can be the spark we/you/I need to preserve the softness in our hearts for others. I was reminded of that during my trip to DC.

I had an interview with Rare correspondents shortly after I arrived, and was running off of about an hour or two of sleep. Needless to say, my responses to the interview questions were brutally honest and I’m not even sure if anyone will ever see it. There were a couple of questions that really left an impression on me:

“In your opinion, what do you believe is the greatest challenge that millennials face today?”

I took a deep breath, thought about it for a second, and said what I felt… I think it went something like this…

“We crave connection. We live in a world where it’s easy to connect through the digital medium, but we’re lacking the human element. The human touch, a hug, holding our hands, holding each other, and being open to loving each other. I think that’s why I like to hug people… especially those on the streets, they all need that fundamental human connection.”

And it goes further… we long for friendship, and to have our hearts be seen. I’ve been reflecting on my past and continuing the journey of self-discovery. I know that in my heart of hearts, I have yearned for deeply connected friendships. Out of fear of being hurt or misunderstood, I know I have pushed people away and opted to stay in my own comfort zone. I would maintain a busy schedule, pour myself into projects, my family, and sometimes use that as an excuse for not investing in people who were trying to invest their hearts in me.

It’s an interesting feeling having so much of my life and my heart written out for others to see. I’m learning to embrace it because it helps me to live a life closer to my purpose. I’m not as afraid of people coming to me, opening themselves in hopes of having a shared connection. It has been an incredibly enriching experience, and I appreciate how much love I’m able to receive because of it. There’s still a lot to work on… on a personal level. There are still loved ones in my life who I want and need to reach out to. Someday.

Which brings me to the second question I was asked in DC:

“How do you stay motivated to do what you do?”

Another honest response… I shared how I wake up every morning with the understanding and acceptance that I will die. My eyes will close and never open again to see this world the way I do today. Knowing and accepting this gives me the strength and serenity to go after my dreams, to follow my heart everyday… to stay open to soul connections with people no matter their circumstances.


As I finish writing this blog post, I’m looking into my father’s eyes reflecting back into mine. Across the way is a homeless man who is suffering from mental illness, he just came by about 5 minutes ago and asked us for food. I don’t know his name, or his past… I don’t know what he is battling, or what kind of pain he is feeling right now. But I hope to find out soon.

My father said to me, “I’m so glad I’m not homeless anymore.”

Yes. Me too. Now it’s time to keep moving forward, and paying-it-forward. I’m sighing deeply this very second. Wishing all the best to you this beautiful day. Thanks for following along and I hope it encourages you to share one act of kindness today.




Roy G. Biv at the Hard Rock Cafe

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Desmond Tutu

I recognize the last post made many friends, family members, and readers feel incredibly sad for me. No child should have to go through that experience. I have been thinking a lot about that period of my childhood, and realize that there have been many wonderful memories… moments of pure love and light from people who didn’t even really know me.

I’d like to share a really special memory with you.

My 9th birthday was around the corner and my Mother asked me what I would like for a present. We didn’t have much money then and were jumping around between her friends’ apartments at the time. I didn’t really want any specific thing, I just wanted to have a birthday party… a clown, balloons, food, and a cake!

I didn’t get to spend much time with her because she worked nights and was usually sleeping during the day. It was a really big deal when she agreed that I could have a birthday party — it meant that we would get to spend more time together. My little heart felt so full that morning.

My Mother gave me a budget of $200 and said I would need to help with planning — I was all for it! Later that morning, I went right to work with a list of invitees. I basically invited everyone in our apartment building. I drew up handwritten invitations, picked the earliest Saturday (which was just 3-4 days away), and spent the entire afternoon sliding invites under everyone’s door. The party would start at 11am at the pool deck, food would be provided!

On the morning of my birthday, I found my Mother still sleeping in bed. She had had a long night… I had given her the list of all the items, prices, and places to go to buy everything for the party. I tried to wake her up, but she was so groggy and wasn’t really responding. I decided to walk over to the refrigerator to see if she had bought the cake last night, the food… and there wasn’t anything there.

My heart sank. I walked back over to my Mother and tried to shake her awake. She was tired. I understood and didn’t fault her, but all I could think about was how everyone would be downstairs in just a couple of hours. There wasn’t enough time to write another note to all those people, and I didn’t even know who I actually invited. I felt so stupid for not making a list of the invitees.

A couple of hours passed and my Mother was still asleep in bed. It was almost time for the birthday party. I peered outside the lanai and saw the figures of people downstairs on the pool deck. They had presents and some had a balloon. I could feel the tears forming in my eyes and the embarrassment on my face. I disappeared back into the apartment.

Not too long afterwards, someone was knocking on the door. It was one of my favorite neighbor couples. I wish I could still remember their names… They were a younger couple and would let me into their apartment to play with their computer. The husband taught me how to type on a keyboard, and the wife was always so sweet to me. I remember wishing they were my parents. Since I can’t remember their names, let’s just call them Mark and Sarah.

Mark and Sarah asked why I wasn’t at the party, and I told them that my Mother wasn’t feeling well. They must have seen my disappointment. Then Sarah said, “Well, maybe we can take you out to celebrate for dinner instead?” My heart felt so full of joy again. They both smiled and we agreed that I would get my Mother’s permission, and would meet at the lobby around 6pm. Mark also let me know that he would let everyone know that my Mother wasn’t feeling well. I appreciated that so much.


They took me to the old Hard Rock Honolulu across the street from the Convention Center by the entrance of Waikiki. I had never been there before, and felt so special to be there that evening. They treated me to anything on the menu. I ordered a steak with extra fries that night. I remember sitting next to Sarah, and drawing on the back of the kiddy menu. Gosh, that feeling… as I write this, I am literally tearing up remembering their incredible kindness.

Sarah asked about school, life, my home life. My grades were crap, but I liked having friends. I never got to see my Mother, and I spent most of my nights begging her not to leave for work. I cried a lot because I didn’t like being alone — Sarah knew about that part and that’s why they let me spend time with them.

Then Sarah did something so simple, but it has stayed with me throughout all these years. She picked a napkin out of the holder, and asked:

“Do you know what Roy G. Biv stands for?” 

I shook my head. I had no clue. She smiled warmly at me, and started to pull out a crayon one-by-one. She pulled the red one and wrote the letter “R”, pulled the orange crayon, and wrote the letter “O,” yellow crayon for the letter “Y”, green crayon for the letter “G”, blue crayon for the letter “B”, purple crayon (she said it’s actually indigo) for “I”, and then the purple crayon again (she said it’s violet this time). I laughed at her and said, “the last two are the same thing!”

Then I remember Sarah saying, “Diana, I want  you to remember this for me… Roy G. Biv stands for the colors of the rainbow and whenever you feel sad, I want you to think about this rainbow because it represents the beauty in life… the hope… and just like when it rains and the world seems like it’s crying, know that there will always be a rainbow afterwards… something beautiful, like you.” 


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To this day, I still think about this wonderful couple who opened their hearts to me. I still think about them when I see a rainbow, and have told my children the same thing about rainbows and how it represents hope. I wish there was someway that I could find them, to let them know how much it meant to celebrate my birthday with me.

Later that evening, Mark asked me if I could do something really important for him. He asked me to close my eyes and count to 30 without peeking. Sarah put her hands over mine just in case!

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10… all the way to 30… I don’t think I ever counted that slow in my life.

When I opened my eyes, I saw a huge banana split with a candle on it! Sarah held my hand, and they all started to sing “Happy Birthday” to me… I just couldn’t help but cry and smile. I wanted my life to freeze at that moment — to live right there in that happiness with Mark and Sarah.

My friends, Mark and Sarah, moved away a few months later. It was so hard to see them go. I have never forgotten how something so small and seemingly ordinary can have such a profound impact on a human life. I’m 30 years old now, with two children of my own… a husband who is incredibly patient and loving. And I like to think that I have done right by continuing to hold onto the beauty in life despite the pain. In all honesty, I’m grateful for the suffering I’ve endured because without it I wouldn’t ever have known how strong I truly am.

Life is not perfect. I don’t have “the” answer to solve homelessness, child abuse, substance abuse, and other crippling life events. But I hope that by sharing snippets of my life, it can somehow continue to help others. I am so grateful for the complete strangers and good hearted people who have helped preserve and grow my human spirit. I think at the end of the day, kindness can go a long way… it provides that hope that things can be better, and the ability to make it through another day.

Curious to know if any of you have had similar experiences of unexpected kindness. Please share. 🙂










Family Court and My Childhood

“The wounded recognized the wounded.”
Nora Roberts, Rising Tides

I have been spending more time focusing on law school and my family these days, but there’s also been this quiet voice inside that keeps speaking to me. You would think that after everything, I would have finally learned to embrace being open and vulnerable. It seems like every time I face these moments of hesitation, I take a few steps back to climb into my cave and hope the thoughts will go away. But then I remember that hiding doesn’t do anything, and I know that this could really help someone else out there.

My externship experience has been professionally very rewarding, but personally challenging. I have observed a number of courtroom proceedings ranging from divorce to CPS, and more recently juvenile cases. One of the reasons why I sought out this opportunity was because of my own childhood experiences. I had gone through child protective services twice — the first when my kindergarten teacher made a report after finding bruises all over my body, and the second time was when a neighbor called the police. There was a lot to both “incidents,” and I am not quite ready to express all of that in detail here… but, these memories continued to “come up” while in court.

It seems like an entire lifetime ago… almost like it wasn’t even me. And yet, when I sat there in the courtroom and listened to the attorneys and social workers, it came right back to me. The yelling, the hitting…  not always having food or anyone around to watch me… wearing dirty clothes, wishing I had “normal” parents like everyone else… wishing I had somebody who could help me sew the cut-out fabric for May Day. I was the 8 year-old kid who stole shoes from your front door and left the “IOU” note because my parents were busy playing hot potato with my life. I was also the kid who knocked on your door with a car vacuum, hoping I could make $5 to buy new markers for school.

I did a really good job surviving back then, and actually credit my resourceful nature to the unfortunate circumstances of my past. There were lots of times when I’d watch my parents fighting… biological parents, step-parents, it seemed like every time an opportunity to finally be a family just never worked out. I could see the pain in some of the children’s faces, and it reminded me of where I once was. I wished so badly that I could reach out to them, to walk up to them, and say something to give them hope that they will someday have more control over the circumstances of their lives.

I was there.

Many, many years ago, I had a wonderful friend that I met mid-year at Ala Wai Elementary School. I was the new girl again, but this time it seemed different. People liked me and were curious… My friendship with (let’s just say her name is Chloe) Chloe grew and I quickly learned that she lived right down the street in a little 2-story walk-up. Her parents were divorced and she stayed with her dad in the walk-up for part of the week. I would visit her and we would rollerblade along the Ala Wai Canal after school, sometimes even skating towards the McDonalds across from Red Lobster by the Ilikai Hotel. It felt so good to have a friend to play with again.

Then one day I went over to her place, but she wasn’t there like usual. Her dad invited me in anyway and asked how school was going. I hated school. I embraced getting “Ds” and proudly stated that “D” was for “Diana.” I liked Chloe’s dad. He had these really interesting silver figurines that he liked to paint. It looked like medieval characters, all lined up for battle in a sandbox. I asked when Chloe would be back, and he said that he could call to ask. So I waited in the living room and heard him talking over the phone… Once he got off the phone, he smiled and said that Chloe would be there tomorrow.

He walked into his bedroom, the only other room in the apartment, and asked if I wanted to see the figurines. I was excited to see them. It was the one thing that was “off limits” to us. He let me pick out some of the unpainted ones from the shelf, and when I turned around I noticed he was sitting on the edge of the bed smiling. Then he asked me to sit next to him…

This was what led up to the first time I was sexually abused.

As I sat there in that courtroom with the knowledge that one of the girls had been sexually abused, my heart completely broke for her. Again… I wished I could just give her a big hug, and reassure her that she can feel whole again… that she could learn to trust,  that it is possible to love yourself and others, and you can someday have that family you have always wanted.

Having to sit there passively stirred up so many feelings and thoughts. I could feel that fire in my gut burning with fury, that same fire that I used to push and tear down my past for the future. There is so much fear, pain, and suffering in this world. I absolutely loathe the fact that there are children all over the world who are sexually abused, physically abused, exploited, and neglected. Someday, hopefully soon, I pray that I am able to reach out to them… to share in the understanding of the pain, guilt, and sadness of being hurt in a way that never fully goes away. It’s a memory that I have learned to calm so that I could embrace the beauty that surrounds me… my children, my husband, my family… they are my light and I appreciate the second chance that I have been given in this lifetime, so that I can somehow help others who suffer.

I have never publicly shared what happened that day in the bedroom… I’m not sure if I can “go there” and talk about everything yet. But I want to share that it happened… because if there’s one thing that I learned from all of this, it’s that if my discomfort in being vulnerable can help somebody else out there, then here you go. Here is my heart through my words. I hope that it helps.

We can heal together.



Which way from here?

“Never give up. There is no such thing as ending, just a new beginning.”

I know it has been quiet lately. I can’t ever seem to keep up with my own life, let alone find the mental space to sit down and sort through it all. I have been wanting to write it out, and for whatever reason I’ve been keeping most of it to myself. I think it was easier to write when I knew this blog was “just for me.” But then I’m reminded of all those who care… those who have been equally touched by similar life experiences. I’m not alone. So here we are again.

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My husband wanted to capture the moment that the Photo Book finally came in. A little teary-eyed, but my heart was all smiles.

A lot has happened since the last time I posted. A lot always happens, and that’s nothing to complain about given that everything can be seen in the positive. I know people are curious about my father’s health, his “progress” in life. Since the last time I wrote, my father passed his final taxi examination and started driving again. It was definitely a moment to celebrate. And then for various personal reasons, he decided to stop and wait another few months.

I can’t blame him for making that decision — the main thing is that he feels comfortable with where he is today. And he is… that’s all I can ask for. Again, I remind myself that “he is good for today.”

On a positive note, I finally finished the Photo Book for the Kickstarter project. The draft copy arrived in the mail last week, and it was quite a feeling to revisit the photographs. I showed my father the copy, and he was really proud of the fact that I finished it. It was something I have wanted to do for many years, and it couldn’t have been possible without the Kickstarter backers and my father’s encouragement.

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My father looking through the photographs.

The Photo Book contains a a series of photographs, separated into three major parts. It also includes photographs my father created using the camera that I had given him for Christmas last year. For those who have been following along, you may remember that I gave him the camera that I had intermittently used while he was on the streets. I hoped that by including his photographs, he would feel a sense of accomplishment as well.

Speaking of accomplishments, my father and I had a really nice conversation the other week. It’s always a hit or miss on whether he talks, or just wants to sit quietly. I usually let him guide the pace of our time together, and I love the moments when we connect through conversation. Shortly after showing him the Photo Book, he brought up my upcoming law school graduation and career plans for afterwards.

I am so proud of you,” he said.

And I am proud of you,” I said.

My father and I have been through hell and back separately and together. There was so much more to this moment… so much back history that has not been shared. Ever since I was little, I always wanted to make my parents proud. It’s ironic that I had to abandon everything I knew, to get to where I am today… a place where I can forgive him, a place where I can have the patience with myself and others to move forward in a positive way. And there were so many friends who helped me along the way.

His pride made me smile. We talked about my future, his future, my mother… and how things got to the way it did. He told me stories about her, and what she was like when she was younger. He pointed out our similarities, our differences, but ended with:

I always thought you were more like me…”

There it was again, he made me smile another time. He could be right, but I think I’m a good mix of both and definitely influenced by the good people who I’ve met along the way. I reminded my father about my graduation date, and how I wanted him to be there. He has been part of my law school journey… a source of struggle and suffering, but also one of acceptance and healing.

My law school community has been incredibly supportive all these years, and I’m really looking forward to having my worlds come together. I bought him a university pin the other day. As a former military soldier, he always seemed to have a thing for “pins” and “badges.” He wanted a pin to wear, and I asked if he was going to put it on his vest (he wears his gray vest religiously).

No, it’s for my suit,” he said calmly.

Well, now that is something I want to see! I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen him in a full suit. I may just go out and buy him an Aloha Shirt — I can’t imagine that he will be comfortable to be wearing a suit under the hot sun. Either way, I thought it was incredibly sweet that he wanted to wear a pin to show his pride in my upcoming graduation.

It’s getting late and I have a full week of work, school, and family duties ahead. I wish I could sit here and keep writing, but I know that it’s time to clock-out and get back to reading.

A few things I do want to share before I go…

I recently started an externship with a family court judge, and am looking forward to putting my experiences and legal education to good use. I think that a lot of what I’ve been going through with my father in the past few years has prepared me to help others who are going through traumatic life events. It feels like a step towards the right direction.

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Honored to be selected as a “Rare Under 40” awardee, and looking forward to meeting these incredible individuals in Washington, D.C.

I have also been participating in a number of community-wide events and conferences to continue the dialogue. I know that homelessness is never going to “go away,” but I truly am grateful for the people who spend their energy and time into helping those in need.

I know the nature of politics can be divisive, and that Hawai`i is especially having a difficult time addressing the needs of the homeless. Without delving too deeply into the politics of homelessness as an “issue,” I just want to recognize the efforts of all those who participate and engage in our system, to help address challenges and barriers that our disenfranchised experience everyday.

And with that, I hope that all of you have a meaningful week ahead… a meaningful life ahead. There is still so much more to learn, more to share, and I know that this is just the beginning.

With love and big hugs,


Gratefulness – Celebrating Life

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

My father and I met-up a couple of weeks ago to celebrate his birthday, and for finally passing his examination! He wanted to go someplace low-key — just somewhere we could have a good meal and hangout. We settled on a modest little spot in our usual area, and both ordered our comfort foods. I went for a bowl of tofu stew (“soon du bu jigae”), and my father ordered spicy cold noodles (“bibim guksu”).

Eating Korean food always has a way of reminding me of my childhood, and parents in particular. The spices are so familiar to me, yet I rarely find myself ordering or making the dishes I grew up on. Part of the reason was because it made me feel homesick during the years after I had runaway from “home.” And my husband knows to this day, that when I go out to order Korean food, it either means I’m feeling really sick or missing my parents.

Cold noodles

It had been years since I had this specific stew in the presence of my father. And it took nearly half an hour to eat it because it was so hot! I could tell he was amused watching me struggle in consuming this boiling hot stew, while he slurped his cold noodles down in less than ten minutes.

“Too hot to eat, huh?” he said.

I laughed out loud and nodded. He was right, I should have ordered the noodles with him. As we shared our lunch, he asked about school and how things were going. I admitted that it’s been a struggle staying balanced with law school, family, work, and making sure we’re paying the bills. The decision to leave my full-time job and transition into the full-time law program has certainly added some strains, but I know we’re almost there.

I think he must have sensed something was up, because he asked what I had planned to do after I graduate. I told him the truth, “I don’t know.” What I do know is that I trust things will work out the way they’re supposed to! He seemed pretty satisfied with that answer. I switched the topic to his plans. He still plans to start driving, but wants to take some time to decompress and relax. A part of me wishes that I could go out and buy him a used car to start driving right now. I know timing is everything, so I’m letting things unfold the way it has with us. Maybe after I graduate and start working again.

My father's first "selfie."

My father’s first “selfie.”

A lot of the time we share together is filled with quiet, and I appreciate that. I’m sure someone looking in from the outside may find it odd that we’ll just sit in one spot for half an hour, and intermittently glance over at each other and share a few thoughts, then go back to gazing at the scene in front of us. It must be a “photographer thing,” where we feel most comfortable blending in and letting things happen without our influence. Our time together is almost meditative… quiet and lovely.

He isn’t rushing anywhere in life right at this moment, and neither am I. It’s intriguing how much we are alike and different at the same time. We generally initiate conversations by saying whatever random thought is in our heads.

“Dad, remember when I told you that I started paddling? I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I thought about you in every race towards the finish line. I thought about where you were, what it felt like to be there with you, and I took that and used it to push past my physical pain towards the finish line.”

My father was quiet for a minute or two, and then he nodded and said, “But now you don’t need to think about that pain. Now you can just make a goal, and work towards that goal, and do it. You look to the future now, not back.”

It meant so much for me to hear this when I did — he was right, it’s time to look forward. We are looking forward separately and together. I’ve thought a lot about what he said to me about looking forward in my life in the past weeks. There is still so much that I want to do and accomplish in this lifetime, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to grow from the experiences I’ve had with him and on my own.

My father reading the news, while I study for class.

My father reading the news, while I study for class.

I feel like it’s time to share my story beyond what I’ve written in this blog and what is already “out there.” A part of me has always felt the pull to do that, but it requires that I look back in order to keep moving forward. It requires that I dig deeper, to open my heart, and sit in my own vulnerability to write the full story. I’ve tried to do that before and it was really depressing. I’ve spent the greater part of my adult life learning how to separate myself from the dysfunction of my childhood, and to move past it so that I could be the person I am today. It’s something I’ve struggled with more recently, especially since my experiences with my father have become so public. I felt like I had moved past it all, until he came back into my life just a couple of years ago. I realized there was so much more emotion and feeling underneath this protective shell I’ve grown over the years.

I’m still trying to find that balance, but the focus right now is to continue growing with my father and devoting more time and energy into my family overall. And of course, I continue to reach out to my friends on the streets and have community talks and conferences planned. I feel as if I’m on the cusp of a new chapter, and I’m grateful for all of the experiences I’ve shared with my friends, my family, and from people who have reached out near and far.

So with that, I want to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving from my heart to yours. I am so thankful for the life I have, that he has, that we all have today. I’m grateful for my good health, and the ability to keep sharing and connecting with all of you. As I continue discovering who my father is, I’m learning who I am as well. Thank you for following along. Sending you a big embrace this holiday season. 🙂





Resilience in Life

My father in quiet prayer and meditation.

My father in quiet prayer and meditation.

The journey continues. My father’s goal to become a taxi driver again has definitely been a bumpy road these past few weeks. He has taken the exam six times so far, and hasn’t passed yet… A part of me really wishes I could somehow talk to the exam proctor, to let them know that he was a taxi driver before. But I know that he has to do this himself, and all I can do is continue to support and encourage him.

So, why does he keep “failing”?

Part of the examination requires him to know the shortest route from Point A to Point B. He has been studying regular maps and practicing — I usually sit in the passenger seat and read my class materials. It actually works out really well. Some days, I’m struck with the incredible contrast of where he was… and where he is now. As he drives me through the streets of Honolulu, practicing to pass his examination, I can’t help but marvel at the synchronicity that my life continues to gift us with. These streets are my time machine and secretly hold the suffering, hope, faith, and love of my past, present, and future. I know I’m meant to do more there(here).

My father and I were walking those streets the other day. And the new memories I’m creating there with him are showing me what we share in common… we enjoy our peace and quiet, the ability to disconnect from the world so that we can reconnect with ourselves. I asked if we could visit the temple together. As I approached the incense, I turned over to my father for his approval…

“Am I doing this right?” I asked?

“There is no right or wrong way,” he said.

He still visits temples and churches, preferring the solace it provides to balance the energy of our world. We sat and meditated together, I said a quiet prayer of gratitude. I opened my eyes and looked over to my father… he looked so peaceful and rooted… he is so resilient. I thought about how far he has come, how he continues to work towards his goal of becoming a taxi driver again.

“This is beautiful,” I said.

I’m not sure who I was speaking to at that moment, whether I was saying it aloud thinking my father would answer. Or If I was saying it to myself and to my creator… I looked over at him again, and this time he was looking straight ahead. He was still quiet. I got up from my seat and sat next to him this time. We sat in the stillness of that afternoon together, breathing, living, and reflecting separately and together.

My father and I together.

My father and I together.

We talked about the meaning of life, our spiritual belief systems, politics, and philosophy. I hope to share them soon, once I have had more time to sit and process it all. And we ended on the note of his upcoming examination… Even after “failing” the examination six times, there was a buoyancy to his voice that had no indication of giving up or feeling deflated. He is just as hopeful and positive about passing the test, so that he can move forward. I believe in him.

He may not have played a positive role in my childhood and past, but I know we have each walked on our own road to resiliency. I know we share this in common. And I feel so grateful that our paths have been able to intersect in this way, and that we are both in a place with open hearts and open minds to accept and receive each other in whatever way we are capable of.

Who knows what the future will hold… for the short-term, I pray that he passes his examination this Friday. I know he will pass eventually, and it doesn’t matter how many times he has to take this test before he finally gets it. The more important thing is to acknowledge that he has not given up. I’m really proud of him for that… it says a lot about him and where he is right now in his life. Looking forward to being able to share when he passes!

Wishing everyone a beautiful day… 🙂