“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,
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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… 🙂
Just a couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to speak to photography students at ‘Iolani School. I was so impressed by their thoughtfulness. I told them that I was an open-book, that they could ask me anything they wanted and I would answer honestly. One student had asked about my feelings and how I managed to “keep it together” while everything was unraveling. And what role the camera played in the process. These questions were like the ones that career reporters were asking me, but it was so different to hear the questions in-person… to see the youthful faces of curiosity shining in front of me. I loved it. And I was more honest with them than I had ever been.
There are still so many parts of this story, my past, my experiences with my father, and everything that happened from when I was born until today… and I know that I’ve held a lot back because it’s difficult to keep things in context. I’ve already learned the challenges of sharing something so intimate at such a “large” scale — and how bits and pieces of my past get blurred. It’s okay, I know that’s how it goes. But it felt really nice to be able to stand in front of these high school students and respond in-person, to have an open dialogue, and to continue sharing my respect and love for the visual medium.
Another student asked whether I thought I could have had the same journey without photography being a part of it. I don’t think that would have been possible. The camera is what brought me to them… it’s what connected all of us in that classroom, our shared passion for what the camera could do. At the core of it all, the camera itself is just a tool that allows us the freedom to capture and express a part of ourselves. And these images that are created can be so powerful, to the point where it moves our hearts and minds. I have always respected and admired the people (both presently and from the past) who continued to document and use this medium as a way to spark social change.
That was part of my message to the students in the class — that we are all part of this life journey, and each of us know what we really want… what we really love and are interested in. And it’s up to us to manifest that into reality. If you’re going to do something, put everything into it so you don’t look back and wonder.
I also wanted them to recognize that they can be creative in bridging various interests together. In my case it has always been photography and the law. Initially they may seem completely different from each other, almost at odds with each other. But I recognized early on that I wanted to do more than just document social issues, I wanted to be able to understand them at a deeper level. I wanted to understand the policy implications, the legal barriers of access to healthcare, and the way in which the law shaped the world I photographed. It has been an ongoing theme in my academic life… and I never imagined how personal it would be with my own biological father becoming homeless.
I truly appreciated this opportunity to have these meaningful conversations with the youth in my community. I look forward to my own sons growing up and developing into such thoughtful and curious teenagers… Deepest gratitude to the teachers who reached out and made this connection possible. Until next time…
I met Derrick standing by a bench next to the Kapalama Canal. His deep tan seemed to glow against the reflection of the water. The air felt clean and my skin was still cool from being at the news station for my morning interview. I glanced at him and made quick eye contact. He was busy talking to someone and our eyes met again — this time I waved at him. He nodded and smiled. I awkwardly introduced myself, almost interrupting their conversation, and sort of back-stepped towards a bench.
I could tell he was curious about me and my half-hearted attempt to say “hello.” I didn’t have any specific plan by being there. I had just left the news station from doing an interview on the Sunrise Show. I felt the pull to drive by the canal. Someone had mentioned that a one-mile fence would be built alongside this canal… another way to address the “homeless problem.”
So, there I was. I wanted quiet. Some “me” time. It is always emotionally draining to expose myself… to be vulnerable to a public audience, even if I’m just sitting under bright lights with a really warm reporter/human-being next to me. It was nice to be outside… a good break from where I had just been. I sat there alone, on the picnic table, and watched people come out of their tents. One lady was preparing her breakfast — it smelled like she was frying up some eggs and sausage. My stomach started to growl. I hadn’t had breakfast yet.
My attention came back to Derrick. His friend was gone and he was standing right next to me. Smiling, he asked what I was doing here.
“Here we go,” I thought.
I was honest. I told him where I had just come from, my journey, and my nervousness about sharing personal details of my life. He listened attentively. Layer by layer, I shared my hopes, my pain and fear. I mentioned how I felt so alone at times. And how I appreciate the quiet and solitude because it is a reminder that I, alone, will have to face my fears and manifest my hopes and dreams into reality. It’s that moment of pause we have in life that gives us the freedom to choose our next step.
I went on to share my thoughts about the money that would be spent on building the fence. I explained my belief that helping isn’t always about spending money. As children, we are oftentimes asked if we want anything… if there’s anything we can buy to make them happy or feel better. And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to buy a gift or a token of our appreciation. But it is the thought and intent behind it that truly touches the person… touches the child… It’s about love. People want to feel loved, to have someone listen to them and their feelings, and be held when they’re not feeling good. I’m not so sure that building a fence will help the situation.
He shared his own life story — how he had lived a life of incredible financial freedom at a young age. Derrick had money, lots of it, and he blew it all away on the “wrong things” in his early years. He remembers a time when he would drive by homeless people, scoffing at their circumstances and turning away from them — seeing them as failures in life.
My stomach started to growl.
I asked if he was hungry and his response made me laugh. “Girl, I am one Hawaiian braddah, I can always eat.” Thank goodness. I was starving. We walked over to the nearest Zippy’s restaurant and ordered rice, eggs, and portuguese sausage. He liked his rice the same way I did — colored with shoyu and tabasco. Perfect.
We sat by a big window and he shared more about his life and the new perspective and life path he was on. He enjoys helping people. Derrick reflected on a time when he had “everything,” yet he was incredibly unhappy with life. And now at the cusp of being 50 years-old, he has very little in the material sense, but has never felt more content. He is happy. He is learning to be at peace with himself, and being on the streets is part of that journey in helping him to get there.
The journey for Derrick is more spiritual than anything else. He shared the struggles of his father, his family, those who came before him… and at one point he lifted his shirt, revealing a tattoo across his chest that read:
‘Ōiwi na’u koko ha’aheo na’u koko
(Hawaiian by blood, proud by choice)
I grew up in Hawai`i, but cannot claim to fully understand the incredibly deep, interconnected, and enriching history and language of Hawai`i. However, I do have a deep respect for Native Hawaiians, like Derrick, who are part of an ongoing economic, social, cultural struggle that threatens the cultural practices and way of life of Indigenous Peoples. For those who are interested in learning more, I highly recommend reading “Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai`i?”.
He explained that many people living near Kapalama Canal express frustration in wanting a subsistence way of life, but not having the option to. At the same time, there are many who are depressed and need a friend. I realized that Derrick and I were a lot alike in this way… Wanting to be a friend, feeling connected to ourselves by connecting with others, but also appreciating our moments of solitude to recharge and reflect.
I wondered if he was depressed.
I openly shared how, in retrospect, I was depressed while my father was homeless. And how I learned to deal with being alone, compartmentalizing the pain, in order to keep things together in other areas of my life. It was so hard, and I know I’m a different person because of it. I have grown, no doubt, but I have also learned how to approach challenging experiences as an opportunity for growth. And I don’t mind having to push myself… I’m accepting what it means to be uncomfortable.
“Kūlia i ka nu‘u,” he said.
(Strive to the summit)
Derrick acknowledged what I was sharing. I was revealing myself to him — a period of personal turmoil that I really hadn’t broken down yet. It was hard, but I got over it. And that’s really all that mattered. But he didn’t mind listening to the details, watching the layers unfold that morning, as I was fresh from just sharing my story live on-air.
I think he noticed the change in my mood because he abruptly changed my train of thought by mentioning his mother. His mother shared something with him at an early age, and he wanted to share it with me. He asked me to spell out the word “depression.” I said each letter out loud, slowly… Then he asked me to cross out the first “d”, the “e”, and the “i.”
When you take the word “depression,” and you cross out those letters, you’re left with the words “press on.” If you don’t “press on” in life, then the three letters you took out spell “die,” and you will surely “die” because of your depression.
“So, Diana… press on, kūlia i ka nu‘u, strive to the summit” he said.
Yes, Derrick. I will. It has taken me over a week to write this post… I’ve held onto the strength and thoughtfulness of his words… of the life that is woven into his words… It means a lot to me, and now I’m sharing them with you. As I drove away that morning, I felt happier… understood, validated… I smiled knowing that he had helped me, and I had helped him. We saw each other and our hearts nodded quietly as I waved goodbye. It’s never truly goodbye, though. Deep down inside, I know I will see him again.
Wishing you all the best in the journey… until next time…
A few days ago, I agreed to do an interview with BBC and found myself sitting in the Hawai`i Public Radio station at 9:00pm waiting for a call from London. As I sat and waited for the reporter to ring in, I looked around the room where I “came out” and shared my story for the first time.
The phone rang.
It was surreal to hear the voice on the other end ask questions about my life. We spent nearly an hour talking about life and my personal experiences with my father. What it was like to see him for the “first time,” and what that “first time” really meant. At the end of the interview, I really wasn’t sure what the direction of the story would be. I know it is largely up to the reporters to edit… we shall see.
It was past 10:00pm by the time I walked out of the station. I realized that the last time I made this drive home at night was when my father was still on the streets. As I quietly drove down the street where my father use to sleep, I felt the need to pull over. I pulled the car to the side, in front of a meter, like I had done hundreds of times. And then I walked out towards the doorway where my father slept.
I stood there by myself… soaking in the fluorescent light hanging from the storefront. I raised my fingertips to the sides of the doorway, feeling the roughness of the frame. Slowly, I sunk down to the floor and breathed in my moment of solitude in that doorway.
“He survived… He got out,” I said to myself.
I said a quiet prayer that night… to the world, to my universe/God/creator. As I got back into the car to drive away, I noticed a man walking towards my direction. He had a bag full of recyclables, just like my father did. I was getting ready to leave, but I felt this pull to stay.
“It’s late… should I stay? Should I go?”
I decided to stay.
I rolled down my window and waved at him. He looked surprised. I smiled at him and asked if he was hungry — if it’d be alright to hangout with him. He nodded that it was. I sat next to him and learned his name… Vincent. That he has been living on the streets for quite some time, wants to be a marriage therapist to help couples and families with conflict resolution. I could tell that his more recent relationship issues were plaguing his heart, and that he was carrying a painful weight he couldn’t accept.
We talked about the society that continues to unfold in front of us, and what that means for the people who live on the streets. I shared my own story with him, and how I feel most “alive” when I’m connecting with others like him. As the night continued, I found myself confiding in him of my own dreams and hopes in this lifetime, along with my doubts and insecurities. He shared his life mantra with me that evening, and I’d like to share it with you…
“I want my life to be about addressing the most needed areas, helping the lowest first.”
Hearing this made me smile. Vincent was kind enough to point out that my life journey was already manifesting this purpose. And then he brought up his desire to be a marriage therapist again. I could tell this was really important to him… And in some weird way, I actually felt like he already was a therapist. We spent over an hour sitting there, counseling each other, sharing our thoughts, sparking a friendship, and appreciating each others’ existence. There is something so raw and true about connecting with an open heart.
As I gave him a hug goodbye and got into my car to drive-off, I looked over at Vincent again. He looked at me, smiling this time, and I said “I know our paths will cross again Vincent — who knows, maybe you’ll be my marriage therapist!” Driving away was always the hardest part, and it still is in some ways. I don’t ever know if I’ll see these people again… I hold onto hope that our encounters did something good for them, the way it did good for me. So the journey continues…
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 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.