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.

Hugs,Diana

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,

Diana

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.

Hugs,

Diana

Making it Better

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Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.

– Margaret Mead

I have been thinking of more constructive ways to “make it better” for my dad and the countless other homeless who suffer from mental illness. Through my experiences in trying to get help, I have become more aware of the disconnect between various agencies and organizations in our community. For whatever reason, these organizations appear to work in silos and it is incredibly challenging to receive accurate information on where my dad can go for assistance (when he agrees to it).

I completely understand that resources are limited, and the existing system is already bogged down from having to process and maintain services. But, I do think I can help. I approached one of my mentors at the law school this past week, and came up with a plan to integrate my legal education with my personal efforts with the homeless (including my dad). I can’t think of any better way to use this time to participate in the discussion, and apply what I am learning through my legal studies. My goal is to improve the system by providing a resource manual for families who are experiencing similar struggles.

There is a wealth of information out there, but I have yet to find one place that identifies the resources, requirements, and necessary steps in getting a homeless person from Point A to Point B. So, what does that actually mean? It means that if a person living on the streets is ready and willing to receive assistance, then the goal should be to get that person help within that workday. The other is addressing the issue that I experience personally with my dad. Over the past year and a half of visiting him and trying to communicate, I have learned that I cannot anticipate how he will be mentally when I approach him. In the beginning, there were times where he did not even recognize me or speak to me. During those precious minutes when he agreed to going to a shelter and getting treatment, he would change his mind. The fragility of these moments are incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking.

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have a solution that will help everyone. But, I do want to make things better. Even if it means starting with my dad. I want to see him drive a taxi cab again. I want to see him standing tall and strong again. I want to share his favorite noodles with him again. One of the last “real conversations” I had with him was in the parking lot of his old apartment a few years ago. His words touched my heart, and I forgave him for everything. He said:

“Diana, I am so sorry for not being in your life. I am so happy that you have a family of your own now. Do better for them. Don’t worry about me or what everyone says about me. If you want to make me proud and happy, be there for your family the way your mom and I never were. Stop trying to save everyone… just worry about yourself and your family. And don’t forget why I named you Diana, you are the light within the darkness.”

There is a lot of pain and suffering in this world, but I truly believe that we can make a conscious choice everyday to make things better. Forgive those who ask for forgiveness, and do your best to not repeat the cycle of negativity and pain in your own life. Our time here is so short, and I would much rather die knowing that I tried to make it better. People have asked what they can do to help. In all honesty, I think we can help just by being nicer to the people around us. We all have a family member or friend who could probably use a little more positivity in their life, and yes… the homeless person sitting on the sidewalk. It’s all up to us as individuals to decide what’s the best way we can help, and then to act on it. Every small gesture of kindness can create waves of positivity in this world…

The uncertainty of what lies ahead for my dad scares me… it hurts me… but, I know there are things in life that we can change. How we choose to see any given situation, and what we do with them. I’m feeling hopeful today.

Until next time….