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

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.

Hugs,Diana

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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