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.




Igniting the Beginning

The Passport

A homeless man living in Ala Moana Beach Park shares his childhood passport.


“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”

– Sydney Smith


I saw my father crossing the sidewalk this morning on my drive to work, and the image of his frail body has been branded on my mind all day. I have wanted to start a blog to chronicle my experiences, thoughts, and feelings as I try to help my father. It is a constant struggle having to accept that I cannot force a person to change, while pushing a system that is slow in mobilizing resources and assistance when it is needed. I find it ironic that thousands of dollars have been spent fattening the pockets of campaigns trumpeting solutions for the homeless, while the money never seems to “trickle down” to the individuals who could directly benefit it. Don’t get me wrong — I believe in the philosophy of teaching a person to fish, instead of just giving them fish; but I would prefer that it didn’t take hundreds of thousands of dollars and sound bytes to get the right person elected so we can finally implement “the plan” to solve the homeless “issue.”

It’s not just an issue — my father isn’t an issue. He is a person. He is a human being. He is not perfect, and at this very moment he is sleeping in the shadow of a doorway in Honolulu. He is homeless in paradise because he was evicted from his apartment by his landlord and the building manager. He was evicted because he had not been bathing for months, and was a ‘nuisance’ to his neighbors. He was not bathing because he suffers from a severe mental illness, and continues to hear voices in his head telling him to not bathe. I have no idea why or when he started to hear these voices because I frankly didn’t grow up with him around. But, what I do know is that somewhere along the way his illness became bigger than himself. Somewhere along the way, he became less functional in this world and lost touch of his day-to-day purpose in life.

I will never forget the day I saw him on the street after I had returned from my Fellowship in D.C. I had serendipitously run into a homeless services director while working in D.C., and was able to gather tidbits of my father’s health status and living arrangements. I had learned that the Legal Aid Society was not able to provide services to assist him with the fair housing issue. His case must have somehow fell through the cracks. So, on my first week back in Hawai`i, I braced myself for the worst as I drove around looking for him. I found him standing at the corner of a busy intersection staring into the asphalt. His hair was matted and his head rolled in small circles. My throat felt like it was on fire, as I stood paralyzed behind him. I inched closer towards him feeling a sense of uncertainty, and finally found the courage to call out to him. He didn’t hear me. He couldn’t hear me. I slowly stepped closer and mustered up the courage to tap him on the shoulder. Still nothing. He didn’t look up. He didn’t turn around. By now there were a couple of pedestrians who had noticed my efforts, and I could feel their eyes burning into my back and face. I could feel their curiosity pierce through the space between my father and I. The vast emptiness between us was broken by a woman who approached me and said, “Don’t bother, he has been standing there for days.”

At that point I felt as if I had swallowed a golf ball. I couldn’t breathe. A part of me wanted to scream at this woman, and the world, for being so callous. I wanted to yell that he was my father, that she was a heartless person to not care. But I realized that none of that would change the circumstances. So instead of screaming at her, I faced her and said, “I have to try.”

I have to try. I have never been so afraid to try something because of a fear of failure. The thought of writing out my experiences in this format elicits a strong sense of fear. But when I ask myself why I feel this, I realize that it’s because I am afraid of sharing a story that does not have a happy ending. I am afraid because I know I can’t change him. I am afraid because I know that people will judge me, my father, and frame their own views based on their experiences. At the same time I recognize that this could also reach so many others who are having similar experiences. We have to try. I have to keep trying.