July 17, 2017, marked 20 years from the day we lost my father. He was the 9th son of immigrants, and the best dad I could have asked for. My time with dad was split into two phases. One, was of my youth … before he got sick. The other, was the last 9 years of his life, which were hard for everyone, but most assuredly the most difficult for him. I knew there was something about 7/17/17 that meant something … but it just hit me today. 20 years without dad went by, and it feels like an eternity.
Hindsight has 20/20. I wish I’d done things different–wish I’d been a better kid. I remember dad as healthy and powerful, and then beyond depressed in the two phases of his life that I was able to be a part of.
I remember waving at his taillights in the early morning as he drove to his job at Pearl Harbor. 5:30am, on the quiet streets of Mililani, I was maybe 4 or 5 years old, standing by my window, calling out to him, “Bye, Daddy,” over and over again. Softly, he would shush me and tell me to go to bed. Some mornings I went outside, and watched him wipe his windshield down with a paper towel before he could leave. (His car had no AC). My room was next to the front door and the garage, and it was like I slept with one ear open, waiting for this weird ritual to take place. I remember standing on my bed, peering out the window each time he drove away, until he made the turn at the end of the street and I could no longer see his tail-lights.
I remember going to Dairy Queen in Wahiawa. Watching dad drive stick, smoke a cigarette, and eat McDonald’s hamburgers/cheeseburgers simultaneously in that mustard-yellow Toyota Corolla. (I always thought it was interesting that my dad would get both hamburgers and cheeseburgers from McDonalds.)
I remember him sitting on his lazy-boy chair. One of the only luxuries that was purely for dad. A gift from my mom, since dad never asked for anything. She got him the chair a few years before he got sick. I recall him kicking me off the chair, and laughing at me. The cigarette smoke coming out of his nose, like a dragon, and the smoke curling around his upper-arm tough-guy tattoos. My dad was tough. He was a man’s man. A macho dude. John Wayne. The best dad.
He was the man who could build all kinds of things from scratch, do electrical work, and minor plumbing. He was a Local renaissance man. A fly-weight boxer in the Air Force, and a Korean War veteran. He played football and ran with the gypsies in Lualualei. He was the man who could teach my sister calculus in a different way from the textbook.
Even when my dad got sick, he wowed us. He took the driver’s test and passed despite it being administered on a computer, and him having suffered a stroke. He passed the math test and out-scored most of the employees at the Rehab Hospital of the Pacific (according to one of the nurses there). I remember sitting with him and trying to interview him for a class project, and never having the courage to listen to that cassette tape after submitting it. (I got an “A” in that class).
He took care of us. We were able to live off his pension and medical insurance from his 32-year career at Peal Harbor Naval Shipyard. He wanted the best for us.
I thought of him when Karren and I went to Haleiwa Beach Park. He’s a Waianae boy, so his favorite beach is probably west-side, but I remember his love of Hawaii and the sea.
My mom and dad both are in the niche at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, or “Punchbowl” as most Locals call it. I forgot to go this year. I try to go on 7/17. I missed it last year too, because I was in D.C.
Sorry, dad. I will come see you soon, I promise. And, thank you for everything. I miss you. Aloha ʻoe.