Gifts from My Father

I always wanted a puppy or kitten from my dad. My father always said no when I pleaded with him. So of course, I did what any other kid would do, I consoled myself with goldfish and crickets as pets.

Side note: The crickets lived a life of luxury in a terrarium, with fresh apple slices and spinach every day. They were also loud as f…, and when they had babies, they had about a thousand of them. I’m guessing; I didn’t actually count. The goldfish didn’t fare so well, and went belly up in less than a week.

But back to the story.

What I did get from my father was far better, in hindsight. The list is immeasurable, but here are three things that I CAN count:

1.) A bike.

With this, he taught me how to try, and try again, despite crashing into the hedges at the end of our drive more times than I care to admit. It gave me freedom to cruise the neighborhood and make friends with the kids around me. It fueled my imagination, as I became the Lone Ranger, racing off to rescue someone. It made me think I was invincible, as I pedalled madly down the street like a streak of five year-old lightning. It gave me bragging rights as we kids argued as to who had the prettiest streamers on their handlebars. It gave me responsibility, because leaving your bike lying in the middle of the driveway was no way to treat a gift.

2.) The thrill of restaurants and food.

Every week, he would take us out for dinner. It was usually the neighborhood coffee shop (where I got my favorite vegetable soup, and yes, it probably came from a can). Sometimes it was McDonald’s, because in Hilo, finally getting a McDonald’s was a huge event. It made us feel like a Big City! Also, the choice of restaurants MY MOTHER WOULD GO TO in Hilo were limited.

On a rare sunny day(it rains, rains, RAINS, in Hilo), it was a bucket of fried chicken and with musubi in Liliuokalani park Afterwards, my sister and I would later roll down the grassy hill or play hide and seek in the bamboo grove.

Other days it was sirloin steaks on the hibachi on the beach, grilled rare and delicious with just a sprinkling of Hawaiian rock salt. After dinner, when we arrived at home, I would ask my mother when dinner was, because my five year-old brain couldn’t grasp a picnic as a proper meal, that we were done eating for the day.

Dad did this for two reasons. He believed that my mother deserved one day off from the kitchen every week. He also wanted us to learn how to behave in public, how to sit through a dinner, how to eat properly, and how to talk to and order from a stranger. Okay, third reason: I also think he really just liked food.

So now food plays a focal role in my life. I love the drama and theatre of a restaurant. There’s an unwritten script that restaurants follow. The stage set changes, the locations are worldwide, but the arc of the story remains unchanged. The high wattage attraction of food is something I learned at an early age.

3.) Most importantly, he gave me an education.

Because knowledge is power. And I’m not talking about just book smarts. Dad was convinced that I should to go to The Mainland (the forty eight contiguous states, to us locals) because I needed to get out of the comfort zone of pidgin English, shorts, tee shirts and life in the very slow lane. He said “the world is run by haoles, you need to learn how to deal with them.”

We weren’t a wealthy family. But Dad managed to send his kids to college. It wasn’t even a question of whether or not we would go. It was more of a WHERE we were going to go when we graduated from high school. There was no try, there was only DO.

He told me that my choice of degree wasn’t the important thing. The real reason I needed to leave the island was to acquire the ability to think critically, to see the bigger world and to be comfortable swimming in the wider seas of society. He was right.

I’ve never used my degree. But I have used those four years at university in other ways that have nothing to do with a dichotomous key or the Krebs cycle. I discovered, the hard way, that no one was going to push me to go to class and no one would pave my path for me. I had to do it myself. The toughest lesson of all to comprehend was no start or finish line; waiting for permission from someone else was a waste of time.

It still is, and I am still mastering this assignment.

Looking back, I see that Dad gave me the opportunity to develop and seize my power. He let me design my own life, draw the silhouette of it and fill in the colors.  He allowed me to find my true north on my compass by giving me the tools to read a map and plot my course.

I’m not sure he thought in terms of women’s liberation, even though I grew up in the seventies, when bra burning and protests against male chauvinism were part of the daily diet of television. He simply wanted his daughter to be strong enough to stand on her own.

I’m standing, Dad. Sometimes my legs have been kicked out from under me, but I’m back on my feet. I’ve gone off-road at times, and doggy-paddled against the tide. I’ve been lost and taken many a detour, but the presents you gave me bring me back on course.

The real gifts of his fatherhood are better than a puppy or a kitten. Thanks, Daddy.

Happy Father’s Day.



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