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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Hawai'i Ways, Hawai'i Days
Lasting legacy of a father's undying love

By Melissa Kamakawiwo'ole

Father's Day will always be a bittersweet day of remembrance for me. My dad has been gone for over 25 years, but his memory will always be in my heart. I was born when he was 52 years old — his "big surprise" right before retirement. I was a scraggly, goofy kid with a boy's haircut and Bugs Bunny teeth, but it didn't matter, because I was the apple of his eye.

He was an elementary school art teacher, and tried to instill his love for art in me by giving me lots of paper to draw on. This got me into a lot of trouble later as I was always daydreaming and doodling in class. He loved to tell jokes and stories, and sing songs like "Sentimental Journey" and "Edelweiss."

One of the stories I especially like was about how poor his family was, so they would go to the pond to catch frogs to eat, not that I yearned to follow that tradition. He and his brothers would deliver newspapers and shine shoes downtown to help their mother. One day, they made $9. I guess that was a large sum, way back when.

Another story he told me that remains fixed in my mind is how he always wore the same shirt to school. On one occasion, the teacher called him up to the front of the class and said, "Kam Cho, you wear the same shirt every single day!"

My righteous indignation would get completely stirred up at this mistreatment, and I would say in the most exasperated voice, "Daddy, why didn't you DO anything?" I could never understand it, but that's how my dad was, full of compassion and turning the other cheek. He really believed it was better to be kind than to be right.

My dad was also the kind of parent who believed in verbal affirmation. Unlike many Oriental parents who do their boasting behind the child's back, if to give praise at all, my dad had learned the fine art of watering my spirit.

I remember one instance when I had to bring home a less-than-glowing report from school. I was dreading having to show it to him, but when I did, if he was disappointed, he didn't show it. He said I would surely do better next time. He thought whatever I did was the "cat's meow."

When I was 11 years old, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That part of my life seemed to be a blur; I remember his going in and out of the hospital a lot.

He was a retired Army major and had been eligible for a World War II Victory Medal, which he never received. The Rev. Lawrence Takao, the chaplain at St. Francis Hospital at the time, called Gen. Edward Yoshimasu of the Hawai'i National Guard to convey my dad's wish to have the medal so he could give it to me. He generously obliged, and the medal was pinned on my dad an hour before he passed away. I know that medal meant a lot to him and to our family, but my dad had already been a hero in my eyes for a long time.

I think that every little girl should have a dad like I had. To be able to bask in the warmth and security of a father's unconditional love is something you can't put a price on. The love I've learned from his example is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Thanks for all the lessons, Dad, the ones that were spoken, but mostly for the ones you lived. These I will treasure always. I love you, Daddy.

Melissa Kamakawiwo'ole lives on O'ahu.

If you'd like to share stories of Island living, keep them to three double-spaced pages (about 600 words) and send to: Hawai'i Ways, Hawai'i Days, Island Life, Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 69802. Or e-mail: islandlife@honoluluadvertiser.com. Or fax: 525-8055. Include name, neighborhood and daytime phone number.