Two Dad Dilemma
MauiTime – December 30, 2009 – Volume 14, Issue 28
By Anu Yagi
“I remember days when we were wiser / when our world was small enough for dreams / But you have lingered there my sister / and I no longer can it seems / Last night I dreamt I was returning / and my heart called out to you / But I fear you won’t be like I left you / Me kealoha ku’u home o Kahalu’u // Change is a strange thing / it cannot be denied / It can help you find yourself or make you lose your pride / Move with it slowly / as on the road we go / Please do not hold on to me / we all must go alone”
It’s strange when I listen to Anna speak—I can hear my voice in hers. It’s like playing back a homemade cassette tape—knowing it’s the sound of a long-lost, younger you—but having no memory of recording it. We have the same sort of bouncing cadence, like a slow rubber ball trapped in a rusty can, our enunciation touched with a properness that’s heartfelt albeit feigned.
“I was nervous I wouldn’t recognize you—that we might walk right past each other and not know,” she said. If only Anna knew how—for my whole life—I’ve worried about that, too.
Anna and I have the same birthday, six years apart. We have the same shaped toes, too, with laughably long, ball-ended indices. And we have the same father.
It was Sunday, the day after Christmas—the second time we’d ever met.
In last week’s column, I made evermore public my embarrassment over becoming a blathering fool on Twitter. In proverbial @ reply, the omniscient Twitterverse decided to level the score by reuniting me with one of my long-lost sisters.
A simple “Mele Kalikimaka” turned into a coffee date, which turned into a lunch meeting, which turned into a whole afternoon spent with no less than 12 closely related family members.
One of them was another sister, Kela. We have the same jaw line, the same subtle cleft in our chin. She’s preparing for her second tour in Afghanistan, and has a sprite spunk that I’d like to think we also share (though I know better).
It was with Kela that my life-long fear manifested five years ago, at the Pretzelmaker at the mall. Oh the surprise and shame of realizing I’d been making polite small talk with my sister! Our epiphany made quick crescendo to hugs and all-night catching up at her Happy Valley house, where I met all my siblings (there’s Macy, the youngest of the girls, and brother Bronson, too) and saw my father for the first (real) time since I was a toddler.
Father. Michael. That’s the tricky part—the reason so many siblings could grow up on a tiny isle and somehow never cross paths until later in life.
He was there, too. We didn’t say much, though I’ll admit it felt good to see him, and to see him see me. But I didn’t know what to call him. When speaking to Anna and Kela, I couldn’t say “your dad,” or “Michael” because that might hurt them. I couldn’t say “our dad,” because it’s not true in my heart, and frankly would be dishonorable to my dad.
Dad. Herman. The man who adopted me, but didn’t have to. The man who slaves his every day away to care for my mom, my brother and me. I’ve only ever had one dad.
Because while I can be kind to Michael going forward, I have no reason or room for kindness when it comes to the past. I know he’s sorry for what he did to my mom, how he’s sorry for losing me in the process—how he’s sorrier still that I’ve been better off without him.
Now that our paths have again intersected, we’ll move past it all because I don’t like confrontation. But boy, growing up, how I ached for confrontation. To tell him I was so angry at him. Angry like he’d gouged out one of my eyes, leaving me a flat-sighted onlooker into a world I’m indelibly tied to, but will never really know. Angry to be afraid of not recognizing my sisters.
This is what you missed growing up,” Anna said, one part proud, one part sarcastic. We were sitting at the harbor watching our tutus fishing with a loaf of bread, and laughing about how we’ve always hated our big, kanaka noses. Inspecting their faces and our first-ever photos, I realize she and Kela have our grandmother’s nose, while I have our grandfather’s.
But I heard a twinge of defensiveness in my voice when I responded—that trapped-ball bouncing faster, it’s reverberation more metallic. My dad took me fishing, but in Kaupo. I didn’t miss anything.
I did, though, miss them. And while I’m no longer afraid of not recognizing them, I am now afraid I might never really know them. But I hope one day I might.
When we parted, I drove to the nearest Shell station. It’s not the Shell station where my dad works, but any Shell station will do in a pinch. I feel safe there. I sat in the parking lot and had a good cry. I cried out my fear and my anger and rewound my sister’s mirrored voice in my head, wiping my snotty nose just to feel its shape. ■
It isn’t hard to pick out which one is me (other than the keiki / old folk / my sisters’ boyfriends)
Yep. I’m the glaring albino at center. Sorry for burning your retinas.
Kela with Tutu Lady and Tutu Man.
Zion, my nephew (Bronson’s son), fishing with Tutu Man.