When I made the decision to launch my consulting business, I knew that a lot of my potential clients would be in Hawai’i. So I’ve been setting up my old bedroom at my Dad’s house in Moanalua Valley to serve as a second home-office.
Moving back in with Dad has allowed me to learn so much about him. Ever since my Mom passed away in 2000, he’s lived alone. Since most of my visits home after moving to the mainland were centered around holidays and occasions, I never really had a chance to hang out with him by myself. Now we eat a lot of meals together, and I can witness his day-to-day habits. I’m finding out that he’s a really cool guy, and he’s got a lot of fascinating ways of coping with aging.
Yesterday I told him that I wanted to start writing about him in my blog. I said that people might be able to learn from the stuff that he does. After protesting a bit, he said finally okay. If writing about him helps other people, then it was worth doing.
My Dad is 80 years old. He was born in ‘Ele’ele, Kaua’i and attended Waimea High School. After attending the University of Hawai’i and doing his time in the Army paying it off, he spent his entire career working for the State of Hawai’i Department of Education. He started as a math teacher, then worked up the ranks to become a vice-principal, principal and eventually a district- and state-level budget administrator. I could tell that my Dad was well-liked in the DOE, because in the early 2000’s when I started working with schools, principals and administrators would ask me, “Are you Don’s daughter?” And that would open doors.
He retired from the DOE in 1992, which was shortly after I left for college. But then he spent the next 8 years caring for my Mom for as she battled brain cancer. After she passed, I don’t exactly know how he managed to figure out a new routine. I wasn’t paying attention then — too wrapped up in my own life. Now that I am, I see that he wakes up early each morning to exercise at 24-hour Fitness. Before he leaves the house, he checks his own blood pressure and logs it down on a chart. He also checks his blood sugar, even though he doesn’t have diabetes! I think some doctor mentioned to him that it was a good idea to check it, so he bought the kit and has been keeping track.
He has a group of friends that he meets up with at McDonald’s for coffee after the gym. I met them on my last trip. They’re a lively bunch of seniors! Twice a week, he attends a yoga class. Once a week, he spends the afternoon with my niece and nephew, picking them up from school and taking them on an outing to the library, a museum or shopping. He also gets the entire family together on Sundays for dinner: my sister, brother and their respective families. My husband and I would usually try to join in via webcam from the mainland.
For the past 3 years he’s been mostly a vegetarian. He still enjoys eating salmon on occasion, and if he’s served something with meat, he just eats around it. He hates it when people make a fuss over his diet, so he usually doesn’t tell anyone. The other day, I watched him quietly pick off the pepperoni from supreme pizza and give it to my niece. She, of course, happily gobbled it up. I asked him why he decided to become a vegetarian, and he said that he always wanted to lose some weight. He read about it in a book one day, and it seemed easy enough to do. He got approval from his doctors and just did it. And since he managed to lose weight without feeling hungry, he just kept it up. I recall that he quit smoking the same way sometime when I was a teenager. He just quit cold turkey. No fuss.
Since my Dad spent a good part of his career working with spreadsheets and DOE finances, he’s always been pretty good with computers. He has an iMac and uses Quicken to track every dollar he spends, as any good budget administrator would. He still has an AOL email address, which he checks regularly — if only to delete the spam that arrives.
The Internet came about after he retired, so he has never been much of web browser. But I gave him an iPhone for his birthday last year, and he’s discovered the magic of Google. Whenever he and his friends are debating about something over coffee, he whips out the phone and looks it up. He said that they now call him “Mr. Know-it-All”.
I wanted to end this introduction to my Dad by describing our relationship on Facebook. I started him with an account in 2009 because I realized that it would be a good way for him to follow along with what was going on in my life. Since then, he’s been checking Facebook twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. He’s read all about my career dramas, seen all my travel photos and heard about my soap-box issues. He never posts or comments on anything, and he only has ten friends. I think it drives the Facebook algorithm a little crazy because they don’t know what to show him. On his newsfeed, after the few posts from myself, my sister-in-law and my cousins, Facebook shows him an endless stream of random ads, waiting to see what he’ll click on. Of course, he never does. He just closes the window and checks back again the next day.
Sometime in 2012, I taught him how to “like” a post. I told him that it would send a message to me that he saw it. So since then, he’s liked every single one of my posts. Anyone who tags me in a photo knows to expect it: “Donald Kanagawa likes your post.” I’ve never felt the need to check up on him, because as long as I post something each day, I can look for the ping.
For now, we’re holding off on that life-alert bracelet. =)