Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn
Two years ago, I had the honor of asking my ninety-year-old father, Malcolm, to escort me to the Western Publishing Association’s Maggie Awards. Maui No Ka ‘Oi had been nominated for Best Consumer Magazine. It was a big night, and admittedly, a little long.
But as the lengthy list of awards was nearing its end and our category was about to be announced, my adrenalin began to pump. I was literally sitting on the edge of my chair in hopeful anticipation.
Just then, I felt a poke from a bony finger — my father’s. Poke, poke, poke. “What, Daddy?” I asked, alarmed that he may be feeling ill. He gestured again, “Come closer,” the curling digit said. I leaned in so I could hear him. “I was thinking,” he began. “When I die, I want Kimokeo to say a prayer for me. Tell him I’ll hear him.”
At the thought of losing my father, my heart filled with pain. My eyes welled with tears. My makeup began to run. “OK,” I answered, weakly, while reaching for a tissue, “but Daddy, did you have to tell me now?”
Malcolm’s relationship with Kimokeo began perhaps four or five years prior. My father had come to visit my husband Jamie and me on Maui, and as always, Dad was curious and interested in everything, especially everything Jamie did. So we thought Malcolm would enjoy a (short) paddling adventure in a six-man canoe, with our friend Kimokeo Kapahulehua, and a few others.
A large man, imposing in both his stature and presence, Kimokeo is a force in the Hawaiian community. After we returned from our ocean paddle, Kimokeo and little Malcolm shared a private conversation on the beach. As I watched from a distance they embraced warmly and parted. My father walked toward us carrying a hand-carved, wooden paddle. His eyes, always the window to his soul, sparkled with fresh tears. “Kimokeo gave this to me,” he announced. “He says I have to bring it back next year, and put it in the ocean again.”
And Malcolm did, for many years to come.
What, you may ask, does a hulking, tattooed, Hawaiian kanaka have in common with a tiny Jewish man thirty years his senior? The answer is as simple as it is beautiful. Love.
Love of family; love of nature, the love of life and the connecting spirit of the Divine in all of it. For Kimokeo, the land, water, sky, the ancestors, and their collective connection to the Divine are one. At the core of my father’s being is an appreciation of life so great, that he too, would not, did not, differentiate the joy of loving from the joy of being.
My father recognized a spiritual brother in Kimokeo, and Kimokeo recognized a man who moved from a place of love in all he did, and all he embraced. In Hawaii, we call this aloha.
For my siblings and myself, our father was our rock. He taught us faith and commitment in all we do, from parenting to our professional lives. By example he taught us to care for our elders, our friends, and each other. He taught us that no one is perfect, not us, not him. Mistakes happen. But so does forgiveness. He gave us the gift of confidence, and the strength of character to move forward, no matter how rough the road.
The gifts of my father are the gifts I wish for all of us this holiday season. To cherish each other, and find the meaning of aloha is the most unexpected places.
“My father’s bone to my bone,” Kimokeo would say, “My father’s flesh to my flesh.” In his prayer, he would tell us, we do not lose the ones we love, we stay connected through the love we carry in our hearts, and our soul.
And my father will hear him.