My father, Dr. Masayoshi Nelson Yogi, succumbed to pancreatic cancer on Dec. 17, 1999. Over the past 18 1/2 years, not a day has passed without me thinking about him, usually with a smile or an observation like, “Daddy would have loved that!” Occasionally, I find myself overcome with tears and a gnawing pain that seems to shoot from my heart into the palms of my hands. Last Sunday was one of those days.
Looking through old photos for a picture to post on my Facebook page for Father’s Day, I had to pause, clench my fists and hold them to my eyes to stem the sobbing. After composing myself and posting my favorite Daddy photos, I spent half an hour getting to know other people’s daddies. Many of my FB friends shared anecdotes and faded photographs of long-departed fathers, heroes all. Their stories helped turn a poignant morning into a celebration of loving memories.
My favorite recollections are of my early childhood, when my father would spend hours playing little girl games with me. He taught me to read before I turned 3, and always had time to listen to me read aloud from my storybooks or recite poems I’d written for or about him. At night, he and my mom would pick up their ukuleles and sing me to sleep. Daddy always said that reading and music were the two greatest gifts he could give me, that they would always bring me joy and they could never be taken away.
When my son was born, we named him James Masayoshi. Daddy was so proud that Jimmy carried his name, but he didn’t want to offend my then-husband. So, instead of calling him by his middle name or nicknaming him “Little Masa,” Daddy dubbed him “JM.” That way, he explained to me, Jim wouldn’t feel excluded.
Throughout Jimmy’s childhood, especially after Jim and I divorced, my father served as his central role model. Daddy showered JM with the same kind of loving attention he had lavished on me. My greatest sorrow is that my father died before his great-granddaughters were born. Some might say, “Oh, he’s smiling down on them from heaven now,” but I doubt that. My dad didn’t subscribe to the conventional understanding of heaven or hell. He believed that heaven is here and now, that we should live our lives in awareness and appreciation of this incredible blessing.
I often think about his philosophy and the many lessons he taught me, especially when I take stock of my life so far. Ironically, the career path I’ve taken is not one he would have chosen for me. “I don’t understand why you would want to draw attention to yourself,” he’d say, every time I auditioned for a school play. Yet he steadfastly supported me in every endeavor, and although my propensity for performance may have embarrassed him a little, he always let me know how proud he was of me.
This Saturday, I’ll carry his legacy in my heart and my head as I make good use of his gifts. At 11 a.m., I’m going to be a guest reader for a story-time session at the new Barnes & Noble store in the Maui Marketplace. Then, at 7 p.m., I’ll emcee the 19th annual Taiko Festival presented by Zenshin Daiko in the MACC’s Castle Theater. I hope you’ll join me for one or both of those events. I promise not to cry (I’ve done enough of that while writing this column).
Daddy may not be watching me from heaven, but I will feel his spirit inside and around me on Saturday, as I do every day. He was right about reading and music, but he never mentioned the third, equally precious gift: unconditional love. I suppose that’s because he never thought of his love as a gift; rather, it was a given.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.