Twenty years and a day ago, as I stood at his bedside holding his hand, my father took his last breath on this earth. Christmas 1999 was, for my family, just another day in the blur of mourning. Even now, the merriment of the holiday season is tinged with melancholy, and I start sobbing at the most inopportune moments.
I’ve always loved Christmas music, still do. Now, whenever I hear Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas” or anyone’s version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” I sing along through my tears. Those songs remind me of the nights my dad would serenade me to sleep with his ‘ukulele. He always sang “You Are My Sunshine” and I’d ask him to stop before the second verse:
The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping,
I dreamt I held you in my arms.
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken.
So I hung my head and cried.
Sometimes, he’d just repeat the first verse, but usually he’d sing the whole song and hug me extra tight, assuring me that he’d always be here for me.
Many Maui kamaaina remember my father as their singing dentist or as a local weightlifting coach. The Maui News readers may know him through the numerous mentions I’ve made in this column. The first tribute I wrote to Daddy was published nationally, in Jack & Jill Magazine’s “My Father Is . . .” column. I was 6 years old.
My father is a weightlifter. Perhaps you have heard of him. His name is Dr. Nelson Yogi. He broke two Maui records. My father is a champion. He is also a dentist. My teacher said that some of her friends like him. He soothes the children that cry. I am proud of my father. He weighs only 133 pounds.
Daddy was actually a national record holder in the sport of Olympic weightlifting. He was also a nationally ranked wrestler in his youth and was a member of the wrestling team at the San Diego Naval Base.
Around the time I wrote the Jack & Jill letter, I asked my father if he wanted a son, too. He told me that he was perfectly happy with me being his only child. “But if Mommy and I have more children, I’d want them all to be little princesses like you.” Besides, he said, what could a boy do that I couldn’t? Over the next few years, at my request, Daddy taught me arm wrestling, grappling, and how to throw a football in a perfect, soaring spiral.
Four years ago, I wrote about a close call I experienced at the intersection of Hokiokio Road and Honoapiilani Highway. It was nearly 11 o’clock on a Tuesday night; I was the only driver on the bypass, and Honoapiilani was practically deserted, with just three cars crossing the intersection as I waited at the red light. I could see a lone pair of headlights approaching on my left.
When the light changed to green, the headlights were still a good distance from the intersection, yet something kept me from lifting my foot from the brake pedal. A few seconds later, a little white sports car streaked across my path at full speed. Had I started through the intersection when the light first changed, I would have been T-boned for sure.
Trembling and slightly nauseous, I proceeded through the intersection, and as I turned left onto the highway, I wondered what caused me to pause at the green light. The oncoming car had been so far away, there was no reason to think that it wouldn’t slow down and stop as it should have. Immediately after asking myself the question, I burst into tears as my father’s face appeared in my mind’s eye. I pulled onto the shoulder for a few minutes to compose myself and say a prayer of thanks.
The concept of protective spirits is universal, from guardian angels for Christians to hafathah for Muslims. In many cultures, our supernatural protectors are connected to our families; they are ancestral spirit guides. Hawaiians have ‘aumakua, I have my father.
More than 50 years ago, Daddy was telling the truth, as he held me in his arms and assured me that he’d always be here. He is my sunshine, and nothing, not even cancer, can take my sunshine away.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.