The point of the Father of Ahhhs blog has always been to highlight the day-to-day life and lessons I learn from my son that allow me to reflect on my own relationship to my father. In doing so, it bridges the generations in space and time connecting the three of us and our distinct lives and our distinct periods in time.
So far, 2020 feels like something from a scary science fiction story. Almost everyone has artificial intelligence in the palm of their hand, in their homes, and cars. Technology is everywhere and affects how we communicate, provide healthcare, learn in schools, how we shop, and even in the way we hold meetings. We use social media to connect, talk story, and make friends with people. We even use dating apps to pick, screen, and interview potential romantic interests. “Not for me, swipe left,” without ever having to ever meet or have a conversation.
In spite of the declining human interaction that technology has created in the 21st century, we currently face a global pandemic event. A new strain of virus is sweeping the world closing down entire countries, communities, sporting events, and threatens global economies. People are scared largely due to a lack of clear information. In a very short time, our lives have changed with the call to shelter in place in hopes to stem the spread and save lives.
It all sounds like the making of a futuristic science fiction movie, yet this is our modern day reality. In many movies of this nature, the human race has not taken proper care of the planet Earth, forcing the human race to go into isolation. The 2008 Disney animated film WALL-E predicted this story as if to say – If we don’t change our ways, this will be our future.
I have watched this movie many times with my son, now 8 years old. We have talked about our need to care for the planet, to not waste what we can save, to recycle and reuse and repurpose. He understands the value and beauty of our land and sea and the creatures that live here among us, and we have discussed the ways in which we need to protect these essential elements of life.
My father brought me up in the kitchen of his Chinese restaurant. Having been born in 1900 he had already experienced many awful and horrific times in our history, including the 1918 flu pandemic and the Great Depression. As a result, he had developed many skills and habits that, as a child, I did not fully understand at the time. He never threw away the heels of bread – he used to keep them and dry them out, regrind them back down to powder, and use that to bake again. He peeled apples and oranges in a single strip and hung the peel strips up from a makeshift clothesline and let them dry. After they dried, he would grind them down and reuse them for cooking. We even made our own soap from lye that was used in our kitchens for cleaning. We grew our own bean sprouts in five-gallon buckets, and my father used to butcher all the meat for the restaurant. Everything was cooked from scratch and from whole ingredients – at the time I thought little of it; now we call this “Farm to Table” and it’s trendy.
I used to roam between the tables of the restaurant and watch and listen to the people seated. When I was allowed or invited into their conversations, I would soak in the stories they told of where and how they lived. People from all over the States and the world would find my father’s restaurant. He would come out of the kitchen and ask them if they liked the food and do whatever he could to make them happy. Some tables would be filled with students from the university discussing the present day politics and their plans to do things differently. (This was the 70’s.) I noted that many were unhappy and looking for real social change.
Other tables introduced me to tourists and people from around the world, where I learned of their love for food, their culture, and their stories. I coveted these encounters because their lives were so different from my own. We also had a lot of entertainers who came through my father’s restaurant. I met musicians, actors, and performers on tour, and learned through behind-the-scenes looks into their lives on the road. But what I was learning was people’s need to gather and socialize around food. There was no rush in those days to “turn tables over.” I remember that people settled into our restaurant for many hours at a time. They weren’t rushing, and of course, at that time they were not looking at their phones. They were truly engaged with each other’s company.
Today at Imua Family Services, we are engaged with families and children with health and developmental issues. Our philosophy is to help parents connect and engage with their children by offering parent coaching and trainings provided by therapists to help them teach their children to develop social and emotional skills so that they can provide them with what they need to thrive. So imagine the stress I felt when suddenly the term “social distancing” entered into our daily lives as a way of survival. I recognize that the term is meant to be a temporary solution to combat an immediate and larger health problem we are experiencing. However, with the closing of local schools, and with Imua Family Services currently only providing telepractice, I worry how our children will be without direct instruction and engagement for weeks, if not longer. So as educators and parents, we are going to have to figure out what to do with all that lost critical instruction time.
Online learning, virtual classrooms, telehealth practices, online meetings, online dating, and early childhood learning apps for iPads are helpful tools and are already part of our daily existence; however, it is my hope that it doesn’t become the new norm.
In the movie WALL-E, the wakening moment is when the people who have been living in their own robotic bubbles, entertained by a constant stream of media, wake up to realize they have been surviving without human connections. They realize there is a swimming pool right in front of them that they never saw before. They recognize their need to reconnect with nature, with their natural basic internal need for connection and community. But how did they move so far away from it to begin with? Was there an event similar to what we are currently going through?
I worry about my own son not having social interactions, not being able to casually hear the stories of real people living real adventures. Currently, all his interactions are planned: planned play dates, planned discussions, planned organized social events. What will be the source of wonderment, curiosity, intrigue and self-discovery? For me these things came from hearing peoples stories, from meeting people who were new and different, and from going to new places and having new experiences.
All of this is causing a mission shift within me. While I have been very focused on inclusion of recent years, I see now that it’s really about “connections,” which are at risk of extinction if we don’t become vigilant and hold on to the importance of the human interaction. The virus of today is causing us to hit the reset button. It may be the very thing that wakes us up to see the things in our lives and communities that are the most important.
If there is a silver lining to this, it might be that families will use this time to reconnect while sheltering in place around the breakfast or dinner table, cooking, or participating in other activities. As an agent for social change, an executive director, a public health advocate, and a parent, the children and families we serve are on my mind constantly. When the “virus” is behind us, what will be the new norm? I hope that we renew the importance of human connections and interactions.
Things are changing every day, and I am not sure what to expect, but what I do know is that we will get through this together and I look forward to connecting with you soon. I wish all of you the best, and I’m sending aloha to each and every one of you!