Becoming Papa David, a short story by Amanda Allison

Family consists of the most important relationships in anyone’s life.  But they can also be the most complicated.  In an ideal family, kupuna and makua are revered, and keiki are nurtured and respected.  So if someone makes a huge mistake, that action can shake the very foundations of the family.  In seeking forgiveness and redemption, David, the main character in this short story by Amanda Allison, truly learns to become Papa David.

Pūpū A ʻO ʻEwa is proud of feature Becoming Papa David, a short story by writer and Leeward CC student Amanda Allison.

Meet the writer: Amanda Allison

Becoming Papa David

David was in the carport in his pride and glory: a boat that he had built ten years ago on a shoestring budget. As he was able to afford it, he replaced the original basic fittings. Now it was a dazzling white with deep ocean blue trim and completely refitted with teak accents and brass fixtures. His sweetheart at the time said that brass was stupid because it would always need polishing. Indeed it did. On a Saturday much like this one, she declared that she would leave if he didn’t stop polishing and start paying more attention to her. He continued with his polishing and never saw her again.

On the edge of his consciousness he heard the telephone, but kept on polishing. The kitchen door opened and Janie, his current sweetheart, came out to the carport and popped her head over the stern, holding out the cordless. David looked questioningly at her. “Peter” she mouthed.

David took the telephone. Janie walked back to the kitchen door with swaying hips, and turned to slowly wink at him as she went inside. David smiled, cleared his throat and answered the phone. “Hello?”

“Hi Dad,” his middle child Peter greeted him. “How’re you doing?”

David sighed inwardly, what now? “Just fine, son. How are things with you and the kids?”

“Fine, Dad. Kalā’s baseball team has only lost one game so far this season and Jeffie lost his two front teeth last week.”

David laughed thinking of his youngest grandson. David made the mistake once of hoisting him into the boat. Jeffie had touched everything to see how it worked, then asked why each thing was the way it was. He was exhausting but irresistible.

“Dad, the kids’ summer fun program at the park is ending this week and they’re having a performance to show what they’ve been working on all summer. I called to invite you and Janie to come watch it with me. It’ll be next Thursday up at the park at 6 p.m. Can you make it?”

“Sure, sounds like fun. We’ll be there.” David replied. “Is there anything the kids want?”

“No thanks, Dad, we have all that we need for now. They just want you.”

“Okay, if you say so. I’ll see you Thursday then.” David punched the off button to hang up the telephone and went back to polishing. Janie leaned out the window to tell him that she was going grocery shopping. David grunted. The rest of his afternoon was spent polishing.

The next day, David and Janie went over to his classmate’s house for a barbeque. His classmate talked them into a last-minute Vegas vacation deal. The only catch was that they had to leave Tuesday.

On Friday evening when they returned home from Vegas, David caught the glowing blink of the message machine out of the corner of his eye. Letting Janie shower first, David went over to the machine. On the tape, he heard his granddaughter, Kalā, say accusingly, “Papa, where were you? Jeffie didn’t want to leave after the finale was over because he was sure that you were just a little late. He cried all the way home. Anyway, call us. I love you.” David sighed and erased the message. He started to pick up the telephone, but looked at the hour and decided against it.

The next day, he shocked Janie by not working on his boat. Instead he put the kid’s gifts from Las Vegas into the car. He told her he was going up to Peter’s house and that he would be back in a little while. Janie got that hurt, pinched look around the eyes. “I thought we were going to give them their presents together.”

“No, I’m just going up now. I’ll be back in no time.” He turned on his heel and left before he could see the pain his words caused. Janie was the only one of his sweethearts that he had actually loved. The rest had been fun, and Janie was too. But she also soothed his soul in a way that no one else ever had. On top of that, she had her own life and was content that David had his. But giving gifts, seeing the children, and being with family always made her eyes dance with delight. He knew he was depriving her of one of her greatest pleasures. The last thing he wanted was for her to find out how he had disappointed Jeffie and Kalā.

David got to his son’s house and rang the bell, but no one was home. He went through the side gate and put the packages on top of the washing machine, then put a note on the front door letting the family know about the packages.

As he drove home, he pulled into a florist shop on impulse. He looked at the bouquets and nothing seemed right. Then he saw it. A lei that brought back memories: intricate maunaloa, almost as beautiful as his mother used to make. He remembered standing at her knee and handing her the flowers. She taught him the way her family made maunaloa leis. It was different from the way others made them, and his fingers still remembered how to do it. But finding enough maunaloa blossoms was a challenge. Maybe he should get some seeds next time he was on the Big Island and plant them in his yard. The sales clerk came over to him, interrupting his thoughts. David asked for the lei.

“You know that is our most expensive lei, don’t you?” she said in a concerned tone.

“Yes, and it should be. It’s a lot of work and the flowers are hard to find. It doesn’t matter, though. I’ll take it anyway.”

He walked out of the store with considerably less cash in his wallet. Pulling out his cell phone, he called Janie’s favorite restaurant and made dinner reservations. When he got home, Janie was out, so he changed clothes and went to work on his boat. He kept thinking about the lei. After a while he went into the house and punched the telephone number for his cousin in Kohala.

He found himself falling into talking pidgin with his cousin Horace. Even though David’s dad had passed away more than 15 years ago, David still felt guilty talking pidgin. His dad was a “by-the-book” kind of guy and David recalled lickings he had received because of pidgin. It was not allowed in his father’s house. David also remembered the beating his mother received when dad caught her teaching his only son how to sew leis. After the maunaloa lei, there had been no other leis taught to him. Only his sisters got to learn and that was grudgingly, as dad did not want his children growing up to be like “those other Hawaiians” who sat by the docks in Honolulu and sold leis all day. His children were going to grow up to be to something. David had to give his dad credit, the strategy worked.

Horace’s family was different, though. They continually scrambled to feed and clothe everyone. They talked like “those other Hawaiians” and did the same kinds of jobs: paniolo, fisherman, casual laborer, living off the land. Meals at Horace’s house were noisy affairs with too many people, not enough chairs, and in lean times, not quite enough food to satisfy everyone. But afterward, when everything was cleaned up, the futons were spread out in the parlor and all the younger children drifted off to sleep. The adults sat on the porch, sang and played music, held the babies and rocked them to sleep while the teenagers sat under the mango tree in the yard, far enough away from the adults to be cool, but close enough to hear the music. That was the way it had been when he visited Horace’s family as a kid and it was still that way today. There was no way that David would want his children around all the time like Horace, but once in a while would be nice. David sighed.

“Eh Kawika, you there? You called me.” Horace jolted David out of his daydreaming.

“Oh, yeah, sorry Cousin, I don’t know what’s wrong with me today. I was just thinking about small kid time at your parent’s house and how lucky you are sometimes to have your kids all around you.”

“Yeah, bunch a free loaders,” Horace said affectionately. “Lucky I don’t have a lot to freeload, yeah?”

David chuckled. “Eh Horace, the reason I called was because I want some maunaloa seeds to plant in my yard.”

“Eh Cousin, no problem. I’ll send Boy down the coast to get some tomorrow, then send them right out.”

“Great! Thanks, Cousin. I’ll talk to you later, then.”

“’Kay, later Cousin.”

David hung up the telephone and shook his head. What a guy. He was glad he wasn’t one of Horace’s children. His cousin was always volunteering them for something.

Janie got home a short while later and David had sandwiches ready. Janie was grateful, but obviously took the lunch for what it was: an apology. That didn’t bother David, as long as he didn’t have to talk about it. Afterward, they were washing up together and Janie casually asked, “How did it go with the kids?”

Sheesh, leave it to Janie. “Oh, they weren’t home, so I left the packages on the washing machine,” David said with studied casualness.

“That’s too bad.” That was all Janie said on the matter as she finished up with the dishes, wiped down the counter then announced, “I’m gonna to give myself a pedicure and read a novel this afternoon, what are you gonna to do?”

“Well, I guess since playing footsies with you is out, I’m going to work on the yard. I called Horace today and asked him to get me some maunaloa seeds. I want to see if I can grow some over on the side fence.”

“Mmmm, what a lovely idea. Maunaloa is my favorite lei, but you hardly see it anymore.”

“Hmmm,” David murmured back and then added in an offhand manner, “I made reservations at Le Coq for tonight. I thought we would take the night off from cooking.”

Janie became instantly alert and focused directly on David. “What did you do?” She ground out in a harsh voice.

David tried to act innocent. “Like I said, I made reservations at Le Coq.”

“You know what I mean! What did you do to Peter and his family that you don’t want me to know about?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about. I just wanted to take you out to dinner,” David replied.

“Nonsense. First you buy lavish gifts for the kids and Peter in Vegas, then you don’t want me to go with you to deliver the gifts and now you are taking me out to my favorite restaurant. I smell a rat!”

David put his head down in defeat. He couldn’t get away with anything with Janie. She might let small things go, but when too much added up, he always found out that she had been onto him the whole time. Without lifting his head, he muttered, “I went to Vegas when I knew the kids were expecting me at their performance.”

“Oh no, David, don’t tell me you did such a thing. It would break their hearts.”

There was a moment of silence. Then David looked up and squared his shoulders. “Yes, that is what I did.” Then, like always with Janie, the rest of the truth came tumbling out.

“Well, don’t stand there feeling sorry for yourself, you call those kids up right now. Apologize, talk to each of them, including Peter, and tell them that you love them.” Janie pushed him toward the telephone.

“What if they aren’t home?”

“Call Peter’s cell.”


Janie punched out the number and handed the telephone to David. The ring on the other end of the line was answered immediately and enthusiastically by Kalā. Her enthusiasm dropped to zero, though, when she realized it was her Papa. In a monotone, she recited the thank you formula: “Thank you Papa for the leather jacket you got for me in Las Vegas. It is very nice.”

“You’re welcome, Kalā, I saw it and thought you would like it. Now about the performance…”

Kalā interrupted him abruptly, “Jeffie wants to talk to you.”

David’s youngest grandchild came on the line with much more enthusiasm. “Wow, Papa, you got me a real RC car! Where were you? We waited and waited but you didn’t come. How come you didn’t come? I cried, but Daddy told me that’s just how you are and that I shouldn’t expeck so much from you.” Jeffie’s conversation had started out bubbly, gone to whiney and was now practically a wail, “why didn’t you come?!” He broke off into tears.

As David’s eyes smarted, he heard Peter’s angry voice in the background asking Kalā why she had let Jeffie have the phone. Jeffie was now screaming as he cried. David heard a second line pick up and then heard Peter shout “Kalā, hang up the phone and take care of Jeffie.” The other line clattered and then Peter spoke to him. “Dad, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but these kids have had about all the disappointment they can handle. If you aren’t going show up, don’t tell them you will. If you change your mind, please call them and explain. But don’t get us expensive gifts and think that it makes up for everything. If you really want to give them what they want, come visit, play with them, talk with them, be with them and save that money to help me pay some of my damn bills! The gifts are great, but the reality is my electric bill is due and I barely have the money, so we have to eat saimin for dinner every night this week.” The line clicked dead.

David felt his blood pressure explode. “He hung up the telephone on me!” David rounded on Janie and repeated himself with even more emphasis, “He hung up the telephone on me!”

Janie didn’t bat an eyelash. “So call him up and apologize, then tell him you love him.”

“Did you not hear me?” David asked, dumbfounded. “My disrespectful son Peter hung up on me!”

“So call him back, apologize, then tell him you love him.” Janie repeated in the same tone.

The telephone rang. David waited for Janie to answer it. She just stood there looking at him. It rang again. The standoff held. It rang a third time. Janie didn’t waiver. Just as it was about to ring again, David scooped it up.

A contrite Peter was on the other end. “I’m sorry, Dad. I let my temper get out of control. I have my own problems, I shouldn’t have acted as if they are yours. Thank you for the gifts, they really are great. And thank Janie, too.”

David sighed, glancing at Janie who was still looking at him. “Son, it is I who should apologize. I shouldn’t have gone to Vegas after I promised I would come to the performance. I should have called to explain, but the truth is I didn’t want to face Jeffie’s disappointment or Kalā’s anger. I didn’t want to have to explain myself because the explanation would make me look pretty bad. I’m truly sorry that I left you with the mess to clean up and I just want you to know…” suddenly David felt an overwhelming need to clear his throat. Janie gently nudged him. “…I just want you to know that I love you son.” Janie nodded silently and turned to leave the room. “I do want to spend time with you and the kids. Why don’t Janie and I pick you up for dinner, so you have one less night of saimin?” Janie turned around with a brilliant smile on her face and ran to hug David tightly while he tried to hang onto the telephone.

“That sounds good, Dad.”

“Where do the kids want to go?”

Peter’s question to the kids was muffled, but their answer was loud and clear, “Segawa’s Saimin!”

David laughed. “Okay, I guess you just won’t be able to get away from saimin, son. We’ll meet you there at about 6 o’clock.”

“Great Dad, we’ll see you then.”

This time when he hung up the telephone, David sighed with pleasure. Janie kissed him full on the mouth, pulled back and said, “Now, isn’t that better?”

“I hope you don’t mind not going to Le Coq.”

“Do I look like I mind? This is definitely better. Anyway, you’re going to take me to Le Coq tomorrow night.”

“I am?”

“You most definitely are. You don’t expect that maunaloa lei you hid in the back of the refrigerator to only do duty at Segawa’s Saimin Stand do you?”

David chuckled and told her to go paint her nails as he picked up the telephone to change the reservation.

Credits: Bio photo by Karen Renard, post feature photo courtesy of Kamalani Hurley

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