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Pre 2012 Archives

Rethinking Dad: Puzzles, Problems, and Proofs

By Bob Shimabukuro 

“You’re going to major in what? Philosophy? What kind of work can you do with that?” my mom asked when I called to tell her I was switching from a math to a philosophy major. “Public Relations?”

I was speechless. Then I almost laughed.

But she continued, “That’s not what dad was thinking.”

That got my attention. But I didn’t want to push the question.

My dad had always told me, “You weak, you sick all the time. Cannot do manual labor. You have to use your brains.”

After graduating from college, I picked up some cabinetmaking skills and worked at my own shop trying to prove my dad wrong. I also did some (volunteer) community organizing work in Portland.

When Mom was visiting me, I asked her, “What was dad thinking, Mom?”

She replied, “He wanted you to be a great social reformer. He thought maybe a lawyer would be good for that.” A lawyer?

* * *

“Why are you telling him all this stuff?” I overheard Mom ask.

“Well, he doesn’t understand me now, but he will when he grows up,” Dad answered.

I was in the third or fourth grade when I overheard that. I listened to a lot of Hegel and Marx stuff from Dad when I was a kid. And I didn’t understand any of it. But I thought, “Well, I have until when I grow up to understand.” So I just put the stuff out of my mind.

About the same time, Dad came to me with an old book called 100 Geometric Proofs. It was an old worn copy, so I think he had had it for a long time. I thought they were cool.

“Puzzles. Teach you how to solve puzzles.” That’s what he said. I don’t know why. Hegel and Marx and geometric proofs.

Dad was competitive. He would challenge me. And lord it over me if he got done before me. The Richard Sherman of his time. If he didn’t, he’d count how many steps I took. And say, “I did it in much less steps.”

“Yeah, but you’ve done this before.”

“You think you’re better than me? We’ll do five proofs. See who can do five better.”

And we would “play” some more.

But I didn’t care. It was fun. I didn’t care about being timed. Or how many steps it took. Sometimes, he could do these proofs in half the time, and half the steps and would get furious, because he was an impatient man, at how long I was taking. But I refused his requests to help me. I wanted to do it myself. And in most cases I did.

Later when we reached the end of the book, he asked, “How did you like that?”

“Good fun,” I answered.

“Good,” he said. “Help you solve problems with your head. That’s what you need to do. Not good trying to solve problems with body.”

After immigrating to Hawaii (the Big Island) from Okinawa, Dad enrolled in Hilo Boarding School to learn English (and have a place to stay I assume). He moved to Maui and continued his studies at Lahainaluna School, another boarding school, with a high school work study program.

There, he had a math teacher who was very impressed with Dad and thought Dad could go to college. He was also the teacher that introduced Dad to Marxism.

Unfortunately, Dad was expelled from the school in his junior year after knocking down a luna of the school’s work program during a dispute about how the luna was treating Dad and others.

Well, what has this story got to do with PSARA? PSARA, along with other more personal events which have occurred during the past year, have awakened thoughts about my relationship with my dad, mom and family and our collective memory. So I expect that many such thoughts will be awakened this next year also. Hope you find them interesting.

Bob is Associate Editor of the Retiree Advocate and a PSARA Executive Board member. He is also the author of the book Born in Seattle – The Campaign for Japanese-American Redress.

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