The Day I Almost Lost My Dad to a Convicted Killer
Other Hawaiian Odysseus Hubs About Family
- Eye of the Tiger, Heart of the Lion
What does a father do upon hearing that his daughter, half a globe away, has been robbed and hurt? He does the only thing he can do... He takes it out on God.
- Childhood Memories of the Hawaiian Spiny Lobster
In Hawai'i today, the only legal way to capture lobsters is by hand. Hawaiian Odysseus fondly recalls a time when net fishing for lobsters was a cultural norm, not a prohibited activity.
- Makalehua--How I Found My Long Lost Sister on eBay!
It had literally been years since he'd last spoken with, let alone seen, his younger of two sisters. How ironic, then, for this online entrepreneur to finally meet up with her on the gargantuan global marketplace, eBay!
- 5 Dozen Candles
Hawaiian Odysseus recently turned sixty. One of the things he did was to ride a roller coaster for the first time in his life. The jury is out as to whether or not it knocked some wisdom into his head. Read this heartwarming Hub, and then you decide.
- The Octopus Whisperer of Kaua'i
A former resident of Kaua'i writes in admiration of his younger brother who has developed a reputation for being a skilled octopus fisherman. The wily cephalopod is no match for the native Hawaiian appropriately dubbed, The Octopus Hunter.
Kaua'i in the Early Sixties
The Garden Island of Kaua'i in America's Camelot Era of 1960-1963, when JFK and Jackie graced the hallowed halls of Washington, D.C., and were as close to our surging country's version of royalty as we'll ever know, was a very laid back place to live.
Think Mayberry with sandy beaches and palm trees, and you'll come close to grasping what life was like for a 9-year-old Hawaiian Opie.
My father was a relatively new police officer, no longer a rookie but still on the lower echelon of the KPD hierarchy. Think Andy without sidekick Barney.
Every day, if Mom wasn't available at the time, Dad would ask me to box his shirt,, as he referred to it. It became a father/son ritual. Standing behind him, I would follow the pleats on the back of his uniform shirt. At the point of his waist, I would grasp any excess and squeeze it firmly, pressing the fabric with my thumbs against his back. Carefully, he would pull his trousers up, making sure that the shirttails were smoothly and evenly tucked in, and then ask me to press the belt area of his trousers against the fabric I'd been holding in place. He would then tuck the front part of his shirt into his pants, fasten the top button, and secure the zipper.
As complicated as it sounds, the live performance of this activity, once I got my part down, was efficient and flawless. A little boy doesn't think about the nuances of such a ritual at the time. The middle-aged writer, looking back, experiences the sweet nostalgia of such an intimate act of love between father and son.
The results were always impressive. Just a shade under six feet tall, my father towered before me in his spit-shined shoes. The olive-khaki color of the uniform, the leather belt and straps, handcuffs case, and holster, and the shiny silver badge contributed to the ambience of formidable island knight.
But, oh, the finishing touch of the policeman's hat, the visor worn low and shading his brown, squinting Hawaiian/Filipino eyes...Now that was a memorable coup de grace. It made the amazing transformation complete.
In those vintage years of island history, police officers used their own personal vehicles to patrol their respective shift assignments. My father thus made good official use of our 1961 Ford Fairlane.
I liked how the bright red and cylindrical spinning light sat on the top of the car, and I was especially fond of the brand new police radio that was attached to the dashboard just to the lower right of the steering wheel.
In his off-duty hours, Dad did his best to avoid police work whenever my mom, siblings, and I were in the car with him. Once in a while, however, when someone was recklessly speeding down the highway or weaving in such a way as to endanger the lives of others as well as his own, Dad would insert the male end of the police light cable into the cigarette lighter, flip the switch to the siren, and "flag" the culprit down.
He never had to chase anyone for long distances. The island lifestyle was laid back in more ways than one, and lawbreakers were apt to either be distantly related to or well acquainted with the respective officer.
Beach Across from Coco Palms Hotel
"Dispatch, I've spotted the person of interest..."
Against the idyllic lull of pacific island rhythm, an incident occurred one lazy aftenoon that would be indelibly engraved in the walls of my remembrance but was of such a level of gravity that I could not write about it until now.
Dad and I were on our way from our hometown of Kapa'a to Lihu'e, the county seat of Kaua'i, to do some shopping. We were just driving by Coco Palms Hotel, an island landmark frequently featured in Hollywood movies. In fact, it had recently been the film site for a popular Elvis Presley movie, Blue Hawaii.
All of a sudden, my father pulled the car over to the left side of the road, next to Wailua Beach. He quickly reached for his police radio, flipped the switch, and called police headquarters.
After identifying himself and providing his badge number, Dad said in a tightly controlled yet authoritative voice, "Dispatch, I've spotted the person of interest."
Apparently, a convicted killer named Henry Kalihi (in honor of and respect for the innocent parties involved, I am using a fictitious name) had recently escaped from custody and was thus the subject of a massive manhunt. He was armed and dangerous and thought to be back on the island of Kaua'i.
Dad had spotted him walking next to some dense pohuehue, or beach morning glory, plants.
Dispatch announced that the closest available officer, Patrolman Kimo Kaui, could be there for backup in approximately fifteen minutes. He added, "Be careful...Henry is packing. It might be better if you wait until Kimo arrives."
"No. I gotta go after him now. Otherwise, we'll lose him."
Dad shut the radio off. He looked at me and said, "Stay in the car. No matter what happens, I want you to stay here, understand?"
"Yes, Daddy," I responded, the rising fear in my 9-year-old voice quite evident.
"Joe Boy, listen to me, everything will be fine. Don't be afraid. I have to bring this man in before he hurts someone else. Just stay in the car, and you'll be fine."
"But, Daddy, I..."
"Don't be hardheaded. Just stay in the car!"
I wanted my father to know that I wasn't scared for myself. I was afraid for his safety. I was only nine, but I was old enough to know what Henry is packing meant.
Dad wasn't armed. His 38-calibre pistol was at home, secured in my parents' bedroom closet.
My thoughts were racing all over the place, temporarily interrupted only by the slamming of his car door.
My father quickly jogged from the dirt ridge where our car was parked to the sandy beach a few feet away. I kept my eyes on him for as long as I could, but soon the dense leaves of the lauhala (pandanus) tree hid him from view.
Is this the last I'll see of my father?
I didn't want to imagine it. Yet my whole being braced for the gunshots I just knew would be tearing apart the tranquil cast of the island afternoon. I didn't dare lower the windows, either, afraid that by doing so, I'd be disobeying Dad.
So I sat there, silently praying, cocking my head just so, straining to hear any sounds and hoping against hope that it wouldn't be the sharp percussion of a gunshot.
Suddenly, the Driver's Door Opened!
Seconds were like centipedes crawling across the grass.
Minutes were torturously long.
I couldn't bear to see what hours would be like.
Trying so hard to contain my wild imagination, I began fidgeting. I still had the seat belt attached, so I quickly released myself from its grasp, feeling somewhat guilty, like I was disobeying my father.
My mind, my body, my soul ached with the strong desire to open that stupid car door so I could find my dad. For a brief moment, I fantasized that I would be the one to heroically save his life by appealing to the madman holding him hostage.
My dad's stern look came back to mind...Stay in the Car!
What if something bad had happened to Dad? What would be the fate of my mom, brothers, sisters, and me? I'm only 9 years old! Why did he have to be a police officer, anyway?
What if I could have prevented something bad from happening but remained in this car?
When was the last time I told him I loved him?
God, please don't let anything bad happen to my daddy! Please, I'll be the best son ever. Just don't let the bad man hurt my dad!
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I'm not going to cry! I gotta be brave!
Suddenly, the driver's door opened, and I just about messed my pants!
My fear turned to relief when I saw Dad. Oh, thank you, God!
"Henry, This is My Son..."
There was someone else standing next to Dad.
Funny...the strange thing was that he didn't look at all like the monster image I'd conjured up in my mind.
He was younger than I thought he would be, maybe in his thirties, and while he had a nice, wiry build, he was definitely not as big and tall as I had pictured him to be.
I looked at Dad's face. Surprisingly, there was no sign of stress. There was no look of anger, like the look I've seen when I've been in trouble and was about to get a good lickin' from him.
And his voice...it was so gentle and soft when he spoke to Henry. Not at all like how the cops on TV talked to the bad guys.
"Henry, this is my son, Joe. Joe Boy, this is Daddy's friend, Henry. Say hello to Henry, son."
"Hi!" My voice sounded so weak and high. I can't wait until my voice gets low.
Henry didn't say anything, but he did nod at me.
Shyly, almost sheepishly, Henry, now handcuffed, got into the back seat of our blue and white 1961 Ford Fairlane. That's when I noticed that Officer Kimo Kaui was behind us in his patrol car.
When Dad got into the car, I saw that he was carrying something. It was a pistol. He opened the compartment in front of me and carefully placed the pistol in it and then shut the compartment.
I must have had bug eyes! But I held my mud.
Dad carried on some small banter with Henry on the ride to the jail. I had a ton of questions for Dad but knew better than to ask.
Even when we were alone, on the ride back home, we both sat silent, absorbed in our own thoughts.
It would be 51 years before Dad and I would talk about the incident.
Yesterday, October 9, 2012, approximately fifty-one years after the incident occurred, feeling compelled to finally discuss and write the story, I called my father and respectfully asked him to fill in the blanks for me.
Surprisingly, he was willing to talk about it.
Apparently, when Dad confronted Henry, the convicted killer had pointed the gun at Dad.
But Dad reasoned with Henry. Dad wasn't a scholar or professionally trained to handle such incidents. What he did have was the island style for talking story with people, the Hawaiian way of casually connecting with others.
He told me that he also believed Henry to basically be a pretty decent guy who had been beaten up and shamed by a bully. In an act of angry retaliation, Henry had later found the man fishing at an isolated beach and had killed him. Dad said it could have happened to anyone.
In a simple and island-indigenous way, Dad was practicing restorative justice, a humane and compassionate way of treating victims and perpetrators as well as their respective families with honor and dignity. The ultimate hope is that at some point in time, when consequences and restitution have been made, bridges built upon the foundation of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration can contribute to the healing of the entire village.
In more ways than one, then, my father was--and is--a hero...my hero .