Finding ‘Ohana and Remembering My Father

Major Spoiler Warning: This movie is so good, and one of the big spoilers is the focus on this article. PLEASE support and watch this movie out on Netflix! (LINK to trailer)

Note from Me: Hi! Thanks for clicking, hope you enjoy this read and look through the rest of my site. As a therapist, when it’s appropriate I do welcome applying my identities and experiences in the healing spaces I hold for my clients. My goal is to get better at blog writing and increase access for folks seeking guidance on their own mental health and wellness goals. My website is not a substitute for therapy. If you are interested in looking for a therapist, please check out my post “So You’re Looking for a Therapist…” (LINK)

Image Description: Crop of Finding Ohana movie poster

I love this movie. To summarize, Hawaiian American siblings Pili and Ioane are pulled out of Brooklyn and transported to Hawaii for their summer by their mom because their maternal grandpa “Papa” had a stroke. Along the way, Pili discovers a treasure map and leads her brother and new friends on a hunt for riches to save Papa and make everyone’s dreams come true. There are so many masterful nods to iconic action comedy movies and one-liners that clapback on outdated stereotypes with modern day snark.

Of the many gems that this story had to share — evolving parent-child relationships, honoring our history and traditions, adolescence and its resiliency, life transitions — this piece is landing on what life looks like when the “acceptance” phase of grief is part of the rest of your life. My dad died when I was young. There are a lot of nuances that come with losing a parent at an early age, and one is figuring out how to honor and remember them well while you’re still in the process of finding yourself.

Let’s Not Call This Daddy Issues

This movie is based roughly eight years after their dad passed when the family comes back to Hawaii. The folks who knew Pili and Ioane’s dad weren’t trying to offer excessive condolences or reference their dad as an attempt to “bond,” and genuinely welcomed them as ohana.

As a queer, non-binary/genderqueer woman of color, having “Daddy Issues” is a joke I’ve heard before. “Are you trying to prove something because you don’t have a dad?” Add on the pressure of your immigrant dad who is remembered as successful, charismatic, and cool while not being around to tell you how he did it — like damn, these expectations got hands.

The general gist of the term “daddy issues” is that a person treats men with a significant amount of disdain and/or reverence in a way that connects to trauma and/or loss about their father. I don’t hate this piece from Psychology Today (LINK). Noting the studies’ funders were likely conservative, Christian, and valued patriarchy, the findings echoed a lot of the messages my sister and I received from my immigrant, conservative Filipino family:

  • “They’ll fall too easily for the first attentive man”
  • “There isn’t a man in the house to teach them how to read bad men”
  • “They’ll be fast, they’ll get pregnant early”
  • “They’ll want to have sex sooner, they’ll look for acceptance from men anywhere”

To which I say: messages like these become true when everything and everyone sets yourself up to make them come true.

Unity in Community

“No father in the house? There goes the traditional family structure, society is doomed!”

*Judges in intergenerational immigrant Asian household*

Like Pili in Finding ‘Ohana, when I grew up I found things I was good at and loved: instead of treasure hunting, I got into reading, basketball, and healing work. Like anyone else, I was trying to find me and focused on being proud of what I have instead of sad at what I lacked. Finding myself gave me the communities I needed, and directed people’s perceptions of who I was instead of what they thought a “fatherless child” should be.

Though my gender was a huge factor in these criticisms, no one really said “if only they were boys!” Research (LINK) shows that having other people in your life intentionally filling that father absence mitigates the risk of having a negative relationship with violence for all genders. I was not without father figures and positive male role models growing up. I had basketball coaches that pushed me to improve my game, teachers that instilled a love of learning and modeled self-respect, and a slew of uncles and cousins that had my back.

Image Description: Personal photo, circa 2008. Some of my cousinfriends after tying up my homecoming date to read him this Monty Python-esque list of behavior rules. Expertly hidden away are the LOTR swords and axes (I kid you not) that they (safely) brandished in his face while his mom and sister witnessed all this in the background. We did not date after that dance. Sorry, Aidan.

Good dads can always bring value to a family. And also, I’m Filipino. Like many POC households, mom and dad weren’t the only adult figures that I lived with: All of my grandparents, some cousins, and a variety of aunts lived with us from days to years. Blood or not, we would be on the same page about food, karaoke song lists, superstitions, beliefs, and being Lakers fans (until that 2004 Christmas game). Thanks to this wide, varied community, I knew where to find my ohana and be myself.

Stages of Grief

Source: “The Five Stages of Grief” by VeryWellMind

Some folks subscribe to the belief that you experience the Stages of Grief in a linear way. I subscribe to the idea that you can experience them in any order, sometimes more than once, and that’s okay:

  1. Denial – In consciously pretending the loss does not exist, we unconsciously are running around trying to understand what just happened.
  2. Anger – For some people, it’s safer to show anger than fear in the discomfort of loss.
  3. Bargaining – Maybe with a Higher Power, or Nature, or the Universe, bargaining can look like “If this person doesn’t leave me, I promise I’ll better person.”
  4. Depression – We’re facing it. The PHQ-9 (LINK) looks for changes in your energy levels, appetite, sleep habits, thought patterns; and thoughts of harming yourself to measure how deep your depression goes. Like any diagnosis, you can treat and heal from depression, if not learn to live with it and not be ruled by it.
  5. Acceptance – The reality of the loss might still hurt for a while longer, maybe the pain subsides into an ache that rises with certain triggers or anniversaries. When we accept the loss and stop resisting reality, we can move on from grief to remembrance.

The life of Kua — Pili and Ioane’s dad — is referenced with fondness and pride, as well as sadness and longing. In one scene, their mom Leilani is reconciling with Papa, her dad. They both recognize how the different needs they had to heal from Kua’s loss negatively impacted their relationship. Aptly named Finding ‘Ohana, this movie identifies treasure not only through monetary value, but how families can still be whole after a loss.

The Scene Where I Bawled Because Fantasy (SPOILER)

Kua Kawena in tangible form, looking at his wife and children in a VERY EMOTIONAL scene.

Loss of a parent is different for everyone. Such as, some may celebrate that they do not have that person in their life. Some are stuck in a loop of grief and longing that competes to define them for the rest of their life. Some folks move on and find ways to cope and remember that make sense for them. Though I consider myself in the camp of people that have moved on from mourning, THIS SCENE TRIGGERED CHEST-HEAVING SOBS and I time traveled back to a version of myself that longed for one more moment with my dad.

The movie trailer shows that the dad’s loss would be referenced and missing him would be expressed in a variety of ways. What I was NOT EXPECTING was the spirit of dad Kua manifesting in tangible flesh when all seemed lost for the explorers and mom, who somehow found them bc yea this is still a fictional movie. And of course, he showed up to PROTECT THEM and assure them that HE WAS STILL KEEPING THEM SAFE.

It was a moment of validation that we don’t get in real life. When that moment came on the screen and my tears flowed, I was surprised to find how deeply I wished I could have seen him one more time.

Role playing out scenarios and practicing the words that folks are embarrassed or scared to say outside of the safe space of therapy is a useful tool for my clients to find peace and stability. It’s one thing to do it for others, and another to remember that it also works for me. I am thankful for this movie reminding me that I can have that conversation with my dad any time. I can be content with what I would have liked him to say. I am allowed to remember him well, and move Onward [Disney reference].

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