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Memoirs of a Minyan: Reality Bites


The purpose of the journey is the journey itself.

The attorney filled us in on the situation. Our father, homeless for years, panhandled on the street and wore out his welcome wherever he went. He was arrested for impersonating a police officer and once in jail, attacked one of the guards, who beat him senseless and stuffed him in solitary confinement.

We were told our father smeared blood all over his cell in an act of defiance. It was-and remains-surreal.

The following morning, we sat in the Maui Courthouse and awaited arraignment. As the judge called the session to order, the bailiff led a string of defendants into the room.

I couldn't find my father. The orange jumpsuits looked the same and the chains that bound them together distracted me. I scanned the group twice and focused on a gaunt man in the middle of the pack with gangly facial hair and tattoos.

His emotionless eyes rose to mine and I saw the man I once knew-the man who abandoned our family, the man who proudly drove a Ferrari as a sign of arrival, the man who moved to Hawaii to find his piece of paradise. He was broken and had hit rock bottom.

Over the course of the week, Adam and I jockeyed between scattered locations throughout Maui and picked up the pieces of his displaced life. The other side of paradise, we discovered, was a harsh place indeed.

It was a trail of debt, desperation and dereliction that seemingly had no end.

Our father joined a cult and signed away his life's possessions. Once banished, he wandered the island in search of handouts. He waded through the resorts, pretending to be part of a seminar so he could get hot coffee and a roll. His golden retriever Bubba fetched rocks from the ocean in return for loose change from tourists.

We drove from one situation to the next, like mice in a maze, unsure of what we would find next.

Our father had thousands of dollars of debt and owed people favors, many of who looked at us to settle up. We also discovered he was a sick man who suffered through many years of undetected and untreated bipolar disorder.

That, more than anything else, stuck out in my mind.

He was a sick man.

During our last day in Maui, Adam and I visited our father in jail. He had tears in his eyes as he apologized for everything he did and didn't do. My mind wandered to birthdays spent staring at the phone. It had been an emotional week, one that opened wounds I thought were closed.

As we sat in his cell, he broke down and told us he had nothing to live for. My brother took from his pocket a picture of his two children, my niece and nephew, and handed it to our dad. "This is what you have to look forward to," he said, his gesture catching me off guard.

"Yes, dad," I continued, "If you stay clean, I'll help you get back on track, pay off your debts, find a home... I'll help you meet your grandchildren."

I could see the guards watching from the corner of my eye and I wanted them to soak it in. Perhaps they would think twice about beating him if they knew that he was a father and a grandfather.

I'll never forget the last thing he said to me before we left. "Relax, son, you have to enjoy life. You never know when a plane will fall out of the sky and ruin your day."
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