Monday was my father's 13th rebirthday. Rebirthday isn't in the dictionary, but it should be. I started using the word a few years ago, after my husband died, because "the anniversary of his death" sounds so formal and takes too long to say. Rebirthday is much more positive and, I believe, just as accurate. I'm not entirely convinced of reincarnation, nor am I sure that there really is a heaven, but I have no doubt that our souls ascend somewhere. Maybe it's determined on a case-by-case basis. Maybe it just depends on what you believe.
My mother and I had planned to observe Daddy's rebirthday in the same way we celebrate his regular birthday each year, with dinner at his favorite restaurant - Sheik's. We usually enjoy an upbeat jaunt down Memory Lane, retelling our favorite Daddy stories, several of which took place right there. Our family has a long history with that Kahului diner.
Sheik' s had been open for only a couple of years when I started waitressing there. It was my first real job, not counting my few weeks at the Maui Pine cannery or all the time spent helping Daddy in his dental office. Minimum wage was $1.60 an hour and you could get a hamburger steak plate lunch for 95 cents plus tax (still less than a dollar). It was my dream job. Not only did I get to meet new people and talk story with friends all day, I left with a pocketful of cash after every shift. Pineapple packers and dental assistants don't get tips.
My dad always tipped at least 20 percent. Not because I was his daughter; that's just the way he was. Having worked as a greasy spoon dishwasher, he knew and respected hard, honest work and he tipped generously to show his appreciation. He's the only person I've ever known to leave mints on the pillow for the hotel housekeeper. The room maids at the Pagoda Hotel in Honolulu affectionately called him the Candy Man.
For three decades, my parents were regulars at Sheik's. Once, when my son was 7 or 8 years old, he and his best friend excused themselves to visit the restroom. I don't know what got into them - they couldn't explain it either - but they trashed the men's room, clogging up the toilet with paper towels and causing it to overflow. My dad was mortified and he made the two boys clean the mess themselves. It took more than an hour, but they left the restroom cleaner than it was before their misadventure.
Years later, my son followed in my footsteps and got a job at Sheik's, but his term of employment was not much longer than that first janitorial experience. He did leave with the same appreciation for the service industry that my dad tried to instill, though. I bet he's a good tipper, too, these days.
Those were some of the anecdotes that Mom and I thought we'd be rehashing on Daddy's rebirthday. We did go to Sheik's, but our conversation and mood were more somber than sentimental as we absorbed the news of Sen. Daniel Inouye's death.
Over the past two days, we've all heard or read many accounts of his bravery in World War II combat, his integrity and dedication as a public servant, his eloquence as a public speaker whose last word was "aloha." As President Barack Obama said, Sen. Inouye was not just respected but revered by all who knew him. To this Japanese-American baby boomer, Sen. Inouye was the ultimate hero, larger than life yet still one of us.
And now he and my father share the same rebirthday. Both of my grandfathers have interesting rebirthdays; one died on Halloween and the other on New Year's Day, and I've always wondered about that. Maybe it's silly to attach any significance to random dates, but I think it's human nature to want to find meaning in such things.
Next year, on Dec. 17, I'm sure Mom and I will be telling the same Daddy stories and maybe a couple of new ones. In the last 13 years, we've both experienced moments when his spirit has made its presence known. This may sound airy-fairy to some, but I know in my heart that my father's soul, or at least some remnant of it, has been reborn as a guiding light for Mom and me.
We'll probably tell a few Dan Inouye stories as well, now that it's his rebirthday, too. I wonder if the souls of such venerable men ascend higher, beyond the realm of guardian angels. Maybe that's how stars are formed. I'd like to believe that.
Happy Rebirthday, Daddy. Aloha, Dan.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.