Researching the Homeless, Photographer Finds Her Destitute Father on the Streets

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Credit: Diana Kim

Credit: Diana Kim

It’s a story of heartbreak, perseverance, and ultimately redemption: A daughter and her father, estranged for years, finding one another in the most unlikely of places.

Diana Kim, a Honolulu, Hawaii-based photographer, began to grow apart from her father when her parents separated just as she turned five. After that, for years Kim found herself roaming for a place to live, spending time at relatives’ and friends’ homes, parks, and even in cars, while barely seeing her father.

“I always thought of it as ‘roughing it,’ so it didn’t really bother me,” Kim told NextShark. “My survival instincts were always strong.”

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Credit: Diana Kim

Credit: Diana Kim

Despite the separation from her father, she never truly forgot about him.

“Some of the earliest memories I have of my father is of him giving me Ring Pop candies whenever my mother and I would visit him,” said Kim to NBC News. “I had an insatiable craving for sweets and he would go behind my mother’s back and sneak me gummy bears and Ring Pops.”

While many might falter in a disjointed upbringing such as Kim’s, she remained strong and eventually attended college, where her love of photography really began to take shape.

“My father owned a photography studio at one time, so my earliest introduction to photography was through him,” NBC News reported.

Credit: Diana Kim

Credit: Diana Kim

Her love of photography and the transient youth she grew up in drew Kim toward a project documenting homeless people on the streets of Honolulu.

Kim told NextShark:

“I first started photographing the homeless community in my first year of college. I gravitated towards the homeless because in some ways I identified with their struggle. I knew what it meant to be discarded, to be neglected, and to not have the stability and economic freedom I wanted. Overall, I understood their struggle because I struggled in the same way.”

As Kim began her photography journey, she tried to keep up the whereabouts of her father, but her grandmother had warned her that his mental health had deteriorated after refusing to take his medication. He stopped taking baths and eating regularly. Worst of all, Kim’s grandmother had lost track of him and had no idea where he was living. That is until 2012.

Credit: Diana Kim

Credit: Diana Kim

Kim’s photography project had brought her in contact with numerous individuals through the years, but one day she found a man standing alone staring into the asphalt at his feet. It was undeniable. It was her father.

“I found him standing at the corner of a busy intersection staring into the asphalt. His hair was matted and his head rolled in small circles. . . I inched closer towards him, feeling a sense of uncertainty, and finally found the courage to call out to him. He didn’t hear me. He couldn’t hear me. I slowly stepped closer and mustered up the courage to tap him on the shoulder. Still nothing. He didn’t look up. He didn’t turn around. By now there were a couple of pedestrians who had noticed my efforts, and I could feel their eyes burning into my back and face. I could feel their curiosity pierce through the space between my father and I. The vast emptiness between us was broken by a woman who approached me and said, ‘Don’t bother, he has been standing there for days.’

“A part of me wanted to scream at this woman, and the world, for being so callous. I wanted to yell that he was my father, that she was a heartless person to not care. But I realized that none of that would change the circumstances. So instead of screaming at her, I faced her and said, ‘I have to try.'”

And for two years she did, to little avail. Then, the worst thing happened. Kim received a call that her father was in the hospital. He’d suffered a heart attack.

Credit: Diana Kim

Credit: Diana Kim

Kim rushed to the hospital with her husband. They stayed by her father’s side in silence for some time, until…

“Just as we were about to leave, my father’s eyes opened and he called out my name,” Kim wrote on her blog. “We had a good conversation, and I walked away feeling lighter that day.”

While Kim’s father’s road to recovery was still long and arduous, he eventually conquered his demons and Kim has the father who disappeared years ago back in her life.

Credit: Diana Kim

Credit: Diana Kim

“He is really proud of the fact that he has overcome such incredible adversity… He has goals, he has hope, and he has the will to succeed,” she told NBC News.

And after all this, Kim truly understands the importance of second chances.

“So long as we are alive in this world, every day is an opportunity to take hold of that ‘second chance.’ There is no failure unless you give up, and he never gave up. And I haven’t given up on him.”

To learn more about Kim and The Homeless Project, click here.

Credit: Diana Kim

Credit: Diana Kim

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