Mira and Bob Shimabukuro on their front porch in Portland, Oregon, circa 1982 • Photo by Karen Clark

“Alice say, have to have somebody accompany me. Everywhere I go. No walking alone.” Bob Shimabukuro, Final column, 4/3/2021

Bob(Dad)

My father, Bob Shimabukuro, often signed his cards and letters, “Love, Bob(Dad).” I always thought this was hilarious, as if I had forgotten who he was to me. I recently read a letter written to my maternal grandparents where he mused on how, at age two, I would switch back-and-forth:

             “I’m trying to figure out if there’s a consistent image she has of one or the other….[A]fter we played (run around the house) awhile and I was really tired, she said, ‘Dad, more!’

             ‘No, Daddy’s tired.’

             ‘Bob, Daddy’s tired. Bob, more!’

I’ll probably be schizoid by next year.”

I eventually settled into “Dad,” rarely, if ever, calling him by his first name after I started school. But over the past year, I find myself returning to some of this mental code-shifting. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, I’ve found myself trying to mesh these codes, between the Bob who is not just my father and the Dad who is not just a woodworker, chef, community organizer, caregiver, husband, brother, and writer, all of whom we said goodbye to almost three years ago.

This code-mesh is both a process and a necessity while I collaborate, that is, accompany others in our creation of the Japanese American Museum of Oregon’s upcoming exhibit: Craft, Community, and Care: The Art and Legacy of Bob Shimabukuro.

Sharing Bob(Dad)

In the summer of 2022, Chisao Hata, the Creative Director for the Japanese American Museum of Oregon (JAMO) and a longtime family friend, was passing through Seattle and asked if she could see me and my stepmother, Alice.

As one of Bob(Dad)’s oldest friends, Chisao was one of the first people I asked to speak at his virtual memorial. But I’d only seen a few of his friends in person since he died. Even now, each time I do, my taped-together heart rips open again.

Which is why I hesitated at first when Chisao proposed the exhibit as part of JAMO’s Lasting Legacy series.

I wasn’t ready to memorialize Dad(Bob), and I certainly wasn’t ready to use words like “legacy” to capture and enclose his life. Chisao said that a show about Bob(Dad) could follow the JAMO legacy shows on George Nakashima and Tsutakawa.

I remained hesitant. Perhaps Alice did too. As much as Dad(Bob) admired both Nakashima and Tsutakawa, and as much as Dad(Bob) matters to us, I thought he would say it was silly for him to be part of a series with two internationally reknowned artists.

But Chisao persisted, easing up when she sensed it was too soon, but also emphasizing Bob(Dad)’s larger significance. Somehow, drinking tea on my deck, she persuaded Alice and I that a show about Bob(Dad) could matter, could help expand the ways we think about legacy.

Chisao has always been persistent, and persuasive.

So for the past year and a half, Alice, my brother Zenwa, and I have shared our intellectual and emotional labor with each other and with Chisao, Roberta Wong, the folks at JAMO, and Portland’s Bryan Potter Design to create the upcoming exhibit. Craft, Community, and Care, which will open to the public Feb. 17, 2024.

And in his IE “Bull Session/Fo’ Real” columnist spirit, let me share a few brief memories, some of my own takes on the themes of the show.

Craft: Distinct/Extinct furniture

Many reading this knew Bob(Dad) in Seattle, and most of you have known him primarily as a writer and a community organizer. But through most of my Portland childhood, Dad(Bob) was a woodworker, part of an Oregon movement committed to craft and design. His shop was first called New World Woodcraft, a callback, I think, to the short-lived labor newspaper his father and uncle ran for Maui’s Okinawan community, Shin Jidai (New Era). Later, he renamed the shop, Shimabukuro’s Distinctive Furniture.

When I was a kid, I didn’t know the word, distinctive, but I did know dinosaurs. So I called the shop, “Dad’s Extinct Furniture.”

Dad(Bob) thought that was hilarious, which made it even better. I spent a lot of time trying to cheer Dad(Bob) up. Maybe it’s more accurate to say, we spent a lot of time trying to cheer each other up.

Care: The Breath and the Word

Like all kids in public, sometimes I would just, as Dad(Bob) put it, lose it. So sometimes we would walk, sometimes we would run. Sometimes, he would just scoop me up, gather me together, and hold me still, saying softly in my ear:

Hey

            Hey

                        Hey

                                      In and out, the word matching his breath, regulated mine.

Bob and Mira in Alaska, circa 1975 • Photo by Toki Shimabukuro

Community: Tree Father

Many reading this from Portland may know that Bob(Dad) was not just a caring father, but also a caring godfather of sorts to two girls in Oregon, Meggan and Kendra. Some might have called us hippie sisters; others just chosen family; still others, our community.

While Meggan died tragically over 25 years ago, Kendra maintained a loving relationship with Bob(Dad) even though he didn’t like the idea of being a “godfather.” After all, he didn’t believe in god.

Apparently, he once discussed this internal struggle with his brother, Sam. Sam told him that while he, too, didn’t believe in god, he did believe in the sacredness of trees. That peaked Bob(Dad)’s interest. After all, he was a woodworker. He also believed in the power of trees. So from that point on, Bob(Dad) was Tree Father.

***

Dad(Bob),

We’re about to open the show, and some days, I still don’t want to share you. I don’t want to write pithy anecdotes or blow up life-size images of you or write words like “legacy” on a museum wall.

It’s been three years since I got the text from your wife, come now. And so many fibers in my body refuse to turn you into a memory.

It’s hard to distill a life that is really a collection of relationships and experiences, only some of which I have been part of and only some of which we have chosen to share. And to do so in collaboration. Within a budget. Among varying opinions and perspectives. All the while teaching, co-parenting a teenager, and trying to figure out how we are collectively going stop a relentless genocide. At times, I’ve found myself in such a swirl, I’m unable to do any of the things…

But on a good day, I remember to close my eyes and hear you:

Hey

              Hey

                            Hey

And you gather the fibers flinging to the wind, pulling me back together.

Catch a breath, you say, then keep moving.

And have somebody accompany you. No need walk alone.

Craft, Community, and Care: The Art and Legacy of Bob Shimabukuro” will show at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon from February 17 through April 14. 

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