Good guys finish last, the title said.
On February 4, 1969, armed robbers confronted my father at the World Oil Gas Station in Santa Monica. He worked the cemetery shift as a gas station attendant and within minutes of arriving he faced three suspects who demanded money. Two of the thieves were young adults, while the youngest suspect was my age – 14.
One of the robbers fired his gun, hitting my father in the abdomen. He lay in a pool of blood until help arrived. The police apprehended the suspects.
My father was rushed to the hospital in Santa Monica, where he died on the operating table.
Journalist Vance Pollett wrote that my father struggled in life until his luck ran out.
“His share of worldly wealth was not very large and Kohatsu had to work two jobs to make ends meet,” I remember Vance writing. “Early this morning he was shot dead.”
The last hours of my father’s life were told in three stories by Pollett, a reporter for the Santa Monica Evening Outlook.
I didn’t know it then, but Vance’s stories would be my beacon in life.
My dad left very little: his van, some gardening tools, the transistor radio I gave him the Christmas before, an alarm clock, and the bloody clothes he wore on the last day, which were stuffed into a plastic bag by ER nurses.
He had no life insurance.
The gas station hustle and bustle was a thankless job, hampered by odd hours, poor pay, and dangerous working conditions after dark. But it was the only job my father could find that fit his rigid gardening schedule.
He started sleeping in a downstairs bedroom, away from the family. His comings and goings at odd hours would be less awkward, he thought.
Most days he would slip into bed before sunrise and slump for a few hours before starting his yard work, which stretched from Hollywood to Long Beach. He repeated this routine from Monday to Friday.
My parents discussed quitting the gas station job. But, my father was an eternal optimist. He chose to continue to moonlight.
Everything would be fine, he assured my mother.
We buried my father in Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles. He was 47 years old.
Looking back, I try to make sense of what happened this morning. My uncle Dave said to me, “You’re the man of the house now. He meant well. But I was just a kid who was supposed to start high school that morning.
I scribbled one of Pollett’s stories on a sheet of notebook paper. Then I kept this handwritten note in my back pocket. I read it from time to time. Vance’s words brought me peace – and gave me meaning – for reasons I couldn’t explain.
In the spring of 1969, Banning High School in Wilmington offered no trauma counseling to students. Due to the death of my father, I started my second year two weeks late. I was given my course list and then let myself wander around campus in a fog as I searched for my classrooms.
I didn’t seek any help. And none were offered.
The 1960s were a time when bereavement counseling seemed virtually non-existent. For all the well-wishers and well-wishers who have visited our home in the weeks and months since my father passed away, no one has suggested the benefits of bereavement therapy.
We were Christians by faith, but didn’t go to church. Culturally, we were burdened by centuries of people repressing their emotions.
Being devoted Sansei children (third generation) of Japanese American parents, my sister and I spoke little. After Dad died, we hid our pain and isolated our emotions.
I watched my mother as she sorted through endless papers, condolence cards, koden (sympathy money), answered telephone calls, greeted visitors and listened to lawyers.
Mom also suffered, but continued with her parenting duties and responsibilities. She did the only thing she could at the time was to follow her instincts.
For better or for worse, she protected us from the world.
My life in the months and years that followed was filled with varying degrees of intense pleasure, demoralizing defeats and missed opportunities. It is difficult now to determine how much my life has been shaped by childhood trauma.
When my father died, a scholarship fund was created to pay for our college education. But I squandered that opportunity in favor of working an endless list of dead-end jobs that would span two decades.
My interest in photography, which awoke in high school, finally oriented me in life.
In the 1980s, I finally got my life back. I studied journalism and photojournalism at California State University, Long Beach and graduated at age 36.
Along the way, I found solace in journaling – keeping a daily journal. Gradually, I honed my writing skills through correspondence with pen pals, contributing to fanzines, and writing freelance for various publications.
In 1989, I was hired by the Gardena Valley News as a photographer and sportswriter. In 1991, I became the editor. My confidence level skyrocketed and so did my outlook. The GVN is where I would spend over 30 years of my professional life.
I’m now 68, semi-retired, and went back to college as a student. For over 50 years, I said little about my father’s murder and relied on self-therapy.
Advisor’s Guidean online site site which highlights the need for personal awareness and personal development, reports that self-help has certain virtues.
Self-help can “help you take more effective control of everyday situations and allow you to make continuous progress.”
On the same site, author Anna Martin said self-counseling is not a substitute for in-person therapy for serious psychological issues.
“Deeply rooted issues will require help in order to clear them from the unconscious, so it’s important to understand and accept that self-help can open doors to identify these issues, but may not be enough. to come to a resolution,” Martin said. (http://www.thecounsellorsguide.co.uk/importance-selfcounselling.html)
Today, counseling is available at many outlets, including El Camino College Mental Health Services.
Like my father, I consider myself an optimist. I am what many would call a “good guy”. Conscientious and fair.
As a dedicated journalist like Vance Pollett, I listen to stories and write the narrative. As an editor, however, I can rewrite the title.
“The good guys don’t always finish last.”
Students can get mental health counseling
ECC students have access to college student health services, which include psychological assistance. Costs for health services are covered when enrolling in college. The following information is current as of May 2022 and readers may refer to the website https://www.elcamino.edu/support/health-safety/student-health-services/index.aspx for SHS exemptions and modifications.
El Camino Student Health Center
Hours: Monday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Tuesday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Closed on weekends, public holidays and school holidays.
Costs: $22 per fall and spring semester and $18 for the summer session. No insurance required or co-payment.