“I never forget to tell Tino how special he is.” -Dean WongEach installment of this blog features an interview with a different Dad on Maui. Through a series of simple questions, we receive an intimate account of the triumphs and challenges of each man’s fathering experience. By sharing our insights as Maui Dads, we are able to learn from, connect with, and support each other in being the best men we can be for our precious keiki, families, and island community.
Maui Dad Interview #5: Dean Wong
Where are you originally from and what brought you to Maui?
I was born in Honolulu and grew up in the Chinatown area, where my father owned and operated a Chinese restaurant for many years. In 1911, at eleven years old, my father emigrated from China to Honolulu. I am a first generation American, born in Honolulu; however, I spent my high school and university years attending mainland schools.
How did you meet your partner?
My husband David has lived on Maui for about 30 years, and I have lived here for about 20. Both of us have always been actively engaged in our island community, so we have known each other for a very long time, first as acquaintances and then as friends. Eventually, David and I started dating and fell in love. Our first date was on Valentine’s Day of 2008. Once our relationship received State recognition, we were married at our son’s first baby luau on September 22, 2012
What is your line of work?
I am the Executive Director of Imua Family Services, a non-profit organization based on Maui and Lana`i. We provide family centered, community based therapeutic services for infants, toddlers, and preschool children from birth to age six, and to their families.
How old is your child?
Our son Valentino turned three last September.
What are your favorite locations to enjoy with your son on Maui?
My favorite locations to spend time with Valentino are all Upcountry. We love being near horses, goats, and farmers’ markets. Specifically, we love Kula Botanical Garden where we go to pick pumpkins each year in the pumpkin patch. We also find a variety of great fresh produce there, and, in the Spring, we are all about their Strawberry patches! Whatever the time of year, Kula Botanical Garden is always such a magical place for keiki, with lots of different things to explore. Upcountry, we also love watching the hang gliders up at Wai Poli Road above the Lavender Farm. The forests even further up the volcano are beautiful and resemble the Fern Grotto in Kauai; we love taking walks there. Besides Upcountry locations, our next favorite places to spend time with Valentino are on Maui’s beaches. Tino is a wonderful swimmer and loves to explore the ocean. We’ve enjoyed so many different keiki friendly beaches on Maui. When he was younger, we loved Launiupoko Beach on the west side where the water was mild and there are lots of keiki. As he grew bigger and became more comfortable in the water, we started taking him to Baby Beach at Sprecks. Soon after that, our spot became Kanaha Beach Park, and now his favorite beach is at Keawakapu Beach Park. On Maui, any time we spend together in the outdoors is quality time because nature here is so special. Simpler times spent in nature are by far our most wonderful times together.
What are your favorite activities to do with your son on Maui?
Swimming is our favorite activity. We swim several times a week, and practically every day during the Summer. Tino has been swimming since he was one year old, and he has become very strong and confident in the water. Swimming makes him laugh, and I find that amazing because with a child there is no better indicator of happiness than laughter. Another favorite Maui based activity of ours is visiting the Maui Ocean Center Aquarium. That experience was very important to us when Tino was very young because it opened his eyes to color and shapes. The lighting at the Aquarium makes the experience very peaceful and soothing. When we first started going (we bought an annual pass) he was in an Ergo Baby Carrier and it was amazing for me to watch his eyes follow the fish while he pointed and laughed. As he got older, he could wobble from tank to tank and started differentiating what he was seeing. Taking Tino to this visually stimulating place helped to inspire him to use speech, as he wanted to talk about what he saw. The Aquarium feels like such a safe place for children, and it is always an educational experience as well. Today, he still asks to visit the Aquarium; it’s full of wonder, it inspires his curiosity, and it provides him with such rich opportunities for learning and exploration.
What are your favorite foods and places to eat on Maui with your son?
Our favorite place to eat together is at home around the dinner table! I firmly believe that this is where families should eat together. Having grown up in restaurants, the family dinner table is something that I never experienced. My father was always busy cooking for everyone else and was never able to sit with me, although, as I was growing up, he cooked every meal that I ever ate, and he made everything with such love. Food is so important to me. In my book, it is not WHAT you eat but eating TOGETHER that is most important. One of my favorite things is to engage Tino in helping me in the kitchen; it brings my times with my own father back to life. Our favorite food to prepare together is cookies, of course! It has been a great way to introduce Tino to the kitchen. After making cookies together, anything that involves crushing, mashing, pounding, stirring, or using the mixer is a hit.
What is a funny memory that you have about fathering?
Just one?? We laugh a lot in our home. Tino is quite quick and funny; he knows how to pause for a laugh, and he knows how to tell a story. He’ll roll his eyes and give me sideways glances. It’s small moments together when we connect in this way that mean so much to me. As a father, you really have to be present and pay attention to have those kind of moments. It often happens when we’re sitting together casually on the steps at our front door. Tino loves to laugh; however, he does not like to be laughed at, and he takes that very seriously. If we’re laughing together he enjoys being very clever and creative in the interaction.
His clever wit, as I mentioned above, and his sensitivity to others. With other children, he is kind. He tries to be the peacemaker and works to bring friends together in play. He is not shy to take the lead. He refers to other children as “my friends.”
What is the most challenging aspect of fatherhood for you?
Managing time. Work is overwhelming and stressful for both myself and my partner. We have turned our daily schedules into a waltz; one of us is always with Valentino while the other is fulfilling other responsibilities. It takes serious commitment. Sometimes it means putting off work until after Tino is asleep, then returning to work on my computer until late at night. When we are with him, we remain engaged, playing with him, reading to him, and taking him on adventures. It all takes time, and I need more of it.
I never forget to tell Tino how special he is.
What is your favorite thing about being a Maui Dad?
We have immediate access to nature from Upcountry to the beaches, in a matter of minutes. This allows us to make instant choices about where to go and what to do. If you want to be in a lush quiet forest you can; if you want to be in the magical Bamboo Jungle, you go in another direction; you can skip rocks on a beach or search for sea turtles. Today at the beach we saw an octopus after whale watching. Who else gets to do that?
The best parenting recourses on Maui are found at Imua Family Services, of course! The Imua community, I would have to say, is the most valuable parenting resource on Maui. As parents, we have also come to rely on an outstanding community of friends, ohana, and aunties and uncles who have been with us for every step of our journey into parenthood. Besides Imua, to us, family is the most valuable “resource” on Maui.
As a new dad, what has been your most relied upon parenting gear?
The first year after Tino arrived on the scene, and until he could walk independently, we relied very heavily on the Ergo Baby Carrier because it kept him close to us. As busy parents, we took him everywhere: to work, our engagements, all activities, you name it. We could not have done it without our trusted Ergo! When I was in Africa for many years, the men and women there showed me how to carry children on your front or back with a device called a padeo, which was a type of baby sling, so I could have easily resorted to that too. Another product that was our salvation as new parents was a simple food processor for pureeing vegetables and fruit for meals. Using a food processor we’ve always been able to easily make Tino’s baby food ourselves.
Being a father has caused me to reflect a lot on my relationship with my own father, who passed away when I was 27 years old; I understand him so much better now. I wish that he was around to see me as a father and to meet my son. This longing has inspired me to write my own blog series called, Father of AAHHHS. This blog can be found on the Imua Family Services site. For me, becoming a father to my son has brought my own father back to life.
Is there an inspirational Maui Dad that you’d like to nominate for our next interview?
Keith Araki Regan, the Managing Director of the County of Maui, is a father whom I really admire from afar. I have come to know him from his work, his wonderful wife, and their incredible son. They are role models as productive parents who are deeply engaged in our community and who meaningfully participate in all their son’s interests. They are an inspiration to me, and I strive to find balance in my life as well as they do.
Would you like to nominate a Maui Dad whom you admire to be featured on the Maui Dad blog? Send us your nominations for Maui Dad interviewees by clicking here!
This MAUI DAD Blog interview is proudly brought to you by the following Maui-based businesses: