"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," Kim, 30, told 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."
From then, they have passed 25 years, when the family was still together. Eventually, however, Kim's parents separated with her father leaving when she was 5 and this was the end of Kim's childhood. Wandering from place to place in search of a permanent home, Kim spent her younger years living at relatives' homes, staying with friends, or in parks and cars. Despite this early suffering, Kim managed to find happiness; she has a family of her own with her husband and two sons, and has pursued her love for photography, advocacy, and law.
"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.'
The next few months were extremely difficult, as Kim's father went through ups and downs during his hospitalization. Despite his health problems, there was a silver lining to his heart attack—it led him to finally agree to receive help through a treatment plan, and day by day, he began to feel and be stronger, ready to take back his life.
In December, Kim received a phone call from an unknown number. It was her father, asking her if she was free for a cup of coffee that morning. She immediately agreed and ran to meet him. They met on the street where he had once owned a photography studio decades earlier—the same street where he had slept behind a pile of cardboard boxes for the past two years.
"As I pulled up into the parking lot, I saw my father’s figure and my heart nearly stopped. He looked better than I had expected, and so different from the last image I had of him in the hospital," Kim said. "It felt so good to see him so healthy, and standing so tall again. We must have hugged for a couple of minutes." They paid their respects at a Buddhist temple, looked at old photos that Kim's father had kept with him all these years, and bare their hearts to each other in a long, full of confessions conversation. "I feel like I just met my father for the first time today," Kim wrote on her blog later that day. "Our meeting was truly a miracle."
"Initially, the fact that I couldn't 'fix' my dad tore me apart," Kim shared in a photo essay published in Honolulu Magazine. "And because our time together on the streets was more than I had ever spent with him as a child, I struggled to reconcile my feelings toward my father’s absence in my life, while continuing to care deeply for him and other homeless individuals. Over time, I learned to navigate through my feelings of desperation and became more vocal in my community about my father's condition and what it's like to watch a loved one battle mental illness."
Now, Kim is happy with her father's improvement. "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. He's spending time with friends, actively looking for a job, and planning to visit his family in South Korea soon.
"Photography is not just about creating images—it is my window to experiencing the world and sharing relationships with people and things that I am drawn to. Looking through the lens and capturing that moment also captures my feelings in that moment. I think that, without the camera, I would have felt too naked and vulnerable to approach my father. I don't think I could have made the same journey without the purpose of documenting his journey as well. My goal, long before my father ever became homeless, was to humanize those who lived on the streets. They each have a story, and I hope that by sharing my own story, it helps to give new perspective."
"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."