Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, May 13, 2001


Multi-faceted father Frank Hewett plays basketball
with his daughter, Ula, and son, Kua.

Honoring a dad
on Mother’s Day

Frank Hewett has been
Mr. Mom to his hanai
son and daughter

By Suzanne Tswei

FRANK KAWAIKAPUOKALANI HEWETT may be getting something more than the customary greeting card wishing him a happy Mother's Day today. Hanai-daughter Ula was hoping to find a nice shirt at his favorite store, The Gap, to show her appreciation for the single parent who has cared for her since she was 3 days old.

"I have my first job now, so maybe I'll have enough money to go shopping for him," says the high-school senior who works after school at a Kailua shave ice shop. "He's always buying something for us; maybe I'll find something for him."

Section cover

But if she can't pull it off this time, Ula's pretty sure she can save enough money by Father's Day for a real nice present. It would do just as well because Hewett has been both mother and father to her and brother Kua, who comes from a different set of biological parents and also was hanai-ed to Hewett at 3 days old.

Hewett isn't going to be the center of attention today anyway. His mother, Alice, is the family matriarch, and she'll be the guest of honor at a Sunday brunch as is the family tradition.

Still, in this day of single parents and adoptive parents, gay or straight, the traditional view of motherhood is broadening to encompass families that come together through a different kind of kinship.

Hewett takes his part in this growing societal trend in stride. "I may be Mr. Mom, but I am just there. I don't really expect anything," says Hewett, the former high-profile kumu hula who is now cultural director of Waimanalo Health Center.

In his current job, he heals other people's family strife through ho'oponopono, or gentle counseling, and other traditional Hawaiian practices. Yet Hewett is experiencing a bit of parental angst himself. He is in the withdrawal stage that parents suffer when their babies become adults. Kua, at 19, and Ula, 18, are just discovering their independence.

"I am learning to let go because they are growing up. You raise them, you live with them and all of sudden you are not important anymore; everybody else is important. It's like going through a divorce with your children," Hewett says.

At 46, Hewett had never been through a divorce. He chose not to marry for the sake of his hanai children. He made a commitment to rearing the children as a single parent and felt introducing a spouse would cause discord. "I chose to be single so that nobody would come into my life and tell me what to do with my children. The children are used to me, but they may not get used to the new person."

"You raise them, you live with them
and all of sudden you are not important anymore.
... It's like going through a divorce
with your children."

with his mother, Alice

The idea may be extreme but it has served him well, he says. His children aren't perfect, but they have turned out pretty well. Ula is more outgoing and tends to boss her brother around, and Kua is gentle but stubborn and neglectful of his household chores.

Both youngsters are respectful of their elders, which is the most important value Hewett wanted to instill in them. Hewett attributes his mothering success to early training. His mother was divorced and had to work full time, and expected him to care for his siblings.

"I helped my mother take care of everybody in the family. From a young age I had to learn cleaning, cooking, everything. My sister (Evalyn) and I were the ones who had to take care of things."

There were nine children -- three girls and six boys -- and Hewett, the second child, knew from a young age that he loved children, says his sister Evalyn, whom the family calls Aunty Tita.

"He always had the motherly instinct. His dream was always to have children. When I was 7 or 8, he told me, 'Tita, you go out and make a lot of kids, and I'll watch them,' " she says. Hewett even dreamed of opening an orphanage.

"He really liked the nurturing part. I don't know why. So I am not surprised he became a mom (for other people's children,)" she says.

In 1981 when he was anointed by the kahuna Aunty Emma de Fries as her cultural heir, Hewett hanai-ed Kua. The baby was born with a club foot, but Hewett said that did not matter.

"His parents came to me and asked me to take care of their son and I said OK," Hewett said. "I got the house ready and went to pick him up from the hospital," Hewett says. There were no ceremonies or fuss about the adoption. He simply signed his name as the father on the birth certificate.

It was the same routine for Ula, whose parents wanted their daughter to grow up in an environment of traditional Hawaii culture and language, which Hewett could provide. And they trusted that he would be a caring parent.

"For a while I'd hear people say, 'Oh, what a shame these parents gave their children away. That wasn't it. Hanai is a way of sharing the children in the Hawaiian tradition," Hewett says.

The hanai parent does not always become the exclusive parent, he says. It's best to include the biological parents in the rearing of the children. Both children say they have benefited from having regular contacts with their parents but consider Hewett THE parent.

Hewett took after his own mother's parenting style -- strict and no nonsense. His children say he's demanding but loving.

"He yells at you when you do something bad, and he praises you when you do something good. He's like a normal parent," Ula says.

Hewett brought up the children with help from his mother and sister, and sees his family as not that different from an ordinary family, with the same joys and challenges. While he's sad about his children growing up and leaving one day, he treasures the time he spends with them now.

"My biggest joy in life now is watching them unfold," Hewett says. "People ask me don't I have to give up a lot of things for the children when they are not even my own, and I say, 'So what?' My children are my life; I live for them."

In the meantime, Hewett is getting ready to adopt another son, 29-year-old Amos Keawekane, to whom Hewett is passing on his knowledge of Hawaiian culture and traditions. As a bonus, Hewett is getting two grandchildren, Kamaka, 5, and Ilihia, almost 5 months, who are Keawekane's children.

"At this stage, I know my children will be leaving some day, but I am really looking forward to the grandchildren. I can spoil them."

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