Dad’s Dream

by | Jun 3, 2024

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” Luke 6:22

June is upon us, and soon we will have our Presbytery meeting and Day of Service on June 15th (please make sure to REGISTER today!), and Father’s Day on June 16th. Since next week will be focused on the Presbytery meeting, I hope you will indulge me as I share a story about my father, Ted Tajima, who happened to be a very regular elder commissioner to this presbytery from First Presbyterian Church, Altadena. My sister Elaine is developing an art exhibit that gives a brief glimpse into individual lives, and Dad’s is one of them. And as we look ahead to General Assembly later this month, I will get to worship at the Japanese Church of Christ in Salt Lake City, a church my grandfather built in the town where my father was born. 

Ted K. Tajima taught at Alhambra High School for 35 years. I always thought how wonderful that he had a job he loved so much that he’d keep it all those years. I tried to find a job I could stay in my whole life, but couldn’t find it (at least not until I went into the ministry). One day I told my father how I wish I could find a lifelong job that I loved like he did. Dad replied in a somewhat disgusted voice, “I never wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a journalist. But teaching was the only job I could get, and then we had you four girls, so I had to stay.”

Mom and Dad were young adults during World War II. Both were born in the United States, and as far as I can tell, neither had never stepped foot out of the country, yet in 1942 they and all Japanese Americans on the West Coast were treated as enemy aliens and forcibly evacuated. Because Dad’s father was a pastor (he was pastor of what is now First Presbyterian Church, Altadena), he was able to arrange to send my father and his siblings far enough east, so they did not go into the camps. My mother, whose father had just passed away, was sent with her family to Gila River Camp in Arizona. My mother took the initiative to apply for a program that allowed her to leave the camp, to work as a domestic for a wealthy family near Cleveland, Ohio. She arranged for jobs for her family and friends, and for her boyfriend (my father), so my whole family was in Cleveland at the end of the war. My grandfather even started a Japanese church while they were there, and my parents married in Cleveland. But when the war ended, they all returned to Los Angeles. 

My father worked for the Army, teaching Japanese (and then English) to soldiers going to occupy Japan. He then got a Master’s degree in Journalism. His communication skills were excellent. His writing was easy and evocative, and his bass voice was the envy of broadcasters and preachers alike. But, by 1948, he had a wife, a baby, and no job prospects in journalism for a Japanese-American, so he took my mother’s advice and became a public school teacher. He taught English at Alhambra High School, and he developed the school paper, The Moor, into a national award-winning weekly.

Whether or not Dad wanted to stay at Alhambra, he did, and according to hundreds of his students— many of whom went into journalism themselves—he transformed lives. My cousin Renée, an Oscar- nominated documentary filmmaker, has said that wherever she goes, someone will come up to her and ask if she’s related to Ted. Upon his death, his obituary ran on the front page of the “California” section of the Los Angeles Times, and was run again in the year-end review.

Dad was especially known for encouraging working-class kids to go to college, and several became outstanding leaders in their professions. So, it has been a fitting tribute to have a high school named for him. Alliance Ted K. Tajima High School in downtown LA has just been rated in the top 2% of all public high schools in the United States. 97% of their students graduate and 95% are accepted into college, while 92% are on the free lunch program and most are the first in their families to attend college. Like so many fellow Presbyterians, Dad was a big believer in the transformative power of education. Like his pastor father, Dad also believed in responding to Christ’s call for justice, especially for those who have been persecuted.

Dad didn’t achieve his dream of becoming a journalist. So instead, he helped countless students achieve more than they ever dreamed of. And now, I am thrilled to hear teachers of working-class, mostly immigrant Latin teenagers talk about their “Tajima Family” and know that our family now includes hundreds of families whose futures are being changed in the name of my father.

I hope you have stories to share of your father, or one who has been like a father to you. And may we all find—and share—hope and empowerment in the name of our heavenly father, who makes us one in Christ’s family.

Happy Father’s Day in advance,