He was a gregarious, spontaneous child, his father said, a handful at times who loved music and playing the guitar.
As an adult he became famous as Kai, the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker, his celebrity taking a turn toward notoriety when he was arrested in Philadelphia last week and charged with killing a New Jersey lawyer.
Caleb McGillivary, his real name, claimed that he was "home free" rather than homeless, a traveller by choice with roots in Sophia, W.Va.
"I don't have any family," he had said in the television interview in February that gave him to a measure of fame after he intervened in an attack on a utility worker in Fresno, Calif. "As far as anybody I grew up with is concerned, I'm already dead."
But according to McGillivary's father, Gil, he does have a family that is concerned about his well-being.
Caleb McGillivary was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Gil McGillivary said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. And while the father and son only had sporadic contact, Gil McGillivary said he very much supports his son.
"Caleb to me is important. I'm not going to abandon him. I'm his father and I want to stick to him," McGillivary said from his home in Hawkesbury, Ont.
McGillivary said he lost custody of his son shortly after he and Caleb's mother divorced. The boy was 8.
"Caleb, from my understanding, was kind of upset at me for abandoning him," Gil McGillivary said, adding that he couldn't get to a custody hearing because his car broke down.
McGillivary said Caleb was an outgoing child, but could be hard to handle. He said he once made Caleb return toys that he stole from a store. The boy loved camping, motorcycles and going to air shows, he said.
McGillivary said Caleb had behaviour problems and ADHD that required medication. He said Caleb ended up in the Canadian family services system after his parents' divorce and was mistreated and potentially abused there.
"He's a street kid that was neglected by the Canadian family system," he said. The home where McGillivary said Caleb lived did not answer an inquiry asking for comment.
Caleb's mother, who lives in Alberta, refused to comment.
"I'm not going to talk to you," she said. "I'm not going to discuss this with you."
She told the Newark Star-Ledger that Caleb was a delight as a child, but she hasn't spoken to him since last year. She said the boy had behaviour problems but not ADHD.
Caleb McGillivary is a suspect in the death of 73-year-old Joseph Galfy Jr., who was found beaten to death in his bedroom last week in his suburban New Jersey home, wearing only his socks and underwear.
"I don't know if he did it in self-defence or the heat of the moment or it was premeditated or I don't know," Gil McGillivary said. "He's innocent until proven guilty."