A Tribute to Korean Fathers

Since Father’s Day came and went on the 3rd Sunday of June in the US (and over 70 other countries), I thought I would be kind enough to write about Korean fathers. And since I wrote a tribute to Korean mothers I guess it is only fair to do the same for fathers.

Unfortunately I have not met or spoken with many Korean fathers, so most of the information I have is just from watching them through a language barrier and from what Koreans and foreigners say about Korean fathers. In America where you would see a father and mother sitting on bleachers watching their child play baseball, here in Korea you would see the child at an institute, or hagwon, and the parents out working. Maybe the mother would get home early in the evening but most often the father goes out with his coworkers after work to get dinner and drink. We have had Korean fathers tell us that they work from 7am to 9pm, but most of the time they get done early but either by choice or pressure they go out with their coworkers. It almost seems that they’d rather just hang out with their coworkers instead of go home and be with their family.

Now I know that parenting in America leaves a lot to be desired in general. But I both grew up with good fatherly example and this post is written as much to praise him as it is to call out Korean fathers. And I’ve grown up in circles where the parents have been genuinely good in general. I guess the images I had of Asian fathers before coming to Korea were those martial art action films where the son keeps training trying to impress his father but the father just stands there with a blank stare–no concern and never impressed. Sadly I think that image has only been reinforced since being here. Except instead of the father standing there watching he is off working or hanging out with friends. And then when he comes home his expression is similar to the aforementioned image.

They can also snap really easily. We’ve heard that Korean men can be all calm and relaxed and all a sudden go off on something seemingly insignificant. I imagine it would be like walking on eggshells all the time being scared of that moment when he might snaps.

Certainly not all Korean fathers are that way. Our director, who is one of only two or three Korean fathers I have actually spoken too, seems to be a very good father. But you can tell from watching them at restaurants or public venues such as the beach or baseball game, that Korean fathers lack interest. The most telling aspect is how much the students are attached to me. They have told the Korean teachers before that their parents don’t play with them. So it’s fun to occasionally sacrifice my body as a jungle gym or wrestle with the students. I remember growing up how much fun it was to be tickled and thrown around. I guess its a universal aspect, kids all over the world want a dad that will play with them instead of just provide for them. They want to be loved and even thrown around a bit. Even if they hit their head, they bounce right back up.

As a teacher I am really glad they love me and I love playing with them. But it also saddens me that the students are depressed when they have a day off because they know they will just sit at home and be bored instead of having someone to play with. And as a potential parent, it scares me to think what type of summary someone would write about me. Would I prioritize my time well enough to be there for my kids? Thanks Dad for being a good example for me. And a late Happy Father’s Day to all reading this.


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