Tag Archives: Father

Scattered to the four winds…

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On Friday my husband and oldest son traveled by sleeper car to his weeklong music composition workshop in Illinois.

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Yesterday morning my daughter and I dropped off Boy #2 at the airport at 5 am. He is now somewhere in Colorado on a pilgrimage with his Sunday School class. We are keenly missing him today as it is his 15th birthday!
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My girl and I made a lightning strike visit to Arlington to see my parents and to wish my dad a Happy Father’s Day.

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We tried to get him to smile for a special Father’s Day picture and this is what happened:

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My mother, observing all of this from her couch throne, commanded him to smile in her most imperious tone and this is what happened:

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Happy Father’s Day, Dad and Happy Father’s Day, Colin. You’re both my favorites.

 

 

 

Migration

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I miss those gypsy parents of mine. They moved back to Korea a little less than a week ago. I’ve been scanning old family photos and came across a couple that capture my mother at the liminal moment of another, earlier migration – between earth and sky, between two continents, between single and married life.

I believe it is February 1963. My mother is twenty-six. She is getting ready to board the plane that will take her to meet my father in San Francisco, where he is studying. In her suitcase already loaded in the cargo hold is a carefully-folded, white silk hanbok. She will wear it as her wedding dress when she gets married, just days after her long journey to America. I’m guessing it’s her father who is taking photos of his eldest child as she leaves home for the first time – to go so far away, and for who knows how long?

She looks jaunty in her black coat and kitten heels. Her departure was delayed when an x-ray scan revealed traces of the tuberculosis she once had. She was required to wait out a year-long quarantine before being cleared to fly. A year is a long time to wait for the next part of your life to begin. She smiles boldly now as she waves goodbye to her parents.

She has always been a pioneer: the first-born, a big sister and second mother to her siblings:

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She is a drama queen:

My mother...on the left!

My mother…on the left!

She has always been known for being brash…

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the leader of her pack:

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Mother

I imagine she is trying to reassure her parents with that cheerful smile and wave she gives as she walks towards the plane. I imagine she must be filled with anxiety. She has never been on a plane before. She has never been so far away from her parents before. She is flying to a new country where the language is foreign to her, to be married to a man she hasn’t seen in over a year.

At the door of the plane she turns back for one last look. Her father takes one last photo of his daughter before he loses sight of her. She thinks she’s far enough away so that her parents won’t see that she’s crying.

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By the end of the year she will be a mother. In no time at all, there will be four of us – too many children for a graduate student to support. My mother will take us all to go to Korea to live for a couple years while my father finishes up his degree. My father must be miserable to see his family depart, especially his beloved, long-awaited son – finally born after three girls:

He sends postcards like this one in which he enjoins his infant son to be the man of the house and to take good care of his mother and sisters:

And though my parents try to bridge the great distance with letters and by mailing audio tapes back and forth, our father will become a stranger to us during those years.

In this photo we’re getting ready to board a plane to reunite with him at long last. He has found his first teaching job in Florida. We will meet him there.

 

Farmette

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As I write this, my parents are on a plane heading back to Seoul. They are moving back to the high rise apartment they left – (we had thought for good) – about six years ago. I wonder how my dad will get on without the garden he was so happy to come home to in Arlington. Will he dream about the row of pine tree saplings he planted when they first arrived…the ones which my mother would scornfully refer to as his “sticks,” when she’d see him from the window tenderly fussing over them? Will he regret not seeing the peonies, peach and cherry trees bloom in his own yard this spring?

For many years, my dad tried to put his farm boy roots behind him. He ferociously, voraciously pursued degree after degree. Even today, at the age of 80, after acquiring a couple masters degrees, a doctorate, and a J.D., he still seriously weighs the possibility of going back to school again. But no matter how many degrees he accumulates, no matter how many scholarly tomes he writes, he will always be a man of the earth. The proof is in the combination arboretum, botanical garden, and vegetable plot he manages to cram into every tiny suburban yard he’s ever had at his disposal. The proof is in the quail eggs and incubator he ordered from an ad he found in a Field and Stream magazine. (If they had hatched – Lord knows where we would have kept them)! The proof is in his book shelves, in which Goats and Goatkeeping can be found among volumes on philosophy, theology, and law.

 

Goats and GoatkeepingSometimes genes express themselves in the weirdest ways…

I’ve always been an animal lover, but my husband is an animal-barely-tolerator. Every now and then I indulge myself in a little harmless entertainment…I freak him out by suggesting that I’m going to bring home another puppy, or by getting all misty-eyed as I rhapsodize about a long-cherished fantasy. I describe to him my dream of having an animal farmette, populated only with cute animals: a sheep or two, some goats, a few fluffy little bunnies, some ducks, a bunch of dogs, and maybe a miniature pony. He listens to me in silence, with growing waves of alarm clouding his face as I wax on about my little menagerie.

“What is it with you and animal husbandry?” he will finally ask in utter bewilderment.

One day I was looking out of my office window, which overlooks the Amphitheater at the University of Virginia. Pens were being set up with miniature llamas, sheep, cows, goats, bunnies, horses, and chickens. It turns out that the University Programs Council periodically brings in a petting zoo for the students’ pleasure. I was at once elated, and filled with burning, insane jealousy of whoever stole my dream:

We’ve moved to a new house with a two stall barn, a paddock, run-in shed, and chicken coop. They all stand empty.

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So far, I’ve parried and dodged the many earnest entreaties for livestock that my children have thrown my way. (Of course, they know better than to importune their father). I’m trying to stay strong, but every now and then I sense myself weakening…

Every day on our way home, we pass two different herds of goats. I can hear my daughter coo and sigh with delight in the backseat whenever she catches sight of them.

“I wish we could have a baby goat,” she says in a voice filled with yearning.

I usually pretend I can’t hear her, but one day a couple weeks ago, I allowed myself to actually consider the idea.

“Do some research,” I told her, shocking myself as I heard the words came out of my own mouth, “If it’s really easy to keep a goat, maybe we could think about it.”

When we pulled into our driveway, she couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. She ran into the house and hit the interwebs. She was at it until it was time for her to go to bed.

She came to find me in the living room to report her findings…

“The only complicated thing is that they have to have some kind of mineral supplement that we, well you would have to buy…And you have to have a really good fence to keep them in, and to keep predators out. And even though they’re supposed to eat anything, it turns out that some plants like azaleas and cherry trees are actually poisonous to goats…”

“Hmmm,” I said, “I’m going to do a little research of my own and we can discuss it in the morning.”

I poked around on the internet myself and discovered a bunch of things my daughter hadn’t mentioned…The fact that they would require specialized veterinary care: the semi-annual filing down of hoofs, vaccinations, and deworming; the fact that they must have companionship; and the fact that they are master escape artists. It was all rather overwhelming.

The next morning I gave my unsuspecting husband a pat and said without any further explanation, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”

This time.

 

Old Photos

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A few months ago, I offered to put all of my mother’s old photos together in an album for her. I was finally able to hand her the finished album the last time I went to visit my parents in Arlington.

There were photos I hadn’t seen in years, including this baby picture of me:

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In almost all of my baby pictures, my hair is soaking wet, because in its natural state it looked like this:

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My mom told me she burst out laughing when the doctor handed me to her for the first time. Who could blame her?

And then there’s the one my sisters refer to as my refugee photo:

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When I was eight months old we moved to Korea from America for a year or two. The pile of shoes at the door in this photo is the telltale sign of a Korean household. I especially love the two pairs of classic Korean pointy toe rubber shoes to the left.

Scan 1My sisters explained to me that in this photo, they are both wearing school badges. The sister sitting next to me on the right is wearing a special badge, because she was class president.

As my oldest sister put it, “Even then she was an overachiever.”

This photo was the biggest surprise:

Scan (1) I puzzled over it for a while, trying to seek out a familiar face. I was expecting to find my mother or one of her siblings in the photo. All of the oldest family photos I’ve ever seen are from my mother’s side of the family. For all these years, I thought the earliest photos of my father were taken when he served in the army:

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My father grew up in the country. His family, like all Koreans of his generation, struggled  through the privations of war and occupation. When he was eleven, typhoid fever struck down almost everyone in his household. His father did not survive. His mother was left with young children and a farm to run. Time and money were scarce, and there was certainly none to spare for picture-taking.

I showed the photo to my mother, thinking that she would be able to help me figure out who was pictured there. She glanced at the photo and shook her head. She handed it back to me and suggested that I show it to my father, who might know something about the picture.

When I showed it to him, I was dumbfounded when he said, “That’s my elementary school graduation photo.”

He pointed himself out to me. He’s in the third row from the top facing left.

“Do you know why I’m standing like that? I knew I couldn’t ask my mother for money to continue my education. I understood that we couldn’t pay the school fees. I was so downcast and ashamed I couldn’t even look at the camera.”

At the age of thirteen, my father ended up striking out on his own. He put himself through another year or two of schooling by working in a watch factory. As a young man, he made his way to the U.S., where he earned a Bachelors Degree, multiple Masters, a Doctorate, and a J.D. Eventually, he became a professor.

This photo, the only existing one of my father as a child, captures a moment of despair in his life when that future was unimaginable.