The “Golden” Finale!

Here’s the last half of the slideshow my sister and I put together for my parents’ Golden Anniversary party:

Each of carries within us a piece from past generations: an aptitude, a special talent, a twinkle in the eye, a smile.

Fortitude. Courage. Conviction. Cheekbones!

Intelligence. Creativity, Vision.

And as the next generation grows up, we are thankful for the many gifts and lessons passed down from our parents.

I discovered this in my second grader’s desk at Back to School Night this past year. I was so very proud.

Ummm…we’re still working on that one.

I’m quite convinced that my mother could whip up a teleportation device, if given a handful of paper clips, some tinfoil, and maybe a few coat hangers…

Snappy dressing? Let’s just say it’s a family tradition

“What’s that, Mom? You want me to pick up the money, do you? Hah! Here’s what I think of your money. I’m picking the pen, so you better start saving up…I’m planning on grad school!”

We sometimes disagree. Correction. We frequently disagree. Correction. We always disagree.

But we sometimes, frequently, and always kiss and make up.

And yes:

It must be genetic.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for giving us 50 memorable years filled with love and joy. We love you.

Wishing each and every one of you a beautiful weekend. 

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Golden, Pt. 4

My sister and I put together a slideshow for my parents’ Golden Anniversary party.

IMG_4786Here are some of the pictures we used…


In February 1963 my mother flew to San Francisco to marry my father. After proposing to her, he left for America to pursue his lifelong dream of higher education. She was to follow him, but her departure was delayed by a year when an x-ray revealed that she had had tuberculosis as a child. Now after a long separation, they would finally be together.

As you might imagine, moving from Korea to America was a radical shift. But it wasn’t as if my mother was unprepared. Having watched plenty of American movies, she knew exactly what to expect:

Imagine her surprise when she stepped off the plane to discover this:

As shown in this next photograph, some very important additions were made to our family in San Francisco…

namely: our dad’s book collection.

Next stop: Texas, where our dad earned his Doctorate of Theology:

But something even more momentous happened in Dallas…

Our mother gave birth to Don King.

OK, that’s really me, but you have to admit: the resemblance is striking.

Dad’s book collection likewise waxed fruitful and multiplied with scholarly tomes such as:

Every theology book, in and out of print:


The Bible in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic, English, and Korean:


Books on natural science and political science:

Oh, and let’s not forget this one:

Goats and Goatkeeping

One time, our sister was perusing Dad’s bookshelf, filled with books she would never be able to read…She asked Mom, “Is Dad sad that he has stupid children?” Mom replied, “Teddy’s not stupid!”

In Texas we went to rodeos, we spoke with Southern accents. We totally assimilated into American culture, so much so that my sisters:

…actually became Native Americans.

But no sooner had we put the finishing touches on our teepee, when we immigrated back to Korea. We returned to a country that was rising like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. We are all very proud that our family’s legacy was part of the rebirth of Korea. Our grandfather, the Johnny Appleseed of Korea, led the reforestation of 1235 acres of mountainous terrain which had been denuded by the war.

But back then we were just kids. We didn’t know anything about the “Miracle on the Han.” All we knew was that we left the wonders of white bread…

Wonder bread

For the agony of fish head.

We lost mac n’ cheese…


and gained sea cucumber:

And what about this delicacy?

Silkwork larvae?! You call that food?!

One glorious day, our sister, aged six, spied a bottle of Coca Cola in an old fashioned glass bottle on a window sill in Grandma’s kitchen. Her little heart leaped to her throat. For a fleeting moment the fact that it had a cork struck her as odd. But so homesick was she for America that although she knew it was wrong, she couldn’t resist. Surreptitiously, she grabbed the bottle, uncorked it, and took a massive swig.

It was soy sauce.

In Korea, another blessed addition was made to our family. Hallelujah! A boy at last!

If it’s not immediately obvious to you what my brother is saying in the photograph, let me interpret it for you…..

“Not three sisters!!!”

Teddy quickly grew up into a smart little boy. Here he is pointing at me and yelling, “Hey! Get back here! You’re not in the photograph, Dummy!” My mom was right. Teddy’s not stupid.

(Actually, I was trying to take over the camera, even back then).

From Korea we moved to Florida:


From Florida to Pennsylvania, and from Pennsylvania to DC, where we settled at last:

We were growing up, but some things never change. See that look on Teddy’s face?


It has nothing at all to do with the fact that he’s wearing a bright white bow tie the size of Montana. Nope. He’s still thinking, “Not three sisters!”

Tomorrow: The conclusion. I swear on a stack of Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, English and Korean Bibles!

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Golden, Pt. 3

My brother Teddy gave me permission to publish the speech he gave at my parents’ 50th anniversary party:

Teddy's speech

One day when I was about ten years old my father came home with a big metal hoop and a pile of twine. I thought it was strange. What could anyone want with this junk? But when I woke up the next morning he had woven a perfect net out of twine and strung it onto the hoop to make a fishing net, better than anything you could buy at a store.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I went to bed there was a pile of junk on the living room floor. When I woke up it had been transformed into something beautiful and valuable. I bet you didn’t know your daddy could do that, my mother exclaimed. Despite herself, she was very impressed.

Later that day my father and I went fishing. Not the lame kind of fishing where you stand around with a pole all day and go home with nothing. Dad stood knee deep in the water and every time he dipped the net into the water it came out full to the brim with wriggling fish. I was amazed. I thought, Who is this man? Even the fish obey him!

Within an hour we filled two gigantic lawn bags full to the top with fish. There were at least 200 pounds of fish all told.

We got home late at night and when we dragged the fish in to the kitchen my mother’s jaw dropped. It’s too many! How am I going to clean all these fish before they spoil?

We hadn’t thought of that.

My mother stayed up all night, scaling, cleaning, and gutting fish, and by the next morning, the mountain of fish had been filleted and frozen. I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I went to bed there was a waist-high pile of dead fish on the kitchen floor. When I woke up it had been transformed into something valuable.

I don’t know how she did it, but somehow your mommy cleaned all those fish, my father exclaimed. Despite himself, he was very impressed with my mother.

I’ll never forget this incident. Imagine what it does to the world view of a little boy to realize that his parents are complementary parts of a whole, that they complete and reinforce each other; that the reason they can take care of everyone around them is because they work together. This is the secret to becoming a pillar of strength.

My parents can move mountains. They can start with nothing and before you know it they will turn it into something that you couldn’t even imagine. Something you didn’t know you needed until you can’t live without it.

Together my parents built a seminary which has produced countless ministers, who are out teaching the gospel on every corner of the planet. What a monumental undertaking. It can only be understood as my parents’ labor of love. Love of the gospel. Love of God. And love for each other.


It’s true. My parents can move mountains. But the most amazing thing they ever did for me was to build the loving family that has been my pillar of strength. They gave me the gift of three siblings with whom to navigate this crazy, complicated, sometimes painful, sometimes staggeringly beautiful life. As I watched my brother give his speech (through tears – damn him!), I was filled with a sense of deep gratitude for having had the privilege to grow into adulthood with these people. I think what I’ll treasure most about my parents’ anniversary party and the week we spent at the beach right after the party, is the time my brother and sisters and I had to reconnect and strengthen our bonds.

After that car ride to the restaurant, we made a special effort to spend some time with just the four of us again. One night, after all the children had been put to bed, we went to the Fenwick Boardwalk and shared stories that had us laughing so hard we were crying:

Our CrossFit gym-owning, paleo-diet following, clean-living, super-healthy brother even consented to take a token lick of cotton candy in solidarity with his not-so-fit sisters:

Now that’s love…and I couldn’t imagine living without it!

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Golden, Pt. 2

IMG_4682All the grandchildren performed for their grandparents’ 50th anniversary party. My sister explained why…

Many years ago we had a family reunion with all my aunts and uncles and their families in San Francisco. The granchildren gave performances every evening in honor of my grandparents, who had flown all the way from Korea to be with their sons and daughters. My cousins are an accomplished lot, and like most Korean children, they were given music lessons from the moment they became zygotes. In nightly talent shows our cousins would perform for my grandparents. One cousin played alto sax like Charlie Parker. His sister played Chopin études with a sensitivity and understanding that belied her youth. Cousin after cousin displayed their brilliance at the piano. The youngest cousin, a mere toddler at the time, sang a lovely song with admirable poise and considerable charm.

My siblings and I were the only ones who were apparently devoid of any talent. As my sister explained, she and my other sister had in fact received piano instruction when they were little girls. They received exactly one lesson before they were fired by their teacher, who proclaimed it a hopeless cause. That teacher was our mother.

So at the family reunion, night after night my siblings and I sat, politely clapping for our cousins as they gave one virtuoso performance after another. One night, some of the cousins pushed my brother Teddy forward. Finally, our family’s talent was going to be showcased for our venerable grandparents! All week Teddy had been regaling the cousins with Eddie Murphy routines. Now, Teddy gamely stood up and performed a completely inappropriate routine for my grandparents. While I can’t remember the exact details, I’m sure there were penises involved. My grandparents probably didn’t understand a word he was saying, but tears were rolling down their cheeks as they laughed hysterically.

We were so very proud.

My siblings and I may never have had any talent, but our kids did their best to redeem us:

For the finale, the kids performed In My Life, by the Beatles. My son had arranged a version for the three of them to play and he had cracked the whip like a martinet all month long trying to get them to do it right…

We were all glad when that was over and it was time for cake!

Tomorrow: Teddy’s speech and Sibling Love

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Invitation handmade by my sister

Invitation handmade by my sister

I’m not kidding when I say that my siblings and I have been planning my parents’ Golden Anniversary party for years. We’re fortunate in that our sister plans parties professionally. She works with all the best vendors. She has a discerning eye, impeccable taste, and knows exactly what she wants. Over the course of the year, she’s been letting us know what that is with increasing intensity and animation.

The morning of the party, as she was driving my siblings and me to the venue so we could get set up, she cleared her throat and said, “Adrienne has informed me that I owe you all an apology for riding you all like a witch on a flaming broomstick for the past year as we prepared for Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary party…So, I’m so sorry.  Thank you for being patient, and bearing with me, and for all your help!”

My sister Annabelle replied, “OK, but you’ll have to apologize to us after the party too, because I’m sure you’ll be really b*$%@-y to us during the party!”

When we arrived at the restaurant, the harried-looking florist was putting the finishing touches on his gorgeous arrangements.

As we were admiring his work, he confessed, “I do $600,000 weddings and I always sleep like a bear. I didn’t sleep a wink last night, because I was so nervous.” Apparently, my sister had been riding his ass too.

The big unanswered question was what my mother would wear. We begged her to wear a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress, but she outright refused. She insisted that she was going to wear a pink t-shirt and black stretchy pants. To the many, many alternatives we suggested, she demurred. The evening before the party, we had dinner at Peking Gourmet Inn for some of our out of town guests.

At dinner, my aunt, who traveled all the way from California with her daughter to come to the party, joined our chorus of pleas and urged my mother to get dressed up. Finally, my mother promised to wear something “special,” though she wouldn’t tell us what it was.

When she finally entered the room, she was wearing….

a pink t-shirt, black stretchy pants, and a white blazer! She looked perfect, of course!

More tomorrow…

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One favorite moment

On Saturday we celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary with a party that my siblings and I have been planning for years.

It felt like a charmed day. We were celebrating the steadfast love and devotion of our beloved parents. The weather was perfect. The flowers were gorgeous. The venue was beautiful inside and out. On this happiest of days, we were surrounded by loving family and friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen in more than a decade. I’ll share more pictures later, but for now, I’ll just share my favorite moment of the day:

My siblings and I got to the restaurant early to set up. The car ride over and the few moments we spent in the parking garage before we got to work setting up, just us, for some reason was the very best part of that beautiful day.

As soon as the party was over, my tribe of seventeen people, from 2 to 78 years old, drove to the beach, where we all are now. I’m taking another short break from posting so that I can spend every precious minute of this time with the people I love most in the world. See you again soon!

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50th Anniversary

wedding partyI turned eighteen shortly after starting my first year in college. I was shocked when I found a birthday card from my father in my mailbox. My parents have never been ones to mark occasions that most people celebrate. Had I woken up in an alternate universe? Could I be hallucinating? I was reassured that all was as it should be when I pulled out the card. It contained no message and was signed “Rev. David H. Kim.” My dad’s secretary was keeping track of birthdays and sending out cards from a pre-signed stack to everyone in his congregation.

I can’t remember a single time my dad ever bought my mom chocolate for Valentine’s Day or flowers for their wedding anniversary. The words “I love you” have never, not once, either on purpose or by accident, ever fallen from my father’s lips. It’s not that he doesn’t feel genuine love. He worships my mother. His children and grandchildren know that he loves them deeply. It’s outward, obvious expressions of love that make him distinctly uncomfortable.

Almost five years ago, my mother was diagnosed with primary amyloidosis. The prognosis was dire. The doctors told her she had eighteen months to live. My sister managed to get her into a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. My parents were living in Korea at the time, but returned to the States so that my mother could get treated. My father left her in my sister’s care and returned to Korea to finish out his work obligations, intending to return as soon as the semester was over.

The aggressive, experimental chemotherapy regimen knocked my mother’s disease into remission, but not before it nearly killed her. One day, she was exhausted and suffering and ready to give up the fight. She called my father to say goodbye. She didn’t think she would ever see him again.

My dad told her that she had to hold on. He told her that he wanted to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary together. I know the chemotherapy drugs did their part, but I also know without a doubt that what pulled my mom back from the brink were my father’s words. My sister reported that the phone call was a turning point. When my mother hung up the phone, she had resolved to live. She began to force herself to eat and to force herself to get up out of bed and walk around. My dad’s love saved her.

Yesterday when I mentioned that it would be their 50th wedding anniversary on Sunday, both my mother and father seemed to have forgotten all about it. My mother said, “Oh, really? No, I think it’s already passed.” I had to pull out a calendar to show her that Sunday really would be their 50th wedding anniversary. My siblings and I have long been planning a huge party that will take place this summer, but today I want to mark their golden anniversary with these words. I have never once seen my parents kiss or hug each other. I have never once heard them exchange the words “I love you.” But they have always shown me what a true partnership looks like and what true love is. My parents don’t read this blog and they’ll probably never see these words, but just as they have never had to actually say “I love you,” I think they know the words in my heart.

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