When my brothers, sister, and I went to write things about my dad that we wanted to share with you, we had to laugh; mostly because my dad would hate having so much attention focused on him. He hated to be the center of attention, so much so that it bored him to sleep. We used to tease him because he could fall asleep anywhere, including the dentist’s chair, the barber shop, and any sunny place. Looking for photos of my dad, there were more pictures of him sleeping or hiding than there were of him posing or smiling.
When, as a foursome, we decided we wanted to tell stories about my father, memories that made us smile, laugh or cry, we wanted people to know that my dad was a loving, but grumpy guy. My dad, his identical twin, Bob, and I shared a birthday. I remember going to other kid’s birthday parties and asking why they only had one cake – I always had three. My dad use to let me think all of those cakes were for me… and I got to open triple presents most years – again so that he could deflect the attention from himself. My dad taught me that the most important person in the room was the gap-filler, the stream-liner, the comfort person. The person who was most valuable was the one who could make every other person feel like they were most important. The most cherished lesson I learned from my dad was that loving other people was more meaningful than the love you got back. Because of this, I have always had more love to give. I know that it frustrated him that all of his kids sometimes gave too much to other people and he urged me to stop fixing broken people. I always reassured him, I had it to give because I had been so loved.
My brother, Jarid, remembers the same thing. No matter what my dad was doing, he would make special time to include him. Jarid remembers going to the Prairie House for breakfast in the mornings with Dad’s friends and the cool part is how he always wanted Jarid to come along, just the guys. Jarid remembers dad taking him places to do things to be special, even if there were things Dad didn’t particularly like. My dad spent many weekends camping and fishing because my mom and her family cherished that time and enjoyed those outings – it was never his favorite, but he loved us all enough to want us to have fun and be happy. Jarid and I used to look forward to the autumn every year because dad would throw us into huge piles of leaves. All of his yard cleaning work felt like it was solely for our entertainment.
My dad didn’t always say things with great eloquence. When I was in my twenties, I totaled my first vehicle. It was Christmas Eve and I was buying last minute Christmas gifts. I crashed into a car in front of me and passed out after the airbags deployed. In crisis, I called my dad. I said “Dad, I just totaled my truck. I’m still in the truck.” He said “Well, why’d you do that? That was stupid.” And he hung up. I was baffled, but before I could respond, he called back concerned and asked all of the other routine questions. Later, he said, “Well, you were calling. You were fine.” Alex remembers a similar story. Although he spent the least amount of time with Dad, because he is only 17, he says those were great years and he wishes he could have had more. Alex is so grateful for the time he got to spend with Dad, whether it was just normal father son activities like learning to ride a bike or fixing up his car. Dad was always there for Alex; Alex remembers when he was about 7ish, he had just gotten his first bike with training wheels a little too small. He asked dad if he would fall because he wobbled a lot; the training wheels only touched when you leaned to one side. Dad said to Alex: “You won’t fall, don’t be stupid.” But Alex fell off the sidewalk and down a rocky hill. When Dad got to him, he said from above: “Well, that was stupid.” What Alex remembers saying was: “You said I wouldn’t fall!” Even though he got pretty banged up from the fall, Alex knew he was good because Dad was there.
That’s the thing about my dad; no matter what any of us kids did, he had ultimate faith that we were fine, we were good, we would be okay. He let us be free to make mistakes, big and small, without real judgment, and without expectation. He believed in us when we did not have faith in our own abilities. It is the thing I will miss the very most.
We also love how our dad thought his own way. There were important lessons he wanted to teach us. He always wanted us to have a pet so that we could learn responsibility. I think my mom is now very responsible after caring for our several dogs, bunnies, fish, and turtles. On my twenty-fifth birthday, my dad handed over a heavy box. When I opened it, it was a deluxe Black & Decker power drill. I said “Oh. A drill.” My mom said “Well, I wanted to get you something shiny, but your dad said ‘every girl needs a drill.'” When I moved to Sacramento for law school, my dad told me, with all seriousness, “I saw on Dateline that sometimes you can use a drill as a weapon. Just keep it in your bedroom.” I thought, “Yup, just what a girl needs in her bedroom.”
In my classroom, I hear my father’s voice come from my mouth often. I’ve taught Korean boys how to make a Windsor knot in their tie and how to earn respect through a firm handshake. When I was prepping a resume writing lesson, I actually found my very first resume and it had my dad’s notes on it, teaching me how to be a professional and how to be a grown up. I realize now that after I finished school, how often my dad asked me for help and advice, and how uncomfortable I always was. I don’t think I ever believed I could know more than my dad about any topic.
JARID’s final thoughts: “Being like my dad growing up was so important to me, I wanted to be so much like him that even at dinner time when my father use to mix all the contents of his plate into one big pile I did the same because if Dad did it, it was cool he was my hero. In the end all that I can say is that I am honored to have known him, and I am privileged to have had him as my father and as my best friend, I love you, Dad.”
ALEX’s final thoughts: “I can’t thank you enough dad for just being there, if I had any problems whether it be school, girls, or cars I knew I could count on dad to give me advice even if sometimes it wasn’t the best I always kept it in mind and I’ve learned so much from him like don’t empty the transmission fluid when you’re actually trying to change the oil, or ‘don’t be stupid.’ I hope you’re having some quality time with Bob. Dad, you were and are my hero and I love you more than I can express in words.”
KRISTA and I just want to add that our dad always taught us we could do whatever boys could do. Except for pay for dates. He reminded me during our last conversation that feminist or whatever I was, I should stop paying for dates – he said it was maybe the only real advantage to being a girl. Whatever we did, even the stupid things, he said that as long as we were happy, we were doing the right thing. So, Dad, we will try to be happy, and we will try to honor you by giving you the gift you asked for during every birthday, Christmas and Father’s Day – we will try to be good kids.
So, I am having an incredibly difficult time leaving America. I have not lost a credit card, I have not found a job, and actually, nothing incredible has happened while I’ve been back Stateside except I interchangeably call America AND Korea “home.”
When I first left Korea after my program at Inje University, I LOVED KOREA. I think the experience in a program specifically designed for Korean adoptees was insulating, plus, the atmosphere in the Busan area is incredibly warm. It was a definite softball way to acclimate to Korea, learn some culture, make some friends, and drink some soju. I acquired a strong affection for Korean ramyeon, shorter skirts, Gwangalli beach, bingsu, and all things aegyo. I came home excited to share my new affection with all of my Desert Dwellers, and about 500 different kinds of cosmetic products.
An extremely difficult summer fraught with about 100 extenuating circumstances, plus my first bona fide job offer in two years resulted in a knee jerk reaction to move to a city that did not make a great first impression, and to a University that gave me a definite bad feeling. I ignored these gut reactions because a) that’s what I do when I try to be reasonable b) the extremely difficult thing made me want to run far far away; c) I was broke.
My ultimate lesson in life is to learn to trust my extreme first impressions, and not rationalize with reason, logic, and good common sense. When I go against these instincts, bad things happen. Without going into a lot of detail (see all my prior posts from this past year) I now basically HATE KOREA. Daejeon has made me hate Korea, my current job makes me hate Korea, my boss and work environment make me hate Korea. I’m not sure I understood oppression, discrimination, or the feeling of despair so clearly until I moved into this situation. The level of lying and deception in the job recruitment process was so disgusting, I can’t believe how foolish I must have been. Or desperate. I have to remember how broken I was when I decided I HAD to move to Korea. A few people peeled me from the floor to make sure I got on the airplane last summer.
Except now, I’m not broken. I’m feeling rejuvenated and back to my old self (in all the good and bad ways). My mind is working a million times over and I have opportunities to create a different life, and I actually feel motivated to begin again looking for new work in a new city. Despite a million and one complications, I’m happy in my relationship, I know who my core friends are, and I have developed better communication skills with the people who I love.
But, despite these many strengths, the recovery process from two years of stapling together a financial living is very difficult in consideration of my law school debt. Bottom line: My bottom line is still in the red. Staying in Korea will give me a TINY bit of savings, but it might be enough floating money to get me to the next place. RATIONALLY, staying in Korea is the best thing financially and reasonably.
EMOTIONALLY, INSTINCTIVELY, VISCERALLY – I feel I should turnaround as soon as I land. I could spend three days and pack everything to return to a land where I speak my native language, find comfort in the familiar, and love people. I’ve been encouraged by more than one person (and The BF has threatened more than once to burn my passport) that if I feel I’m done in Korea, I should just come home and not waste another year feeling hatred and misery… as the saying goes… life is short.
The hardest thing, though, is that I cannot imagine NOT being in Korea. Something about Korea IS familiar and easy and I live every day with only my voice in my head, making decisions based purely on my (sometimes delusional) ideas and feelings. My plans for the future will still be there when the future gets here, and the people who love me will (or should anyhow) still love me. And it gives some things time to settle into the right place… and some love to normalize instead of fester. SIGH.
I said earlier on FB that the rock is hard and the hard place is rocky. I’m not sure what the right thing is…. I guess I just have to take some time to feel like I’m in Korea and try to have only my delusions and my voice guide my choice.