Goose daddies are a lonely gaggle

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Goose daddies are a lonely gaggle

Juhn Min-ho, a successful wholesaler of brand-name optical equipment, sent his two children - Sung-jin, 14, and Sung-ah, 11 - to Vancouver in July after deciding that Korea's educational system had too many flaws. Mr. Juhn's wife obtained a tourist visa and accompanied the children to help them start a new life in Canada. Every month Mr. Juhn sends them money. Last week as his children started their winter break on the other side of the Pacific, Mr. Juhn was busy in his Seoul office, filing year-end tax returns, which he had to finish before flying to Vancouver to celebrate Christmas with his family.

"This will be my fifth visit since my family left," Mr. Juhn says with a sigh. "My 14-year-old son, Sung-jin, is under a lot of pressure in school because he can't speak fluent English. I've been going there mainly to encourage him."

A father who regularly sends or takes money to his family in a faraway place, like Mr. Juhn, is called a "goose daddy" in Korea. These men, mostly in their mid-40s, are likened to wild geese, which typically fly miles to retrieve food to bring back to their young.

Mr. Juhn is one of the many fathers who have joined a new Web site called Goose Daddy Community (http://www.air canada.co.kr/goose). The members of the site, established by Air Canada in August, send much of their income abroad to their children who are enrolled in foreign schools. The site advertises low-price airfares for the separated families and serves as a network for fathers who are left alone. According to Gu Jeong-ah, Air Canada's marketing supervisor in Seoul, the airline saw a potential market in these families in 1998 as it began building a database for its Aeroplan Mileage Program.

"We realized there were two separate addresses written on a lot of the application forms," Mr. Gu said. "After research, we found that a lot of our clients who signed up for Aeroplan were families who lived apart and flew at least twice a year to see each other."

Like many other parents in Korea, Mr. Juhn became concerned about his children's education when his eldest child entered middle school. "It seemed like his official introduction to the dangers that exist in Korean society," he says.

Sung-jin's homeroom teacher started calling Mr. Juhn to complain that his son was misbehaving and "discreetly demanding money." At home, Mr. Juhn noticed his children calling their teachers degrading names and joking about their appearance. The death of a group of kindergarten students in a fire at summer camp and the suicide of a young girl who had been ostracized by her classmates added to Mr. Juhn's worries. But Mr. Juhn says he was most disturbed by the public's indifference toward these tragedies. "No one blinks an eye" unless it happens to their children, he says.

"The kids seemed very confused," Mr. Juhn says, referring to their schooling in Korea. "At home I would always tell them to be honest and respect their teachers, but then they would see things that didn't correspond with that." When Sung-jin turned 14, Mr. Juhn made the decision to send his two children to either Canada or Australia - which are the two main countries parents are sending their children to study. The couple chose Canada because they believed the country was more sensitive to educational issues. It's hard to tell how many goose daddies there are, because some of them are breaking immigration laws by remaining and working in Korea.

He and his wife thought initially about moving their whole family to Canada. But after making a few visits to Vancouver and talking to Korean immigrants there, Mr. Juhn decided it would be safe enough if just his wife stayed with the children. "We thought immigration involved too many risks. What if I can't find a job there?"

So far the children have been doing fine, Mr. Juhn says. He writes them e-mails every morning to check how everything is going at school. Last Halloween, the children did their first trick-or-treating with other children from their neighborhood. "The kids say they like the friends they've met in Vancouver even more than the ones they knew in Seoul," he says. But he bears a heavy financial burden, sending his wife $10,000 in tuition each semester on top of $1,000 monthly for rent and living expenses. But the financial load is a minor concern compared with the changes Mr. Juhn has faced in his life in Korea.

Once a week, Mr. Juhn's mother comes to his apartment to prepare a home-cooked meal. He hired a Chinese maid to do housework and grocery shopping three times a week. Because his friends and associates often encourage him to visit room salons, pricey drinking joints with barmaids, Mr. Juhn has decided not to tell people that he lives alone. He is worried what would happen if they find out he is unfettered by a live-in wife. "There are just too many temptations for a married man who lives alone in Seoul," he says.

Another goose-daddy, Park Sung-ho, 43, who sent his wife and two boys to Toronto early this year, moved into his parents' house to avoid the same temptations. "Now I don't have to deal with drunk friends who call me to come out drinking at 2 in the morning," he says. "Living with my parents also saves me quite a lot of money." Mr. Park, a vice president of a local start-up firm, sends two-thirds of his income to Toronto every month and plans to keep his family there until his two sons graduate from college - a seven year game plan.

Mr. Park will be unable to visit his family this New Year's Eve because of work. Even though he cannot get away to visit his family as easily as self-employed men like Mr. Juhn, and thus is more of an absent father, Mr. Park says he is confident that his boys will be proud of him after they grow up. "But I'm just a little concerned that I might not be there when they need me," he says.

Mr. Juhn received a heartrending e-mail recently from his daughter Sung-ah. She asked if he could fly out for her birthday. "They never say it, but I know they feel uneasy about the situation," Mr. Juhn says. "I feel a little overwhelmed, but I'm not worried."

Mr. Juhn is particularly sensitive about the coverage the Korean media has been giving to goose daddies. He is unhappy that the subject is being treated as a cultural fad and that in many stories the sacrifices of the fathers have been romanticized a great deal. "Then behind our backs, they point fingers at us for spending too much money on our young children," he says. Asked whether he and his wife ever considered sending their kids overseas after they had graduated from high school or at an even older age, Mr. Juhn snaps back, "Then my kids would have suffered way too much.

"This is the alternative," he says. "The parents in Korea pioneered this themselves, because the government did nothing about our children's education, and neither did the teachers. So how can they blame us?"



by Park Soo-mee

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