In the name of fathers and children
The country’s half-century struggle with growth and democracy has made effective fatherhood more difficult. “During and after the IMF crisis [1997-1998], when the economy was in turmoil, I think we all felt like family life was in crisis as well,” said Kim Seong-muk, the president of the Duranno Father School, a school dedicated to teaching men how to be good fathers.
Kim Gye-yeol attended the school in 2005. He is the president of Fydel Korea Co., an investment company. The IMF crisis was a nightmare for him. “I contemplated suicide for 6 months, thinking my family could live off my life insurance,” whispered the father of three. “Back then I thought being a good father was all about money.”
The school taught him otherwise. “After attending the school’s program I stopped being a faceless money-making machine and became a devoted father. I realized that my being there with my kids, giving them attention and talking to them was the most important thing I could do for them.”
The Durrano school, founded in October 1995 by Hwang Eun-chul and Do Eun-mi of Seoul’s Onnuri Church, offers a range of short-term programs for fathers. It now operates in more than 30 different countries including the United States and Japan and it has over 70 branches in Korea. Although the school started out as a church-based organization, it has branched out to include interactive programs for fathers forced to be absent by prison and or their army service.
Kim Seong-muk, one of the first graduates from the school, recalls why he became involved. “I was on the verge of a divorce.”
Mr. Kim married in 1974 and now co-runs the parenting program at the school with his wife. He worked in sales for over 20 years. He said that entertaining clients, alcohol and hostess bars were a part of his everyday routine. In 1995 things turned around for him when he began attending the Duranno Father School. “I realized that the bricks and mortar of a family is a healthy marriage. As my husband-wife relationship improved, so did my relationship with my children.
Both Mr. Kims said that the homework the school made them do was difficult at first. “There were many assignments like writing letters to your wife and children. Another was hugging,” said Kim Gye-yeol.
Kim Mi-ri, his daughter, who has just graduated from high school, remembers how hard it was. “It was so gross at first, especially to my younger sister who was just going through puberty,” she said and giggled. “But now, when he [Kim Gye-yeol] comes home all of us [three children] race to hug him at the front door.”
Companies are also becoming involved. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family started the “Parenting Day Campaign” in September, 2005. It promotes the movement towards a family-friendly environment. Companies are encouraged to send their employees (who are parents) home when regular office hours end, usually at 6 p.m. The campaign also seeks to increase parenting programs at nurseries and kindergartens nationwide. It has been generating positive feedback from the media and employees. Many say that the campaign has helped to increase the morale of employees and has boosted profits. Major companies such as IBM Korea, GS Caltex and Yuhan-Kimberly are all participating.
IBM Korea has set up a “Work and Life Balance” program that offers lectures for parents. Last November, the company offered a lecture titled “The Role of a Father” that dealt with issues such as the importance of the father’s participation during the parenting process. 82 employees (73 male, 9 female) attended the lecture, given by Jun Hae-kyung, a social science professor at Yonsei University. “We had highly positive feedback,” said Sin Tae-young, a manager at IBM Korea who was in charge of organizing the program. “After the lecture, there was a question and answer section in which employees showed a lot of enthusiasm. Many family members of the employees came to the lecture as well.”
GS Caltex has also been a major supporter. At the one-year anniversary of the campaign, last September, the company offered a parenting lecture for their employees who are fathers. Yuhan-Kimberly also has a “family-friendly” policy. Last December, their Daejeon office started a club where fathers can share their hardships and put the parenting techniques they discussed to use.
Kim Gye-yeol believes corporations may have to change their habits to help men be better fathers. He took the risk to do so in his own workplace. “It took drastic measures to reprioritize my life,” he said. “The biggest change was giving up drinking with work-related people. For example, I scheduled business appointments for lunchtime.”
Mr. Kwon says examples such as Mr Kim’s are good, because men can’t wait for society to change before becoming good parents. “Of course, Korean corporate culture needs to evolve and recognize the importance of family life,” he said. “But, ultimately, the change has to come from each father and his determination to change.”
“The most important thing for fathers to do is spend quality time with their children. It can be just a minute of hugging at the start of a day. It can be calling once a day ― I actually did this with my own children. My theory is that its all about how effectively you communicate that you care about what they are going through.”
“Even now, 12 years after our school opened, most fathers come here because their wives or children force them to,” said Kim Seong-muk. “We still have a long way to go, but hopefully fathers are getting the right idea about masculinity and are differentiating themselves from previous generations that relied upon authoritarianism. They just have to avoid becoming overprotective.”
Kim Gye-yeol is turning this hope into reality. “By the time I’m 50, I am going to build a school for fathers in my hometown,” he said. “I am looking for land and a faculty. I want to help other fathers who have foolish ideas about what a father should be, just like I had.”
By Cho Jae-eun Staff Writer [email@example.com]