[Viewpoint] A father’s duty

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[Viewpoint] A father’s duty

My youngest daughter has entered elementary school. She’s a student at Sungui Elementary School in Namsan, Seoul, the very school I attended 40 years ago.

Being ever curious, I learned about a parent’s meeting and decided to attend.

I went to my daughter’s classroom and sat down on the tiny chair she sits on at school. It must be quite funny to see a man with grey hair sitting in the elementary school classroom. And among some 30 parents attending the meeting, I was the only father. I guess parent participation is mainly for moms. And that fits. In most families today, mothers are in charge of education. Fathers are just too busy or think it is not respectable to be too involved.

Does it mean that mothers are not busy and respectable? No way. Full-time moms are busy, not to mention the working moms. Moreover, mothers are, of course, equally respectable. Nevertheless, education always falls on the mothers. It’s ironic that fathers are absent or excluded from education in today’s families that prioritize children and education above all else.

In the old days, education was the burden of fathers. Jeong Yak-yong spent 18 years in exile, but during this time, he constantly wrote to his children to educate them. In the numerous letters he sent during exile, he wrote detailed lessons on what to do and what to refrain from, reviews of the books he read and his list of recommended books. He also taught his children how to raise chicken, how to grow vegetables and fruits, how to prepare ancestor worship rituals, and how to drink. Of course, he scolded and reproached his children. All these duties belonged to the father.

My father passed away when I was in 10th grade. I spent exactly 15 years and nine months with my father. My life is filled with stories and memories of my father. He was diagnosed with cancer when I was in third grade, and although given only six months to live, he actually lived eight more years.

He endured his illness and went on with his life. In those eight years, I would always go to his room when I got home from school and spend the afternoon with him. He would talk about his life, and his stories brought me up. There were things I found hard to understand, but thanks to the tales he told me, I became the man I am today. What elevated me were his eyes and his stories. I did not know then how precious the time I spent with him was, but I will not exchange the memories with my father with anything.

While my father was ill in his last days, he gave his heart and soul to me. I believe that a father’s attention is just as important as a mother’s touch to a child.

Ironically, healthy and active fathers often pay attention to money, power and women. They can only spare left-over attention and short conversations for their children. It leads to the paradox that successful fathers rarely have model sons.

Fathers are not money-making machines or vending machines that spit out products when you press a button. However, we see so many “vending machine fathers” around us. Some fathers feel guilty that they fail to play their role properly.

A father should be like a big old tree next to a pavilion in a rural village. He should offer shade and let the children play and rest under his sheltering arms.

To a father, that’s the reason for being. A father’s attention and concerns nurture his children. And children are our future.

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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