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   10-29-2010 18:46
Sunday Fathers

By George R. Hogan

For those with a keen ear or an interest in the Korean language, a common expression one might hear is ``uri appa or ``our father. The usage of the possessive pronoun ``our extends not only to family members, but also to country, company and even school.

This linguistic trait was fascinating to me years ago when I first arrived in Korea, but now Im starting to question the whole thing. While it might be grammatically incorrect for children to refer to their father as ``my father, recent trends in Korean family structure and work life are making it almost inappropriate to use any possessive pronoun in reference to fathers.

In 1969, a short American film titled, ``Sunday Father was released. The 13-minute film was as simple and disheartening as the relationship portrayed: a divorced man whose entire bond with his daughter revolved around their shallow Sunday visits to a local park. The message, of course, was that a strong paternal presence in the family is imperative for the emotional development, self-esteem, and socialization of children. Endless data suggests that profound and long-term effects can be witnessed in both young men and women who grow up in a largely paternally-absent household.

That story might seem more American than Korean, but the ``Sunday Father is alive and well in Korea. The difference is that he is not the divorced father taking his kids to a quiet dinner at a local diner like so many American films have depicted. Instead, hes the very ordinary office worker who spends too much time working to see his family.

One might have thought that after Korea abolished the six-day workweek in 2004, families would be able to spend more time together and, conceivably, even eat dinner at the same table. Yet, Korea continues to remain at the top of the list for longest working hours and the bottom of the list for total vacation days. In other words, no one is cutting out early and no one is getting any serious time off and its the families that suffer.

If we were to talk with most white-collar guys on the morning train, they would all have the same story to tell. Some of them worked until midnight, while the others managed to break free from the office only to find themselves in front of a grill full of pork-belly and a green bottle of hangover juice. Their red-crusted eyes tell the rest of the story.

Even their weekend stories rarely differ. Due to exhaustion, Friday night is a walk-in-the-door-fall-on-the-bed situation. More often than not, Saturdays are spent snoozing. After all, its their only day to catch up on all the missed ZZZs from the workweek. And then Sunday comes around. How glorious it is! The last bits of fatigue from the previous week have faded, the Saturday daze has worn off and now its time to win that Father of the Year award. Maybe theyll go to the park or perhaps itll be a visit to the zoo. Either way, its bound to be the greatest day a father can spend with his children. Then the ease of Sunday vanishes as night falls. The kids hit the books and its time, yet again, for our Sunday Father to hit the hay.

I dont want to blame the Korean Sunday Father, though. They could reconsider some of their company dinners since one out of every three office workers suspect they might be alcoholics, but I sincerely believe they want to be at home with their families. And therein lies the problem: They dont want to adhere to the rules of their bosses and current business culture, but they like their wives and families feel like they are powerless to it.

However, that couldnt be further from the truth. Culture is not stagnant and must change frequently. As they get older and climb the ladder, they will have a choice. They can either change the frat-boy binge drinking and hazing culture to one of health and productivity with an emphasis on strong paternal presence in the home or they can continue down this current path and be awarded another top OECD honor for highest rate of paternal absence. Its their choice, not the cultures.

The writer has been teaching modern Korean social issues and current events for the past five years in southern Seoul. He can be reached at asktheexpat@yahoo.com.