Sunday, September 9, 2007

Wings to Fly — 2

Memoir Index

My Father

Today I went to visit my father. I gently stroke his face and shoulders. He looked at me. Now he barely has energy to stay awake. I was remembering last week when he asked me if I could pray for him in Korean. I looked at him in amazement. It was not too long ago that he could not tolerate anything related to Jesus.

He had a very difficult life. At age seventeen he was responsible to support his parents and six siblings. Korean War had devastated my grandfather’s farm. When the war was finished, my grandfather could no longer farm his land to support his family thus the responsibility fell to his third child and the oldest son, my father. Actually he had an older brother who died prematurely. My father was determined that he was not too young to support his family (parents and siblings).

He knew that learning English would be critical in early 1950s. He befriended American GIs and practiced his English. American army soon realized that there were virtually no person who could speak both English and Korean. They took on a young man who could somewhat communicate and employed him as an interpreter. He soon became a prized employee critical to American army. He never saw the front line. He was kept safe.

He realized that American GIs were starving for entertainment. He created a entertainment troop of singers and comedians, promising them salary on a gamble that GIs would buy enough tickets for him to keep his promise to his entertainers. He was to earn much money and turn it over to his father, like a good Korean son. His father who was not wise with money, gave it all to his children (my aunts and uncles) who would buy jewelry when most Koreans did not know where their next meal would come from.

When he married at age 27, Korean economy was still reeling from the devastation of the war. In this backdrop my mother, a young wife of 20, would experience life with a baby (myself) and parents in law and brothers and sisters in law and their spouses and children all living under my father’s roof. Yet my mother, being the new comer, according to Korean tradition had to serve the entire in law family living in her home. She too would experience hardship that most Americans could not imagine.

When US troops went back home, my father’s entertainment troop dissipated, yet a few of those talents would eventually become famous singers and comedians later.

My father brought his family to America in 1966, land of hope and dreams… Out of sheer determination that their children would fare better then them in life, they made for us a wonderful home in this land so foreign to us. Oh those years were precious.

We were a novelty in Irving Park elementary school in Chicago. Kids never heard of Korea? Is that a country? Asians were either Chinese or Japanese. I was in 5th grade, my brother was in 4th grade, and my sister was in kindergarten.

After a hard day at work, my father would give us English lesson that was at a pace to give us proficient language skill in 1 year. Then my mother would sit with us after my father’s lessons for next 2 hours helping us study. When I was in 8th grade, I was called to the front by my teacher. She made an announcement saying, JaeHi has earned the highest Math and English testing in the whole school. I looked at the report. I said, “That is my younger brother’s name. Not mine.” Our names are very similar.” She said, “well, you are a good student too. We’ll just let it be.”

I would watch my father study after giving us our lessons. He would stay till 2 or 3 AM or later to study to become a computer programmer. He would have to get up at 6 in the morning to get ready to go to work. One time I saw him bleed in his nose and mouth. I learned that if you keep overly exhausting schedule, that can happen. He continued this schedule until he earned his diploma to become a programmer. The love my parents manifested in raising us was deep and profound. To us whether he was a skilled craftsman or a computer programmer, it did not matter. He wanted us to be proud of his profession.

At this time, my father would teach us God will take care of those who takes care of themselves. At age 14 when I received Jesus into my heart, my father’s pain would begin. He was fearful for my life. His tender and gullible daughter can be more gullible and taken advantage of… with Christian teachings….

My father received Jesus Christ at age 80, through this daughter who caused him much pain for being a Christian and marrying a Christian full time worker.

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