My father was born in the same year the Korean War ended in 1953, but he was not born out of love. His birth wasn’t even properly reported until six years later, because there were more important things going on in Korea. Children born out of wedlock were of no concern to a broken country.
My father was conceived out of need to pay the rent. As a result, his parents never married and still knew little about each other by the time my father was born. War-torn Korea had exposed jagged edges everywhere on the surface, but crime and compassion didn’t mix well beneath the surface and on the streets. My grandmother, who was alone for most of the war with no surviving family left afterwards, had simply given up her body for survival. She was a statistic, like so many others around her, and had become pregnant as a result.
Nothing came simply for the unlucky.
My grandmother never had fantasized notions of love and support, especially after watching her family and friends die or disappear completely during the bloody war. She hardened when she discovered she was pregnant, but she chose to keep her baby. Her scowl became permanent, and she always prepared for the worst for all the days of the rest of her life.
She never wanted to have to depend on any man again, and so she continued to gamble because she was good at it. She became notorious for hustling in gambling dens, and took home enough winning pots up until the very last day of her pregnancy. My grandmother built a nest egg for my father’s impending birth.
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My father was born in the hut he lived in all his days in Korea. My grandmother named him Dong Ju. Song Dong Ju. Korean people use family names first…and always. Song was my destined family name from the day my father was born.
And so my dad grew up in that tiny hut, and sometimes his father slept together in the hut with them when he managed to find his way back from the soju house down the road. Soju houses were great to drink your sorrows away in, for just pennies, even if they were the last pennies to your name. There’s never been any real trace of my dad’s father in our lives, not even in photo. My dad told me not one story about his own father, sadly.
My dad was still a baby when his father died. He was too young to know that it happened in the middle of the night in a street brawl over money. So my father shed no tears for his dead father, and actually neither did my grandmother.
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In 2004, my father died. I shed many tears for him, as did everyone who ever spent more than a minute with him. It’s been 10 years since I last got to touch him, and to hear his voice. If I could have just one minute again with him, all I’d say is, “Happy Father’s Day.”
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Happy Father’s Day to all.