Every week, my "Interactive Listening and Speaking" students have to
create a skit based upon a certain scenario. It's different every week. The students spend a good chunk of class minutes creatively writing the story and then casting the characters and practicing their lines. I really hype up this part of class and lately the students have even been incorporating costume changes and props. We have a good time. While of course I have to grade their speaking fluency and their vocabulary, their main objective is to make me laugh. They know this, and they work very hard at that.
This week the story goes like this: Suzanne is grounded because she charged up a horrendous cell phone bill. Her father is very angry. And while she is grounded, she gets invited to her best friend's birthday party. She really really wants to go, so she tries to persuade her father to change his mind. What happens?
I teach this class 3 times each week so all together this week, I watched about 12 groups perform their skits. Each one was clever, and unique. But they all included one disturbing element- a very distant, unkind, and physically abusive father character. Of course the scenario introduces a father who is upset, and of course the students are going to exaggerate this character for the sake of comedy, but I was alarmed at the consistency of this father-image. The students acted him out as if it was normal, as if they were just imitating their own fathers and their own experiences.
One group made a whip, and had the father use it to discipline his daughter. Another group had the father slap the daughter across the face calling her stupid. One father said "Get out of my face, I am ashamed to be known as your father." A different father said "You stupid stupid girl". Another father was the silent distant type. This actor portrayed a father who ignored his daughter. He sat in his chair, read the newspaper, and told his child to leave him alone. And yet another father called his daughter a bastard child.
You can look in any culture and find careless fathers, I don't deny that. But it is admitted here that Korean fathers can be dominating and distant family figures. And when I shared my reactions to some Korean friends, they didn't seem to think my student's acting was so abnormal. It's just the way things are.
My heart is troubled by this. I am troubled by the fact that these hardworking, darling students don't have the tenderness or attentiveness of an understanding father. The relationships just aren't there. The fathers are busy working, the students are sent to school, then to academy, and many students attend school on Saturdays as well. When is there even time for family bonding?
This afternoon the contrast was made even more evident to me. I received a surprise package in the mail from my own father. It was a big envelope stuffed with beef jerky. No note, no card...just an envelope stuffed with beef jerky. It made me laugh, and it made me feel special, and I knew in that moment that my dad wanted to be a part of my life here, even though I'm so very far away.
That's how it's always been. My dad has always been on the sidelines of my life. Every pathetic losing high school soccer game, every baton twirling competition, every parade, every academic achievement, parent conferences...dad has always been there. My dad's the guy who always makes things happen. We dream it, dad builds it. He even built me and my sister a portable dressing room (made from PVC pipes and plastic shower curtains) for our endless baton competitions. And when my dad becomes aware of my interests, he'll do anything to help me find connections. I smile when I think of all the cool job fairs I have attended, the news broadcasting job shadowing I've done, or the interviews I've attended thanks to my dad.
And while I'm mentioning things, I can't NOT mention the countless number of times my dad has rescued me (and my car) from the side of the road, sometimes miles and miles away from home. And heck, he's even been known to rescue my friends.
Once, after I had moved into my first apartment, my dad snuck into my apartment while I was working and stocked my fridge, freezer, and cabinets with groceries.
My dad is a selfless man, full of generosity, humor, skills, and love. My dad's active interest in us (his kids) reminds me daily that I am blessed with a father that is truly exceptional.
And forgive me if I've exhausted you with bragging details and examples, but perhaps you can understand how disturbed I am by the father figures portrayed by my students? Again, I understand that the acting is just that...acting...but if you could have just been there, you'd have seen it too. These kids gave me pictures of their fathers. Even if you strip away the extremely abusive images, they are so far away from the father I know. I'm really proud to have a dad with a big heart.