Eons ago, while serving in the Korea Pusan Mission, the onslaught of new and strange Korean customs confused me. Daily consumption of large portions of cabbage pickled in red pepper juice, sleeping on the floor, bathing only three times a week at the public bath house down the street, etc.; as a freshly-scrubbed 19 year-old young man who had spent all of his formative years in the white-bread world of pre-1980's Northern California, this chance to totally immerse myself in a foreign culture was both a strange and exciting shock to my world paradigm. However, by the end of my grand two-year experiment of eating their kimchi, sleeping on their floors, and bathing with them, I came to understand and love everything about them. However, there was still one uniquely cultural element that befuddled me:- familiar names that parents used to talk about each other.
When Korean moms and dads chatted at church on Sundays or the rare ward parties on Saturday afternoons, they always referred to each other as “so-and-so's mother” or father instead of using their own names. As an earnest missionary trying to convey the precious pearls of gospel to a people I had grown to truly love and respect, it was difficult to track who was talking about who during random discussions overheard in the hallways. Who in the heck was Young-hee's mother? Myong-soo's dad lost his job again. Who is that?
In this world, my wife and I would be known as Brian or Les's mom or dad. I initially blindly attributed this practice to the traditional Korean emphasis on the nuclear family and the unusually large but standard sacrifices Korean parents make for their children to be successful. However, as the years and decades marched on and I bought into the stereotype of spoiled Korean anklebiters coddled by overworked moms and dads, I had to dig deeper and try harder to understand why valiant and sacrificing parents would choose to bury their own identities behind the names of their children.
Brian and Leslie have left the nest and are living their own lives now. As an interested bystander I watch them independently make courageously right choices on dating, marriage, school, career, and faith, and my soul beams with spiritual pride. I often catch myself dramatically proclaiming on Facebook or in the lobby during Sunday meetings, “ Yes, this is my son. My son.” Or “Leslie is my daughter. My daughter.”
Now I understand. You can call me “Richard,” “Brian's dad,” or “Leslie's dad.” I'll answer to each one of them.