My Father’s Story: Number Six – His Father, Part One.
My father prefaces the story of his father (my grandfather) with: “probably you don’t remember him very well.” That is an understatement. I do not remember him at all.
The other thing that strikes me about this narrative is that my father does not give his father’s name.
Date of birth: May 3, 1901
Date deceased: March 31, 1966 (age of 65)
Physical appearance: Tall & medium heavy build and somehow on the obese side (simply, tall & big).
External (facial) appearance: very handsome and good looking (probably got it from his father).
Memory power: almost photo static? (from his mother?). In his later life, I overheard that when he was a seminary school student, he got up early in the morning and read 3~4 chapters (may be more than 10 pages) of the bible. Then, without his intention, he was able to memorize all the chapters, with every word in the chapters. I know the bible is very hard to memorize – even a few sentences for a dummy like me. Also, in the final stage of his life, he developed hypertensive retinopathy and he was almost blind. However, he still had memorized the whole bible.
Talking skill: tremendous talent in the skill of talk (from his mother?).
Voice: Loud, powerful, baritone voice. (By the way, recently, I read in the internet news that they were talking about who has the best voice for god’s act etc. and for a moment, I was thinking of my father’s voice.)
Character: Conservative, authoritative, persistently strict. I will talk more about this some other time.
Education: Primary school graduation, then jumped (without secondary education) to seminary school, which was at college level.
My father was born in 1901, almost at the end of the Josen Dynasty / Lee Dynasty (500 years of which ended in 1910, when Korea was annexed by Japan) under the rule of the last king, “Kojong Emperor.”
My father’s childhood or boyhood life is very little known because he never told us – he is not a type of person who would talk about his younger days. My mother, I don’t know how much she knew about him, but she didn’t talk about him either. My grand mo, I don’t remember her talking about him either. I only heard about his younger days when occasionally mom or grand mom talked about him incidentally.
One day, well after graduation from primary school, my father cut his long hair (long hair was a remnant of the feudal age. The idea – the Confucian idea of long hair – was that every thing we got was a gift of one’s parents or ancestors. We should not alter even hair for one’s own convenience. This kind of act was considered to be unfaithful to one’s parents and ancestors) and went to his father (my grand father) and asked him “please father, I want to go to Japan and study more about every thing they learned from western countries.” When his father saw that his son had cut his hair, he got upset and started to shout at him “you fool, why do you need study, is study going to feed you? Making money is the best thing in the world. Do you understand?” I think at that time my grand pa was already declining and was a semi-ruined person. Otherwise what kind of parent would refuse his son’s legitimate and constructive request? However, in those days, the teachings were (1) Royalty to the King, (2) Filial piety to the parents, (3) Trust of friends. He was no doubt a very faithful son like most of the Koreans in those days. So, he had to say “yes father” whether he agreed or not.
He was depressed. Moreover, he had to watch his father’s unthinkable way of living, such as womanizing, gambling and drug abuse. He was more depressed. Then, one day, a friend of his asked him to go to a church. He went to the church, a big church,a huge, two story building. I know this church because I later had to attend this church with the whole family. The name of this church was West Gate Church. My father liked it a lot. My father got a firm massage of hope. He attended the church very diligently day and night. The Pastor of that church liked him a lot. My father was promoted to Deacon and started to teach in church’s Sunday school for children. Pastor fell in love with him. I can imagine the reason the pastor liked him a lot was that he was a tall, big, handsome man with good speaking skills, a good voice and tremendous memory power. Sometimes, he was asked by the pastor to pray for the whole church. He did it very well by overwhelming the church, his voice echoing through out the church, and the church’s window glass vibrating. The pastor began to persuade him to become a pastor. My father said “but pastor, I don’t have a secondary school graduation record.” The pastor apparently told him that that was not a problem – the Dean of Pyongyang Seminary School was his friend. (At that time, this was an only Seminary School in Korea. By the way, Pyongyang is the North Korean capital now.) My father was very much interested and excited about it. But he could not talk to his father about this because he knew his father’s answer “you fool — .”
Then, one day, his father died miserably and left the family penniless. He no longer had to get permission to go to seminary school. But reality was that he was now a responsible head of household and he could not leave the members of his household to starve to death. He has to support his family first. My grand mo ran up and down, from Won-San to Pusan, screaming SOS and got some amount of money that she borrowed. With that capital, my father bought several commercial sewing machines, rented a space, hired several people and started to make ready made clothes. In other words, he opened a small, ready made clothing manufacturing factory. However, the business did not go as well as he thought in would. At this point, I am just guessing that when he opened that factory, he might have thought that after he made a certain amount of money, he could leave that money to my mother to support the whole family and then he could leave for Pyongyang Seminary School without worry. But now, he was in a deep dilemma. He discussed this with my mom. Of course, I know my mom very well – no doubt she would have said to my father: please Kun-Ok’s (my elder sister’s name) father, go ahead for what you really want to do, don’t worry about us here in Daegu, she will take care of rest of the family by herself as best as she could. Then, probably, my father thanked her, sold the business, paid back the loans and left for Pyongyang holding a strong recommendation letter from the pastor of West-Gate Church.
Then, my poor mother’s teary struggle for life began. Amazingly, she never gave up and she was a survivor. I will write this part when I write my mother’s story and my own story.
So, finally my father went to Pyongyang. However, he was penniless. One of the professors in the Seminary School introduced him to a suburban church to serve as an evangelist (the position before pastor as a seminary school student), where he got some pay and managed his seminary student life. By the way, some of smaller churches that could not afford to support a pastor, hired evangelists as an alternative and on big occasions like baptisms or the ordainment of elders, they invite a real pastor for that purpose. Apparently, he was pretty popular in that small church and when he returned to Daegu after graduation from Seminary School, he brought a lot of gifts not only from that church itself but also from many members of that church. As usual, my father did not talk about his life in Pyongyang.
My father returned to Daegu. The pastor of West-Gate church was very proud of him and he ordained my father as a real pastor in front of all the church members. No doubt I was there, but how come I don’t remember that event? I only remember was that when I went to church on that day with my father, the pastor of West-Gate Church came out of his office and asked my father if I was his son. My father said yes. Then that pastor grabbed me with both his hands under my arm pits and lifted me up sky high and said “what a nice boy, he’s just like you!”