Recognizing sacrifice: A journey of empathizing with dad

November 1, 2017 — by Ryan Kim

“So … you’re just leaving?”

“Well … yeah.”

That was about the conversation I had with my dad when he moved away for his new job in Korea last December, leaving me, a junior struggling through mountains of homework and stress, to fend for myself.

I stumbled outside, throwing open the back door and running into the rain. I felt numb, my arms tingling with goosebumps. Blood rushed to my head. I grabbed the nearest object — one of my dad’s old Crocs — and heaved it across the yard. It landed in the soaked grass, squelching a little as it sagged under the mud.

It wasn’t a divorce, and it wasn’t as if there was ill-will, either — my mother and 12-year-old sister, who live with me now, will join him in  South Korea after I graduate next June.

Ever since I was little, I sought advice and acknowledgement from my parents. I wasn’t sure how I would fare if I were suddenly alone. Even with my mother and sister with me, the house felt emptier without my father’s heavy footsteps and boisterous laugh. All I could do was sit back and watch my life unravel.

But then came January. After all of those harrowing exams, after struggles in school and home, after waging war with my fears and sorrow every day for two months, it was finally time to see my father again. I didn’t know how to feel or act or think. What do you say to a man you thought you once knew, a man who you depended on so much but left you when you possibly needed him most?

When we arrived at my dad’s new house, I immediately recognized the faint musky smell of cigarettes. And there he was: the same father, burly arms open wide and tackling me in a hug. Squeezing me till I choked, he said over and over, “I missed you, son.”

Tears flowed again, releasing the months of anger I had festering in me. All of the pent-up emotions and frustrations came swelling out. No words were spoken for the remainder of the night.

As I left Korea after staying for two weeks, I realized that although I had thought my relationship with my father had changed drastically, it was actually still the same. My dad didn’t abandon me or betray me; he still loved me, and he still wanted the best for me. And as I thought about it, I realized something even more astounding.

This conflict is not about me. My dad has been shelving his own dream for 17 years, just for me and my family. Every day he worked in America, he looked for opportunities for promotion and self-improvement. But that would meant we would have to move, which would then destabilize my sister’s and my education. Until last year, he declined many opportunities to expand his career.

He has sacrificed his wants every day so that I can fulfill mine. He works all day to earn the money I spend on chips and fancy clothes. He is sacrificing still by devoting his life not only to working hard to support my family, but also to caring for all four of my aging grandparents in South Korea. He shoulders the weight of living apart from us and the stresses of a different workload and job culture.

For 17 years, I have disregarded his dream for my own, and he has faithfully stood by my side to help me reach my goals. Only now has the weight of my father’s sacrifice clicked in my brain. After graduating high school, I am supposed to be ready to face the world by myself and try new paths to find my passions. It’s long past the time to hold someone’s hand. My dad recognized this, so he gave me perhaps the greatest gift he’s ever offered me: freedom.

I don’t hold anyone’s hand anymore. I walk alone, blazing my own path, finding out what I want to do by finding out what I need to do. I don’t live for praise or heavily rely on the guidance of my parents anymore. I’m growing up.

My dad did not betray me. Rather, I betrayed his faith in me by turning against him for a while. We have both grown. He is now managing the stress of living separated from us much better than he originally did, and I’m working hard to make sure my dad’s 17 years of sacrifice are not wasted. I’m not being dragged by the hand anymore. I walk by myself, my dad cheering me on from behind, and I’m not turning back.

 

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