My father was born in a small suburb of Sun-Cheon. He is the eighth of nine children in his family, with six sisters and two brothers. His parents sustained a living by growing rice and sometimes selling pigs or cows. Though the childhood he spoke of sounded so difficult to me, he shared his story with a wide, nostalgic smile.
“When I was a kid, I used to walk walking and running to school for one or two hours every day. I packed books in a cloth, not a bag,” he said. He paused for a moment, and chuckled dryly. “There was no bus because many roads were unpaved. When buses started to run, I couldn’t use it because I couldn’t afford it.”
His voice became very calm, and he closed his eyes gently for a moment recalling his childhood. In that time, flush toilets did not exist in Korea. When my dad was young, the bathroom that was outside of the house and a little bit far away from his room. He had to bring flashlight at night and an umbrella when it rained. I was so shocked at his childhood because he was living a life that my generation can’t think of and probably couldn’t survive.
Despite his hard circumstances, he enjoyed reading books and studying since he met one teacher when he was ten years old. The teacher inspired him to be interested in learning new things. After that, my dad really enjoyed studying, unlike the typical students these days that study only for a good grade.
“I was just so happy to learn new things through books. I often had to help my parent’s farming after school. One day, when I was reading a book while feeding a cow, I was so focused on a book that I fell over a stone and slipped on cowpat,” He said chuckling again at this memory for a minute.
My father went on to participate in ROTC at his university and later entered the military as a platoon leader. He was assigned to the demilitarized zone as a platoon leader. When sharing his experiences with me about his service, his expression diminished into a slight grimace. It seemed that he was staring at something far away. He explained that the DMZ line is very dangerous because of the mines place haphazardly around the premises. Some of the soldiers he had met died from accidentally stepping on mines. He commanded and guided his subordinate soldiers very well during his military life so that none of them were injured or killed. Still, I was amazed at how stone-serious his face had become while talking with me. This military experience developed in him the qualities to become a leader.
His interest in studying and experience leading soldiers in the military led him to be a teacher, ultimately. He started to teach ethics in middle school after college and his military service.
“Why did you decide to teach ethics?” I asked.
“I wanted to talk about life itself with students. Human duty and smooth relationships with others are very important in life. I wanted to tell them how to live from my own experience overcoming all those hard times.” He sounded very confident and lively at this time, with enthusiasm in his eyes. The corners of his eyes folded into long lines that showed both his age and the joy that he still has despite of it.
He sincerely enjoys every single hour of talking about how human beings should behave or how to live well with his students.
“I really like my job because it is rewarding to guide students who have infinite potentials.”
I especially respect his positive attitude and challenge spirit towards potential dreams. He wanted to become a principal someday when he started his career, so he prepared little by little what he had to do to be qualified to become a principal. He accomplished his goal by making efforts with a positive mind and a hardworking attitude. Lastly my dad told me, “I was not afraid of failure because I did my best every moment in my life. People often say something is hard without even trying. You will never regret if you exert your utmost.” Those words linger in my mind.