I think I realized that “I wasn’t the only one” for the first time when I saw Henry Cho on the then fledgling Comedy Central channel when I was 12 years old. I don’t remember the rest of his bit, but he said something to the effect of not being good at math or some other thing, and sarcastically remarking, “but that’s OK, I’ve got the typical, lenient Asian parents.”
I laughed out loud — as a 12 year old. I don’t even think the audience got it, but living in the thick of my “discipline years”, lenient was not a word I could use on the same
sentence, page, chapter, book regarding my parents. Compared to my American friends, everything seemed so tense in my house. Of course, it didn’t help that I was an only child where it was always my fault–it had to be, who else was there to blame? But I always thought it was just my parents, they were just quirky. Maybe they were a little obsessive and controlling, too fearful, amazingly capable of still being aloof and yet completely, utterly involved at the same time. Maybe it was just a Park thing…
Henry Cho let me know that it wasn’t just me. And apparently, it’s really not.
And check out these clips that I got from fellow Korean Xanga friend, choi_jinyoung.
Korean and American Parents’ Roles in Marriage and Divorce
Korean parents’ roles are different from American parents’ roles in their children’s marriage and divorce. Korean parents always involve[sic] their children’s decision about their marriage and divorce, because they believe that keeping family is the most important thing than any others. In contrast, American parents are not directly involved in their children’s decision about marriage and divorce. American parents think that the most important thing is individual happiness rather than sacrificing themselves for family. Also Korea is so family oriented that there are lots of family events. So Korean parents tend to have their children under their thumb.
“In Korea, authoritarian parental control is synonymous with parental love and interest; however, this is not the case in American families.” In many Korean-American families, for instance, the more parents exert control, the more their children experience feelings of rejection and hostility. Korean parents in the United States, therefore, may need to learn to parent differently.
I have seen more than one marriage strained with parental pressure, many marriages I’m sure never even come to fruition. Stubborness, nationalist pride, and an unrelenting grip on control make for a nasty combination in a parent, and many a child stays a child in their minds’ eye, never able to grow up with the power to lead their own lives.
This plays out in our churches as well. In a recent roundtable that I had the opportunity to be a part of, Greg Jao, contributing author of “Following Jesus…Without Dishonoring Your Parents,” said something to the effect that perhaps the immigrant generation should stop at youth ministries with the understanding that from college on, there can be made a space for 2nd-generation, Asian-American or multi-ethnic churches. I laughed out loud — as a 30-year-old. I don’t think the audience got it, but living in the thick of these years serving in an immigrant church, the thought seemed absurd.
That would mean that immigrant, first-generation pastors would have to let go, admit their boundaries, admit that the process of being a stranger in a strange land might be close to its end, even in their own families, let go. I recently brought this up to my own father, and he said candidly, “You can’t do it the way we did it. Being an immigrant is very hard, there’s a lot of fear involved — we were so afraid of how to make money, living in a strange land, can’t speak the language, don’t know any better –a very hard life. You have different problems, different fears. Go out and build your own church. That’s what we did and that’s what you should do.”
I don’t know if old age has made my parents lenient, but I believe they’ve shown me the courage to let go. Faith, from my father’s perspective, isn’t faith until you are willing to let go. May I come to know that courage…