The Korea Times 칼럼

Tale of Three Fathers (2010년 9월 11일)

divicom 2010. 9. 11. 10:04

There are at least two good fathers in the world ― former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Yu Myung-hwan.

Blair purchased a house worth 1 million pounds for his daughter, Kathryn. Yu had his daughter, Hyun-sun hired twice by his own ministry. Blair is criticized for his excessive love for his daughter at home and abroad, and Yu has become an object of scorn for the same reason, and I am happy about their troubles.

Perhaps, it’s jealousy. Not only did my father not buy a house for me, he also deprived me of my chance to become rich by dissuading me from purchasing a house in Gangnam. It was in the 1980s and real estate prices south of the Han River were almost the same as those on the northern side. If I had bought an apartment house there then, I would be five times richer than I am now.

My father never found a job for me, either. While I was at college, he helped me with tuition, and in return, he got what I earned by teaching younger students. Among the many jobs I had to do as his unpaid secretary was visit the tax office where I had to request tax officials to levy the minimum tax on my father’s income as the landlord of a few small shops he rented to storekeepers. After I became a newspaper reporter by passing an open competition, I offered my entire salary to him half voluntarily, and lived on what small allowance he gave me until I married.

Kathryn and Hyun-sun may not believe this, but I have seldom regretted having a father like mine and there were plenty of reasons why. The first thing was his habit of reading. He was engrossed in reading whenever he was home, and my siblings and I adopted his habit gladly, even though he never demanded it of his children. He kept many books at home and subscribed to several newspapers despite his limited income and I am forever thankful to him for that.

Thanks to him, I could read, at quite an early age, such valuable books as ``Leaves of Grass” by American poet Walt Whitman and the biography of Yugoslav revolutionary Josip Broz Tito by Milovan Đilas, let alone Korean and world literature and newspaper articles. The fact that I didn’t understand many things I read only stimulated my zeal for reading.

Perhaps, the most important thing my father taught me was the sense of justice and social responsibility and he didn’t do so through books. When he was taking a walk, he often brought me along. When he saw people quarrel, he would listen to what they had to say and came up with a justifiable solution neither could protest. Playing a fair mediator seemed easy for him, probably because he always weighed what is right, not what is profitable.

I also learned from him that it was not right to have much when others had little, and that people who didn’t feel angry about public injustice and misconduct were ``not respectable.” When he and I were passing by an impoverished neighborhood, he would never fail to tell me that after I grew up, I should think about what to do to improve the lives of the less fortunate.

He is now 86 years old and seems to be reeling away from his principles more or less. He never bought a house for any of his own children, yet he did purchase an apartment house, incomparably small compared to Kathryn’s house, for one of his grandsons. I think he is feeling a kind of “justice fatigue” after all his years as a justice crusader in an unjust world where people like Blair and Yu prosper.

My siblings and I seem to be still soaked in his teachings we had in our formative years. When we get together, we spend more time talking about justice and social responsibility than on how to make money. If we had gathered at our father’s house one of these days, we would have discussed issues involving Yu and Blair and their daughters. We might have laughed aloud, as my father would say, ``Sorry, I haven’t given you a house or a job.”

As our gathering would draw near to an end, we would say clear and loud that we were lucky to have a father unlike the two men, for we know that too much generosity and competence on the part of parents usually leaves little choice for their children. After we were gone, my father might fall asleep with a smile, remembering what his children had said about him and feeling proud.


세상에는 적어도 두 명의 '좋은' 아버지가 있습니다. 전 영국 수상 토니 블레어와 전 외교통상부 장관 유명환 씨입니다. 블레어는 대학생 딸에게 백만 파운드짜리 집을 사주어 비난을 받고, 유 씨는 딸을 외교부 직원으로 특채하여 조롱거리가 되었습니다. 두 사람의 '불행'은 저를 즐겁게 합니다. 저희 아버지는 집도 사주지 않았고 취직도 시켜주지 않았으니까요. 


그래도 제 형제들과 저는 저희 아버지가 블레어나 유씨 같지 않아서 좋습니다. 넉넉하지 않은 살림에도 집에 책을 많이 두고 스스로 많이 읽으시어 우리의 독서를 장려하신 것, 이익이 되는 것보다 옳은 것을 생각하게 하신 것, 남이 배고플 때 나 혼자 배부르면 안 된다고 가르치신 것 등, 아버지에게서 배운 게 너무도 많기 때문입니다.