In almost all patriarchal societies, the mother looks after the child while the father works. South Korea is no exception as the child rearing responsibility is without a doubt placed onto the mother. But what role does the father play in a family? How is a typical Korean father involved in a child’s life?
Korean fathers are often absent from the child’s life, and play a minor role in every day rearing. On average, Korean children spend 6 minutes a day with their father. This is sometimes due to Korea’s busy lifestyle. A typical Korean working day will involve waking up early and leaving home before the child wakes up, then staying in the office late, and arriving home after the child goes to bed. A typical working middle-aged father will rarely be able to rest at home, let alone play with their children.
Sometimes the father won’t even live in the same house due to work or for the child’s education. A father who lives in a different house is called a ‘goose dad’ (기러기 아빠). He lives and works in Korea, while the mother and child lives in another country or closer to academic institutions for the sake of the child’s education. The father is a ‘goose’ because he must travel a far distance to be at home with his family, much like the migratory bird.
A father who earns very little (roughly ₩10 million = £5840) and cannot travel to his family is called a ‘penguin dad’ (펭귄 아빠) because a penguin wants to fly but is not able to, much like the father’s inability to afford frequent visits. A father who earns a lot of money (roughly ₩100 million = £58400) is called an ‘eagle dad’ (독수리 아빠) because an eagle is a bird symbolic of power and skill.
These fathers simply send all of their income abroad to provide for the family, while he plays no active role in the growth and development of the child. For these children, a dad is more of a money making machine than a parental figure. The role of the father for some is sadly more of a sponsor than a parent.
Some fathers, who are not chained to work, are simply ineffective father figures, who rarely use time to bond with children as they do not see it as important. Many parents still feel that precious time should be spent studying or on extracurricular activities (music, language and sport), instead of playing. These stoic fathers have high expectations and often mistake discipline for love.
On the contrary, some Korean dads can be a ‘ddal babo’ (딸바보) and ‘ah babo’ (아바보), which means ‘daughter idiot’ and ‘son idiot’ respectively. These nicknames are given to fathers who love their children so much that they melt into a happy ‘idiot’.
The entertainment industry has made active and loving father trendy. The most famous ‘ddal babo’ is the martial artist and wrestler Chu Sunghoon who melts into a giggling gentle father when he is with his daughter. Kim Gura, a sarcastic comedian famous for his sharp wit and blunt manner, is Korea’s most famous ‘ah babo’. These fathers pamper their children with public displays of affection, which is uncommon for a Korean middle aged man. Their devotion and deep relationship with their children is praised by the Korean public.
Fathers are now required to play a bigger part in their child’s life, but becoming more loving is a challenge as it is unfamiliar. Fathers even go to classes to train to be more active and affectionate, taking classes in hugging and expressing love to their children.
Korean parents seldom express love and appreciation as vocally as the West, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love their children. Even the absent and ineffective fathers love their children, but affection is shown in different ways, in part to compensate for the lack of time spent together. Nothing is more joyful to a child, than seeing their dad slip off their shoes by the door holding gifts and snacks that they have bought on the way home from work or when returning from business trips.
Their undying love and devotion is expressed through subtle actions and vague words of encouragement. As awareness of the father’s valuable role in a family grows, young Korean men are consciously changing their attitudes about their future family.
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