My dad in Banff, Alberta, as a recent single parent
Is it enough to only have a father?
I have a mother, of course, but she died more than a decade ago. And since my undergraduate university years, my dad has fronted the parent fort, watching my sister and I go through years of tuition fees and multiple boyfriends. And as much as I felt the gap left by the absence of a parental figure, I never thought I lacked a looming force of authority in the family. A feminine one.
But I often rethink this when certain people react to the fact that my sister were still relatively young when our mother passed, and we are guided by only our father at the helm. For example, when I was working full-time in Toronto I worked with “Tom” who was nearing his retirement, an older gentleman in his 70’s. This was at a financial firm and the recession of 2008 hit us big, meaning Tom had too much nervous energy and time to wring his hands, filling his days with multiple coffee breaks and some times intrusive chatter. Tom often barged into the office I shared with two other co-workers, all female, and we would all politely listen to Tom’s banter while multitasking on Excel sheets. He was an interesting character, an old-fashioned but a vehement feminist, shaking his head with emotion as he talked (yelled?) about how “Women are going to rule the world!” and “Children are nothing without women!” The latter statement being not really a feminist one … but Tom meant well.
I had to graciously interrupt him, however, when Tom minimized the role of fathers, to phrase it nicely.
“Well, I only have a dad and I think I turned out OK,” I chirped in, smiling.
Tom did not expect that, and he became flustered, repositioning his head back inwards after stretching it out and wide for his rants. And then it became awkward at the office between me and Tom, that is, until I soon packed my bags and moved to Montréal.
I knew Tom was only trying to extol the place of women in society, but he was falling into that belief that women are better parents than men. And such perspectives embrace women as “natural” caretakers, caregivers, and parents unlike men, whose natural space is elsewhere, usually at an office where he can bring home the bacon. This belief is very hardwired in Korea, where I was born, but as I was raised in Toronto I was not aware that Korean culture perceives children without mothers with a critical eye. So when my mom died my dad warned me that other Koreans may see me differently, that they would think that my character and foundation was lacking because I did not have a mom. And this meant, to some Koreans, that I was not marriage material. (Not that I really care about my grading on the marriage-worthiness scale. Plus I was never meant to marry a guy straight from Korea and not raised in this culture.)