- I Remember My Father, Midang, Sŏ Chŏngju
I remember my father. He told me once how much he had disappointed his own father. My grandfather took him to Seoul to enroll in a private school. After the registration, he took my thirteen-year-old father to the Imperial School of Law. They could not get onto the campus. Standing outside looking in, my grandfather told his son that one day he hoped he would attend the school and become a lawyer. This did not happen. A few months afterwards, my father, along with three other students, was arrested and expelled from the school for throwing rocks at Japanese policemen on horseback.
The Japanese prosecutor told the boy that he was too young to get involved in such matters and asked him whether he missed his mama. The boy, my father, broke down in tears. He was released soon afterwards. When the boy returned home, his father sat across from him at the dinner table. Both were silent. The father seemed to put a spoonful to his mouth. All of a sudden the spoon fell from his lips and dropped onto the table. My father heard the sound. After a long silence, he saw his father stand up and leave. Twelve years later my grandfather died, heartbroken, his dreams shattered by his son’s expulsion from school. My father was jailed again later in life on the suspicion of sedition by Japanese authorities. Perhaps, after all, my [End Page 83] grandfather’s broken dream was finally realized when I became a lawyer in the United States.
My father’s death was mourned nationally in Korea in 2000. His funeral was broadcast on all major networks. Three former presidents sent his surviving family personal condolences. One president personally attended the funeral. Some ten years after his death, young Korean censors appointed by extreme anti-Japanese groups accused my father of collaboration with the Japanese for writing some verses and articles in praise of the emperor during the final years of the Japanese occupation of Korea. Japan was then exerting its mighty military power in China, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. At the time, my father believed that Korea would never become independent again. In the face of all odds and under the silent threat of another imprisonment, his life-long resistance to Japanese militarism probably caved in. I wrote to the prosecutor that it is an egregious violation of due process to accuse someone of such a serious charge, someone who had been dead more than ten years and therefore could not answer. He said that Korea is a sovereign country and its laws are not tainted by the Magna Carta or any other such foreign law. The censorship committee expunged my father’s poetry from all school textbooks.
My father was a very generous person. One day when I was about seven years old, someone came to borrow money from him. The man said he had worked with my father in Manchuria. My father was not rich but he lent this man money. Afterwards I heard from my distressed mother that this stranger was the person who had confiscated my father’s overcoat for unpaid debts during a severe winter in Manchuria. I recall that the stranger never repaid the money, but returned about three years later to deliver a small cord of wood and request yet another loan from my father. I think my father loaned him money again. Frequently my father gave money to poor students. He brought home poor relatives and supported them throughout his life. [End Page 84]
My father supported the troops on the battlefields during the Korean War. He toured the battlegrounds to encourage the soldiers. After a few weeks of seeing the tremendous, horrific carnage firsthand, he completely lost his mind. When he was brought back home by the army officers upon the recapture of Seoul by General MacArthur, he was unable to recognize either my mother or me. It took many years for him to recover from the shellshock. I remember his moving tribute to the war victims when he wrote, “Standing by the Han River Flowing Again.” I...