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Does Superman Exist in Real Life?
Lee Arim  |  alimlee96@korea.ac.kr
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승인 2017.04.03  22:04:07
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▲ Fathers playing with their children at Father School. Provided by News Poole.
Over time, social roles change. In the traditional Korean Confucian society, fathers were the powerful and prescriptive leaders of the household. In the modern society, in which the nuclear family has become the norm, fathers are often marginalized from the rest of the family. These days, however, more attention is being paid to paternal involvement, and fathers are increasingly making an effort to increase their presence in raising children and family communication.
 
While society now accepts that equal rights for men and women should be respected, the stereotype that fathers should take a more indifferent, incommunicative, and authoritative role within their family still persists. In many works of Korean literature, fathers are often depicted as someone who does love their family, but who always has to remain taciturn and endure whatever comes without saying much.
 
It is easy to identify the widespread perception of Korean fathers in Park Mok-wol’s poem “Home.” “My puppies, my children, through the path of humiliation, hunger, and coldness, I am here. Your father is here. No, the 46.8 centimeters shoes are here. Look at my smiling face,” the poem reads. The tremendous size of the narrator’s shoes represents the heavy burden of being a father, and his smiling face speaks to his perseverant and inexpressive attitude.
 
Compared to the past, the presence of fathers has naturally diminished, while more mothers have begun to contribute to the family income while still having to take a larger role in child-rearing. There is a famous joke that the three elements of successfully raising a child in Korean society are the grandfather’s wealth, the father’s apathy, and the mother’s information power. Fathers, who are not used to playing a role in parenting and communication, are sometimes encouraged to stay away and remain alienated.
 
A New Trend in Paternal Care
 
Over the last few years, a new form of paternal model, friendy, a compound word combining friend and daddy, has been introduced to encourage a change in parenting expectations. The notion, which emphasizes that a father should be like a friend, emerged with the sudden burst in popularity of parenting shows on TV, such as Daddy, Where Are We Going? (2013) and the Return of Superman (2013). These shows introduced a new form of child-rearing, where fathers spend several days solely with their children without the help of the mothers and learn to become emotionally involved with them. Although these TV shows have largely lost their popularity since then, their message that fathers are as equally important as mothers in raising children has remained.
 
According to the statistics provided by the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL), the number of people on paternity leave increased by 56.3 percent, from 4,872 to 7,616 in 2016. It is true that the number itself is still insignificant, and half of these workers are from major companies. However, in smaller businesses with less than 100 workers, the number of people utilizing paternity leave has risen by more than 40 percent; gradually, more male workers have become willing to take paternity leave.
 
The friendy phenomenon has coincided with increased attention on the father effect. This is a trend that was discovered by Oxford University after analyzing the National Child Development Study (NCDS), which follows the lives of over 17,000 people born in England, in 1958. The study revealed that the greater the paternal involvement in child caring, the higher the sociality, morality, and self-worth of the child.
 
Professor Chung Soon Hwa (Department of Home Economics Education) explained, “Because fathers tend to prefer more dynamic games, children often cry, and the game halts. Kids learn that their enjoyment ended because they failed to deliver appropriate signs to their fathers.” As fathers should be gratified, frequent interactions with them help to develop social abilities and leadership.
 
Thus, many Korean fathers have become quite enthusiastic about spending time with their children. Father schools, or father education, are gaining popularity among the parents who often failed to communicate with their children due to their lack of knowledge and experience. The schools are becoming more accessible, with lectures being held in more private and public institutions. For example, the Happy Father School is a four-week online course composed of study-practice-action-introspection to enhance communication between fathers and their children and allow fathers to find their parenting identity. It has trained over 7,000 fathers and is receiving positive feedback, with a satisfaction rating of over 4.5 out of 5.
 
Not only are they participating in existing programs, fathers are also voluntarily organizing their own activities. The Naver café Appa School, which began as a neighborhood community in 1995, had gathered more than 5,000 members by 2005. They share child caring tips online and hold offline meetings accompanied by their children. Kwon Oh Joong, the school’s principal, revealed in an interview with Ajunews, “Everyone can be a good father if they spend more than a minute with their children.”
 
   
▲ Fathers playing with their children at Father School. Provided by News Poole.
But Daddy is Not Superman
 
While the perception that being a friendy is desirable for family life has become a dominant ideology, the trend faces obstacles. Statistics from Saramin report that only two percent of male workers took paternity leave because they received strong pressure from their company and feared being dismissed.
 
According to Professor Chung, while young fathers these days are very enthusiastic about child upbringing, “It is almost impossible for them to put their passion into action.” Most fathers, other than owner-operators, government officials, or teachers, are worn out after working overtime, and can never dream of using paternal leave. “I believe there should be a transition in society at large in understanding and solving the issue of father parenting,” she said.
 
It is true that one’s role in society can change as time passes, but individuals must make their own effort to improve their situation. Despite the heavy burden they are bearing, more fathers are participating in family affairs so that they can become a meaningful, communicative member of the family. However, this cannot be achieved without sufficient government support and institutional welfare provisions. This is what will make our fathers the supermen of this century.
 

 

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