Sunday, 20 June 2021 05:47

I thought I knew my dad. The pandemic taught me I was wrong

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Jenna Ryu

It took me a year of quarantining to understand great father-daughter relationships can transcend distances. 

My dad was always present in my life emotionally but not physically. That's because he was always working. Like many immigrants, my dad, who moved here from South Korea, came to this country with the goal of creating a better future for his family. This meant working undesirable hours, taking late-night shifts and, ultimately, sacrificing time with me.

I remember when he would come home late and miss dinner, eventually mustering the energy to eat instant ramen alone in the middle of the night. Other times, he looked like a zombie as he dragged himself through the door and went straight to bed. 

Despite his busy schedule, for a while he always made time on the weekends for me. On Saturdays and Sundays, he would wake me early in the morning (which I dreaded at the time) to play soccer in a nearby field or drive me out to his favorite golf range. I looked forward to the small things when we had those moments together, like getting to sit in the front seat during a car wash. 

Then during my sophomore year of high school, my dad got a job offer he couldn't turn down — this time back in South Korea. As a family, we decided it was best for me to continue attending school in the U.S. at boarding school, and our two days a week together were diminished to two times a year: Christmas and summer break. 

During the years that followed, I often took note of the memories he was missing out on. My dad was no longer in the stands cheering for me at my soccer games, and he never met any of my friends in-person. Father's Day slowly became a regular Sunday for me

Eventually, my dad returned to the U.S., but by then I was across the country at college. 

At times, I questioned the strength of our relationship. But during the pandemic I found a blessing in disguise.

With offices and schools forcing closures, I flew to my parents' house and started living with my family – dad included – for the first time in a decade.

Suddenly, we were both working in the same place, and I got an unfiltered view of my father's professional life. I had always assumed work was his life, but it turned out I was a big part of his work. His colleagues, whom I'd never met, all knew who I was and were avid readers of my USA TODAY articles, and I was embarrassed yet flattered by how often my dad name-dropped me during his staff meetings.

During this time at home, we spent quality time together: We watched movies, binged my dad's favorite "Key and Peele" skits and went on one-on-one walks to catch up. He brought up some of my earliest memories during dinner, like my fumbles during my elementary soccer days, and he poked fun at my old boyfriends.

One day, my dad addressed the elephant in the room: “This is the most time we’ve spent together since you were in middle school.”

It was a sad but true reality that used to bum me out. But quarantine opened my eyes: my father was always there for me, even when we were physically apart. 

This Father's Day, I'm appreciating my dad not only for the sacrifices he's made, but for the love and support he's shown me from a distance – the presence that was always there but that I never realized until this year. It's unfortunate it took a global pandemic to for me to see the depths of our relationship, but I'm forever grateful we got those lost years back (even if it's a little late).


USA Today