March 2 2016

Appa: Korean Dad Shows Unconditional Love to His Two Sons

For as long as I can remember, my two sons have been in love with their father. In fact, I know for sure that Logan’s first word wasn’t mom or mommy, it was appa. In Korean, appa means daddy, it’s an affectionate term that young kids use to call out for their father. Sam has been enamored with the boys from the moment he laid eyes on them, even to this day, he can’t wait to get back home so he can play with them or take them out.

In these photos you’ll see a common theme, our youngest Logan loves peeping over Sam’s left shoulder, it’s his favorite spot. From the moment he was born, Logan has never left Sam’s side. In some ways, I can’t help but feel a tiny bit jealous for the relationship that they have, as the mother I thought I’d be closer to my child than my husband, it’s like he’s taken over the role of “mother hen.” But then I remember what a solid and sweet man Sam is and I’m more than happy that he gets to experience that close of a relationship with our son.

Sam is a remarkable father. He’s the kind you wish you had when you grew up. Early on, he made a conscious decision to be a part of our children’s lives, especially during their younger years. He’s stern when he has to be and then, the next moment, he’s over-the-top fun. The boys scream like he’s a rock star when he comes home, they just can’t get enough of him.

My own relationship with my father is complicated. I never felt connected to him, he immigrated to America from Korea back in the ’70s and then worked as hard as he could just to make a living for me and my three siblings. Though I understand that he couldn’t be at our recitals or our swim meets because he was busy working, I still can’t help but feel a sense of sadness for the relationship that could have been.

My father didn’t grow up with his own father because he was killed when my father was young. Also, Korean culture calls for fathers to be respected and feared. My father never said “I love you” to us, he didn’t provide us with any emotional support. He was mostly just absent and when he was around he’d make us feel like we owed him something, that one day, when we had the means, we would pay him back. He was detached, unable to give his children the love and support they needed because of his own upbringing, because of our living circumstances, because of his culture and because he just didn’t know how.

I finally got around to listening to Kelly Clarkson’s song Piece by Piece, which she sang on American Idol. My older sister Grace told me not to watch it, unless I wanted to break down and cry. I tried to hold back the tears but they came streaming down my face anyway. “Watching my husband love on his daughter all the time, you know, go to her events and just be there and, like, be present is, like, hard to watch but beautiful to watch,” the singer said in an interview. “I know that my kids are going to have that.” I share that complicated feeling, that sentiment.

Like many people, I hate being in front of the camera, I feel much more comfortable behind it. For the past four years, I’ve been snapping photos of Sam with Parker and Logan as they do everything from rest together to play with each other in the backyard. Though in some ways, this photo series called “Appa” is new, it’s really been four years in the making. As I learn more about photography and as the boys grow, I hope to continue to share more photos of my two sons and the incredibly beautiful relationship they have with their father.

This ongoing photo series is dedicated to Sam, the man who shows me, every day through his actions and his words to me and our children, that unconditional love is possible.

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