I met my father in law when he first arrived in New York from Korea, 2 days after Ann and I were engaged in December, 2000. The 3 of us had dinner in Manhattan, and I was tending bar as a sabbatical from the rat race. I still recall sitting down and Ann’s father pulling a business magazine from his jacket, and encouraging me to apply for employment with one of the advertisers. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body; he meant well and wanted the best for us. Ann was an only child. I assured him that we’d be just fine.
I’m not going to pretend that my father in law was a fishing buddy. He was half a world away much of the time, and we had little in common. What we had in common, however, Ann and the children, was significant. We had our moments, however. The first was at the wedding- for part of the reception, Ann and I wore hanboks, or traditional Korean dress wear. I had no clue how to put it on, so he helped. It was just us there, a few hours after I married his only child, alone and silently putting that thing on me. As he assisted me, I recall the care he took, and the respect he showed for the whole process. No slaps on the shoulder, no banter. Just care. Language limps, but as he helped me dress I felt like we were part of something bigger than a costume. It all came from him.
Grandfatherhood agreed with Ann’s father, and it solved the quandary as to how I would address him. At first, the thought was that I would call him “Obogi,” which is Korean for father. It didn’t exactly roll off the tongue. However, 9 months and 17 days after we wed, Obogi became “Hadobogi,” or grandfather. So I called him Grandpa, just like the kids, and it worked. He and Grandma enjoyed their grandchildren; they should, because they didn’t get them until they were in their seventies.
Unfortunately, Grandpa was not blessed with a great health in old age, and we lost him today after a long illness. Sadly, he was in Korea, so Ann didn’t get a proper goodbye with her father. I was on my way to an appointment when she called, and from her tone I was afraid that something terrible happened to one of the kids. It was bittersweet that the kids were OK as I exited the highway to head home.
Our last collaboration was the sale of my in-law’s apartment in Queens when it was clear that they could return to the US due to his health. Despite all the writing on the wall, nothing prepares you for the death of a parent. Ann will grieve a long time. I hope that he left knowing that we’d come a long way from that dinner when he encouraged me to get a good career. I hope he knew that despite the economy, I worked pretty hard as the owner of a company to keep my promises to him about the care of his daughter. I hope he knew what a good partner she has been in the endeavor. I hope he knew that we were winning.
He knows now.