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The Courage to Let Go

I think I realized that “I wasn’t the only one” for the first time when I saw Henry Cho on the then fledgling Comedy Central channel when I was 12 years old. I don’t remember the rest of his bit, but he said something to the effect of not being good at math or some other thing, and sarcastically remarking, “but that’s OK, I’ve got the typical, lenient Asian parents.

I laughed out loud — as a 12 year old. I don’t even think the audience got it, but living in the thick of my “discipline years”, lenient was not a word I could use on the same sentence, page, chapter, book regarding my parents. Compared to my American friends, everything seemed so tense in my house. Of course, it didn’t help that I was an only child where it was always my fault–it had to be, who else was there to blame? But I always thought it was just my parents, they were just quirky. Maybe they were a little obsessive and controlling, too fearful, amazingly capable of still being aloof and yet completely, utterly involved at the same time. Maybe it was just a Park thing…

Henry Cho let me know that it wasn’t just me. And apparently, it’s really not.

And check out these clips that I got from fellow Korean Xanga friend, choi_jinyoung.

Korean and American Parents’ Roles in Marriage and Divorce
Korean parents’ roles are different from American parents’ roles in their children’s marriage and divorce. Korean parents always involve[sic] their children’s decision about their marriage and divorce, because they believe that keeping family is the most important thing than any others. In contrast, American parents are not directly involved in their children’s decision about marriage and divorce. American parents think that the most important thing is individual happiness rather than sacrificing themselves for family. Also Korea is so family oriented that there are lots of family events. So Korean parents tend to have their children under their thumb.

“In Korea, authoritarian parental control is synonymous with parental love and interest; however, this is not the case in American families.” In many Korean-American families, for instance, the more parents exert control, the more their children experience feelings of rejection and hostility. Korean parents in the United States, therefore, may need to learn to parent differently.

I have seen more than one marriage strained with parental pressure, many marriages I’m sure never even come to fruition. Stubborness, nationalist pride, and an unrelenting grip on control make for a nasty combination in a parent, and many a child stays a child in their minds’ eye, never able to grow up with the power to lead their own lives.

This plays out in our churches as well. In a recent roundtable that I had the opportunity to be a part of, Greg Jao, contributing author of “Following Jesus…Without Dishonoring Your Parents,” said something to the effect that perhaps the immigrant generation should stop at youth ministries with the understanding that from college on, there can be made a space for 2nd-generation, Asian-American or multi-ethnic churches. I laughed out loud — as a 30-year-old. I don’t think the audience got it, but living in the thick of these years serving in an immigrant church, the thought seemed absurd.

That would mean that immigrant, first-generation pastors would have to let go, admit their boundaries, admit that the process of being a stranger in a strange land might be close to its end, even in their own families, let go. I recently brought this up to my own father, and he said candidly, “You can’t do it the way we did it. Being an immigrant is very hard, there’s a lot of fear involved — we were so afraid of how to make money, living in a strange land, can’t speak the language, don’t know any better –a very hard life. You have different problems, different fears. Go out and build your own church. That’s what we did and that’s what you should do.”

I don’t know if old age has made my parents lenient, but I believe they’ve shown me the courage to let go. Faith, from my father’s perspective, isn’t faith until you are willing to let go. May I come to know that courage…


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

8 responses to “The Courage to Let Go

  1. John ⋅

    I know a Hispanic pastor or two that considers it a tragedy when the congregation’s young adult children (including his own) find their wings in the Spirit, if that means they start attending another church. Horror of horrors if it’s an English-speaking church.

  2. TMuse


    Very eye opening. I appreciate your vulnerability and wrestling. Moreover, I welled up a bit reading the excerpt from the conversation with your father. God bless.

  3. Anna Lee


    I remember this roundtable discussion and I remember your snort-laugh at Greg’s comment! In Cantonese, there’s an expression for a child who is ready to leave the nest saying, “You have feathers, you have wings.” What a gracious thing for your dad to say!

    For our generation (2nd and up) to not steward our giftings, as well as the fears and the risks they put us in, would be to bury the proverbial talent we’ve been given (and we know what happened to that servant). Perhaps stepping up and out prevents the gnashing of teeth, as we answer not to our parents’ generation, but to the heavenly Father. I know plenty of our generation who are currently weeping and gnashing their teeth while serving in the troubled churches of our parent’s generation, and I have no doubt that launching a 2nd-and-up generAsian Church will bring its own troubles, but I look at the Parable of the Talents and see how the commended servants had to invest all their talents (which didn’t even belong to them) in order to get exponential returns. Aiya, the perils of being good and faithful!

    Wouldn’t it be cool if two people from the 1st and 2nd Gen Church wrote a book in tandem about the work of building up and letting go? How’s your dad’s writing skills, David? OOOOO, then you guys could go on tour…

    Your Future Agent,

  4. Anna, did you talk to my dad too? We’ve actually been talking about it. What say you? How are your dad’s writing skills? This could get interesting…

    We will see what God gives us the strength and the opportunity to do. As you imply, there are perils to both moving too far ahead, and too far behind the will of God, and to walk the tightrope is a tricky one.

    And that’s my dad’s thinking too.

  5. Anna Lee

    Ha! Alas, my dad’s not as cool as your dad! But I look forward to this book of you and your dad’s, and booking you both for a gig in NYC. You should publish through InterVarsity Press…

  6. djchuang

    All of this can be a stalemate of perceptions too. On the one hand, the 2nd-generation who do stay in the immigrant Asian church find it difficult to fully participate due to cultural dynamics and expectations (so they can’t be all that they can be), and on the other hand, if the 2nd generation start their own churches, they’re perceived as betraying their “family”. In a lose-lose proposition, the only way out for many is to be squeezed out, leaving church all together or blend into the pews of a megachurch. (Well, most megachurches don’t have pews but more likely auditorium seating.)

  7. elderj

    is there a middle way wherein the 2nd gen’s that start churches are not seen as betraying family, but rather as starting daughter churches which retain some connection and loyalty to the home? A bit simplistic I’m sure, and not original at all. Just a thought from an ignorant outside observer

  8. Funny that you, DJ and Josh, should mention this. Not to harp on me and my father’s conversations so much, but we had a conversation about that very issue as well. I mentioned that we don’t feel fully free to start our own church until we receive their blessing. There is something that we, as their children, want so desperately to hear from our parents. Perhaps it is the misplaced, “well done, my child” that we should only expect to hear from our Heavenly Father, as Anna mentions.

    My father’s response was funny. He chuckled, and said, “Really? I don’t think that there’s enough communication between the two generations to know that. They don’t know how to tell you that. They’ve been hardened. You don’t know what it’s like to be an immigrant, and they don’t know what it’s like to be looking for home. You don’t understand them, they are just looking to survive.”

    “Dad, maybe we should write a book.”

    More laughter. “You think so? Fine…good idea. You write it, I’ll think about it.”

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