My Korean American Story: Dennis Byun

Like many Korean-American families, my parents expected certain things from me as I was growing up.  I had to be a good Christian; I had to be a good son and brother; and I had to study hard and attend a good college.  Ultimately, my parents expected me to become a professional (i.e. doctor, lawyer, etc.).  There was no room for discussion.  The messages were always the same, varying only in the deliveries.  My mom, the queen of passive-aggressive tactics, took every opportunity to motivate me.  We would be sitting in front of the television watching the Dodgers and she would blurt out “Did you hear?  Henry was accepted to Stanford?”  Or she would come home and hand me a book.  “Our family attorney thought you might enjoy reading this.  It’s called One L by Scott Turow.”  We didn’t have nor could we afford a family attorney.

As I think back, with all the advice and guidance they offered they never mentioned anything about becoming a good parent.  Recently, with a combination of a difficult employment climate and child care needs, my wife and I decided I would become a stay-at-home dad. Initially, I wasn’t comfortable with this title.  I told myself this was only temporary.  I felt ashamed for not bringing home any income.  It was as if all my confidence and self-worth were linked to my paychecks, and my wife had all the control.  I also felt guilty seeing my wife working long hours and dealing with the stress of her job.  Every time I met someone new and was asked what I did for a living, I would say “I’m in between jobs.”  I could never confess that I was a stay-at-home dad.  But as time passed, a routine developed.  Part of being a stay-at-home dad was taking our children to and picking them up from school.  I saw the same moms over and over.  Although I stayed home as they did, I was never allowed to penetrate their hen house.  Many of them never spoke to me, but I knew they were wondering about my situation.  Did he win the lottery?  No, his wife still works.  Does he work at night?  No, because if he did he, would sleep all day long but I always see him jogging all over town.  Maybe he’s uneducated.  No, I have a MBA.

The unique part of being a stay-at-home dad is that none of my closest friends are stay-at-home dads.  So there isn’t anyone I can compare notes with or someone who has experienced similar situations as I have.  Sometimes I would meet up with a friend for lunch near his work.  During these lunches, I would contemplate who is in the better situation.  That’s difficult to say.  I know I’m happy.  I also know these are precious years with our children that I could never get back.

The toughest part of being a stay-at-home dad is my inability to cook.  I have searched online for recipes.  I’ve scoured over cookbooks and cooking magazines trying to find perfect meals for my family.  These meals needed to be healthy (per my wife’s request), easy to cook (per my request), and delicious (per my children’s request).  We have designated certain dishes as our favorites and they are part of a small rotation of meals.  As a result of our successes and failures in the kitchen, our daughter has developed an interest in cooking.  The image of her and me standing side by side chopping vegetables is truly priceless.

The best part of being a stay-at-home dad is the opportunity to spend so much time with our children.  Many dads are so out of the loop that they have no idea what’s going on in their children’s lives.  They miss dinners with the family, bedtime stories, etc.  Then guilt drives them to become weekend dads trying to make up for lost time and squeeze in as much love as possible.  I am grateful for this opportunity to influence our children on a daily basis.  I’m able to help with their homework, take them to the park to play, and drive them to their various lessons and activities.  I’ve gotten to really know our children; have conversations with them; and show them my goofy side.  They’ve learned to distinguish when I’m trying to be a friend and when I’m being a parent.  And most importantly, I can do all this without becoming Mrs. Doubtfire.

Some people say stay-at-home dads do not contribute to society.  The common notion is that men should be the bread winners.  And they cannot achieve this if they’re dealing with mindless tasks like laundry, dishes, and cleaning.  When ignorant people see a stay-at-home dad, they speculate and conclude something is wrong in the household.  I don’t mind the discrimination against me.  My biggest concern is how it may affect our children.  Do our children view me differently or as weak in comparison to their friends’ dads because they see me doing the dishes instead of dashing off to work in the morning with my tie and brief case?

Fortunately for us, I believe my wife and I have done a great job explaining our situation to our children.  They excel academically, have wonderful friends, and enjoy being active and creative.  They are terrific children.

dennisbyunxmas215Name:  Dennis Byun
Age:  42
Occupation:  Stay-at-home dad
Current Residence:  West Orange, NJ