A Not-So-Typical Father’s Day

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Most people think of Father’s Day as the day they spend time with their own father or with their kids, a family day. That, of course, is in places where Father’s Day is celebrated as a holiday.

In Korea, we have an all encompassing holiday called Parents’ Day, so there are no Mother’s Day and Father’s Day holidays. Therefore, Father’s Day is nothing special here. It’s a holiday that has not taken on meaning yet in my life, too. Sure, I have been a father for over a year now, but I still do not quite have that fatherly feeling yet. In other words, I do not yet define myself as a “father” though being a father has most certainly defined me. Some emotions and states of mind are simple to grasp, and some are not. For example, I easily define myself as a husband and as a teacher and even as a writer, but I just have yet to grasp in my mind the entirety of meaning of being a father. Perhaps things will change when my son can verbally communicate to me. Right now, he still seems to be a thing more than a person, though his personality has most certainly formed now.

With that said, and probably confusing everyone, especially me, let me explain how my Father’s Day was not so typical. I spent little time with my family on the day mainly because it was a softball day.

For the last four years, my spring Sundays have been consumed by softball because it’s what I love to do on my spring Sundays. This season, I became a captain in our softball league. Unfortunately, my team was not very good and finished last out of eight teams.

This Father’s Day, then, was our season finale. While six of the other teams will be playing in a championship tournament, my team was left to try for a win to end the season. And that we did in dramatic fashion.

My team went up 5-0 to start the game, but we ended up tied at 6-6 going into the final inning. The other team scored a run in the top of the inning to take a 7-6 lead. Then it was our turn. I was scheduled to bat fifth in the inning with some really good batters ahead of me.

The leadoff batter got a base hit to start. The next two batters flew out, but the runner at first moved up to second. The next batter got a base hit to score him and tie the game at 7-7. It was then my at bat with another good batter behind me to try to win the game. All I had to do was to get a base hit to move the runner into scoring position.

After hitting a foul, I got my pitch, and I swung and hit a line drive to right field. The ball rolled through for a base hit, but then it hit a rock and bounced over the fielder’s head. I kept running, and so did the runner in front of me. I stopped at second base and watched my player race home for the win. I was the hero and my players carried me off the field after we celebrated at home plate.

That, sirs and madams, is why I had a not-so-typical Father’s Day. Not many people can say they had a game-winning walk-off hit on Father’s Day.

After the game, I returned home and spent time with my family the rest of the night. My sweet wife mad me some homemade kimbap and I enjoyed her company until our crying child (we are trying to wean him from the bottle a bit early) forced us to go to sleep with him. However, it was a great day.

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Final Exam Mania

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All teachers know how chaotic the endgame is for each semester. After all the preparation, practice, pleas, and pillaging, the end of the semester is still a highly stressful time for both students and teachers. For those of us English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers out there, there is of course the additional pressure of communicating to students what needs to be done and hoping that they can produce enough useful English to pass their exams.

My semester is particularly chaotic because I a currently teaching four different courses, by far the most courses I have ever taught in one semester. There is a definite bright side for me: variety. One semester I taught the same course with ten different classes; needless to say, it was the most boring semester of my life.

With that said, the amount of work one must put into teaching four different courses is simply staggering, especially when every course was basically designed from scratch this semester. And there is also the difficulty in switching gears.

Right now, I am in the middle of giving final exams to those students. The last few days has been speaking tests. For those I had freshman conversation students and Business English students. Over the next week I will be giving listening and writing exams to my students. After the exams are over, then I must grade all of them, record them, and post them to the school website. The final step is to hold a petition time in case any students disagree with their final grades.

I do have the pleasure of knowing that, despite all this chaos, soon I will be on vacation for two months. One of those months will be spent visiting my friends and family in the States, and the other month will be spent being House Dad to my boy. The break from the daily grind of preparation, execution, and management are most certainly going to be welcome. Non-teachers do not understand, but the end of the semester is most certainly a crescendo of being busy and having an infinite number of emotional breakdowns. Long breaks most certainly help to refresh us. The long break will most certainly cure me of my final exam mania.

Seeking Inner Peace

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In my last blog, I mentioned the words of Marc Helgesen. He spoke of many things we should do to find happiness, thus peace. Among them, he mentioned how, even if we consider ourselves to be optimists, many people focus too much on the negatives of life.

His recommendation was to try to find three positive things for each situation for every negative aspect. Needless to say, finding three positive things is not easy.

I listened to Helgesen’s speech and thought at the time it was profound and sensible, and I should look into putting some of his words into practice in my on life. Then I left the room and immediately went back into complain mode: Where’s a taxi when you need one? There’s so much traffic. People are terrible drivers. I hate waiting in line for a restaurant table. This food is OK. Where’s a taxi when you need one? Why does the old lady’s feet smell so bad? There’s nothing good on TV. And on, and on, and on.

And there are other parts of me lacking in peace, too. For one, I am quite aggressive in my disapproval of how people are so selfish. One particular recent incident, in which my wife later told me basically how I am not a good person, happened when my wife and I were walking for exercise. We were on the side of a road on the university campus near our apartment. Two cars were coming down the road, but apparently the first car was not moving fast enough for the second car, so the second car tried to whip around the first car on the right side, directly where we were standing. The driver saw us and then moved back into his lane. I responded by pointing at the driver in a get-out-of-the-car-and-I’ll-whip-your-ass gesture. Definitely, I am aggressive. I don’t know why exactly, but now that I am a family man, I feel more violent in the protection of my family.

My wife mentioned something her father told her about how we need to let the little things go, not risking everything for small face saving. I know she is right, and I want to change, but at the root of it all, can I?

I started thinking about what I could do to help change myself and obtain inner peace. It will probably have to be some self introspection because I am not sure I am ready to accept some of the external demands that would be necessary, such as attending church. I also thought about what brought me peace before and whether or not I am getting that. Writing has always been great therapy for me, and I don’t write enough these days. Also, video games have always been a means for escapist behavior, something to release my aggression and negative emotions. When I was a teenager, a close family friend was killed in a car accident. She was like a grandmother to me, and I was devastated by her death, but a few homeruns hit in Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball on my Super Nintendo helped to take my mind off of the bad feelings and help me find peace. Aggression can be released in video games, opposite of that perception that video games cause aggression. These days, I get maybe an hour or two of video game time.

In all, maybe my aggression comes from my personal needs not being fully met. Sacrifice of self is the first and most apparent effect of becoming a parent. In time, I will gain some of that me time back, but I am certainly feeling some of the effects of losing me time. An hour here or there just doesn’t feel like enough. Is that where my over aggression is coming from? I hope not, but who knows? Wherever its base is, I need to find a way to obtain inner peace and lead a life where I don’t need to challenge people to fights just because of the way they drive.

How do I do it?

Creativity, Meet Practicality

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To say I have a hundred ideas floating around in my head would be an understatement. Right now the wheels are turning. The question is whether or not I can gather enough of my ideas together to achieve much of anything.

Those ideas are spread over several different areas of interest, too. However, I CANNOT discuss many of them. There are several reasons behind my decision not to discuss my ideas. Here’s one reason:

This past Saturday, I attended a conference in Busan, Korea, for the Korean TESOL (Teachers English to Speakers of Other Languages). At the conference I attended several different sessions to help me become better at my chosen profession and generate new, fresh ideas. Among the sessions, I learned about using video projects as a whole-learning tool, using a few icebreaker activities to get students to speak more in class, instituting some practical uses of peer evaluation for writing assignments, developing an extensive reading program in the classroom, and creating a “happy” classroom.

The focus here is on the last session. It’s interesting to think that many classrooms are not happy. For me, I try my best to make the materials of conversation class entertaining, hoping it will help students to retain information. Unfortunately, my methods are not foolproof, nor has my classroom achieved true happiness.

The speaker, Marc Helgesen, is a veteran ESL teacher and now he is an ordained (is it possible) Buddhist Monk. He has pursued peace and happiness, and he has made it there. He gave us several activities that showed how we sometimes think we are creating comfortable classroom situations when in fact we are not. Additionally, many of the things he talked about can be applied to life in general: circles of friends, your family, you book club, etc.

One of the most poignant parts of his presentation was his discussion about goals and achievements, including showing this video by Derek Sivers: LINK HERE. He said that goals are something we all have (or should have) and that we tend to work harder on our goals when we keep them private and self-centered. The effect of stating our goals is a psychological one. When we orally state our goals to others and receive acknowledgement of our goals, our brains do a strange thing. Our brains trick us into thinking we have already achieved that goal, and the goal becomes tertiary to other things in our life. So to sum up: make a goal and shut up and you are thousands more times likely to achieve that goal.

So I have many ideas, many of which I will NOT achieve. However, I will achieve some of them. So, for now, I will shut up about what my goals are (rewind a few posts and you will see where I immediately started failing), and just do them.

Office Toothbrush

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Perhaps I never thought about it before, or maybe I have been unassumingly unhygienic in my life, but one of the biggest changes I have had in my time in Korea is the need for an office toothbrush.

When I worked in the States, in any of my multitude of jobs, I never kept a toothbrush at the office. Through my observations, I was not alone. In fact, I seldom saw people brushing their teeth after their midday meals.

And then I moved to Korea where a ritualistic post-meal office toothbrush parade would break out every day among my Korean co-workers. As for us foreigners, nary a floss. It wasn’t long before I followed my Ko-co-workers and invested in an office toothbrush. Soon after, while my foreigner co-workers were enjoying sucking on their post-meal tooth scraps, I was lined up next to my Korean co-workers with a toothbrush in hand and wide, intense cleaning eyes.

Of course, with diets heavy in garlic and (as best as I can translate) Chinese onions, people’s breaths can become quite rank. It pays to brush and chew gum and suck on a mint here, and it also pays to drink coffee after a meal to help neutralize the skunk breath effects. That is probably one of the biggest reasons why Koreans rather than salad-eating foreigners brush their teeth post-lunch.

But change is change, and brushing my teeth at work is one of the ways I have become Koreafied. With that change, I have now become a person who always carries a toothbrush wherever I go. At a conference and just enjoyed a delicious lunch buffet? Steal away afterwards and brush my pearly whites. Hanging out with my wife’s family for a holiday? Excuse myself for a while to obtain that minty flavor in my mouth.

I don’t know if it is a fad that will catch on. In my office, filled with eleven other foreigners, I never see them brushing their teeth in the office. However, every day, I am pulling out one of my two office toothbrushes and getting myself ready for speaking to my students with Tea Tree Oil or Xylitol minty breath.

The Pretentious Reader

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For the first half of my literature class for intermediate ESL students, I assigned Mario Puzo’s masterwork, The Godfather. It was a daunting task, I know, but through research and preparation, I held my students’ hands and dragged them through it.

Yes, yes, I know my class of six (five Koreans and one Kazakhstanian) did not exactly tackle the book the same way a true lover of literature would, but I think my students got something out of it.

We concentrated a lot on the basics of studying literature, mainly focusing on plot, character, and theme. In the end, students understood those terms and could identify key portions of each. I even heard students uttering words like “foreshadowing” and “climax” and “turning point” in ways showing that they actually understood class concepts. Mission accomplished.

For the second half of the semester, students are assigned independent reading. Based on a website called Moodlereader.org, students were given the task of choosing graded readers (these are books abridged towards a level-specific ESL readership). However, my senior and Kazakhstan students wanted to choose full books.

“OK,” I said, “but I’ll have to read the books, too, so that I can make a quiz and essay question for you. Are you sure?”

“YES!” they both said.

So what did they choose? My senior chose Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. My Kazakhstanian chose Robert Kiyosaki’s financial self-help book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. OK. Neither sound appealing to me, but literature is not only fiction and poetry, so I allowed them to do exactly what I said to do at the beginning: read what you enjoy. I hope they enjoy their readings, because I am NOT enjoying those books through my short forays into them.

Well, actually, for Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I’ve read nothing more than descriptions and reviews of the book so far. Reviews are mixed with the common person generally loving the book while the financial experts think it is a bunch of hogwash designed to separate book buyer and money-hungry underlings from their money. In other words, many experts in the field of finance concentrate on Kiyosaki’s pretentiousness when dealing with ways to make money.

I am only ten chapters into Eat, Pray, Love, but others have expressed an equal amount of mixed reviews from absolute love to absolute hatred of the book. Much of the criticism is about the message Elizabeth Gilbert delivers and how the common person cannot relate to her. Thus far, I am in the same boat. Sure, sure. I dream of being a full-time writer who can circumnavigate the globe doing nothing more than chilling out in fancy coffee shops and on exotic beaches while tapping away on my laptop. However, I cannot relate to her now, and that makes all the difference. Of course, it is rather easy not to relate when I am not an overtly emotional, child-fearing, middle-aged woman with a penchant for worshipping religious men.

So, I reflect the question upon myself, thus the title of this particular blog entry. Am I a pretentious reader? Do I think I know better than others who are experts in their fields? Why do I doubt so many people so fiercely? Why do I look at writers today and only see dollar signs in their eyes? I most certainly don’t approach writing in the same way, though I would love to eventually say that I got my name on the NYT Bestseller List.

Bias is not always as simple as race or gender or religion. I have biases towards those who have made their money through what I consider gimmicks of a craft. Without getting into the human side of certain people, I automatically distrust politicians, lawyers, and bankers, and I often question their motives. It’s not a political bias, either, but a bias that those people, the people who tend to flock towards those careers, are at the base of it, in it for the money.

And so I will push myself on, taking a break from my pleasure reads (currently on Book 2 of George R.R. Martin’s Ice and Fire series), and plod through two books where I am cynical about the authors’ words because I doubt their intent. Critics accuse them of being pretentious writers. In the end, perhaps the critics and I are just pretentious readers.

The Countdown to One

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It’s hard to believe how fast life flies and changes, but there is no denying the very fast last year is in its final countdown. It’s May, and in ten days I will be the father of a ONE-YEAR-OLD.

The past year has taught me a lot about what the words “tired” and “responsibility” mean. I learned about myself, about life in general, and hopefully how to better read emotions.

For myself, I learned what my capabilities are. For example, though I have been around a lot of children in my life due to having a large and closely-knit extended family, I had never changed a diaper until May of 2011. I was wary of the experience, but it turned out to be anti-climactic. In fact, I’m still more grossed out about my own bathroom experiences than my child’s.

As far as being tired is concerned, there are a few things in life I miss. I used to love taking a nap to re-energize me for the second half of the day. Now I hardly ever get those afternoon naps, or they are abbreviated if I do, and I don’t have the same energy that I had before. By the time night rolls around, I am ready to plant my ass firmly in bed.

Of course, the biggest change is my understanding of what the word responsibility means. I always considered myself to be a responsible person, but I never knew how much more responsible I have had to be. My wife may say I’m not responsible enough, and she may be right in some cases, but I have devoted a lot of my time, energy, and self to my family. I don’t consider it a sacrifice, but I do need breaks from time to time. Does it get easier when they’re over three years old? I hope so!

So there it is. My son, Esau, will be one on May 11. We plan to have a small family gathering for his birthday party and give him his first taste of cake. I hope he enjoys himself that day. My wife and I certainly will be proud to look at our boy and see how much he’s grown in the last year. It is true that time flies!

Make Yourself Marketable, Version 2.4

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Hallo! And welcome to your great life adventure! Introducing a brand new product, MYM 2.4!!! What is this amazing program, you ask. Well, it’s nothing more than a program that assesses your strengths in business and makes you available for the wide world of employment.

So what are your strengths? What kind of job are you looking for? Enter your details. Enter your interests. Enter your passions. And, of course, enter your work history, experience, and training. We’ll find the right career or job for you!

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“I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.” – Johnny Nash

It’s a bright, cloudy April morning. I am sitting at my desk at my university job and thinking about how the future will be different. The future will be different, which will be both positive and negative in several ways.

You see, I am the patriarch in an international family. We currently live in Korea, but there has been much discussion about when we will no longer live in Korea and instead live in America, probably in my hometown.

There are some positives and logical reasons behind going to my hometown. First, my children will have a chance to grow up in my culture and be around the majority of my family. My parents and sister have adjoining backyards, yet I am a half world away. Also, my children will not have to live through the highly stressful academic life that is prevalent in Korea, leading to the highest number of teen suicides in the world. Instead, my children will be in public education where they can experience people of many different backgrounds and experiences, and they can freely explore their own interests and talents without the need for test scores and loans.

Of course, the biggest disadvantage to moving home is the question, “What the hell will I do when I get there?” When I lived in the States, I was an educator. Unfortunately, I was not happy as an educator. I taught community college, and my attitude was one of disgust because of how hard my students fought against learning and I got the frequent question, “Why do I need this?” My teaching subject? English. Yes, community college students (not all, and hopefully not even most) wondered about the purpose of being able to express ideas in coherent sentences. Yet, they wanted a degree.

I know I have learned a lot, though, about teaching, and my approach to those same students would be much different now. It took me going to Korea and teaching ESL students before I finally learned about the nature of the language. I won’t say I’m a great teacher, but I am getting better. And I think I understand the Student’s (the ideal or typical, thus the capitalization) mind.

Therefore, do I continue to teach? I certainly won’t make much money to support a family. And that will be the biggest challenge of the eventual move. What do I do then? I know I have a variety of talents that I could use in the workplace; however, I do not quite know how to sell those talents as someone who can do the job.

For another addendum to this entry, I have also been trying to hone some skills, practicing not only at writing, but also at some graphic design and broadcasting. Surely, I can find something to do. And if I need another fallback, I could go into sales. Used car? Telecommunication? Watches in my trench coat?

What do I do? Should I work towards another qualification? Or should I continue to teach? How do I support my family, especially if my wife has some trouble finding a job? (As a side note, she is really qualified to be an administrative assistant or administrator at a university based on her work experience, but she is concerned most about the language gap.)

Help me! If not, I have no choice but to jump into MYM 2.4!!!

Updating My Goals

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A few weeks ago, I posted that I was making some yearly goals set to start later in the year than usual. Thus far, I am happy to report that those three resolutions are going well.

For the first two, a short report is this:

1. Losing weight – I am indeed losing, though at no significant pace. I will see later if there is a definite reduction in weight, but as of now, I have not stepped on a scale since before I started my weight loss goals. However, I have seen a few changes, mainly in my pants and shorts. A few weeks ago, I tried on my softball shorts, which are basically some faded cargo shorts that I use to keep my bevy of batting gloves, notepad, and various writing utensils. When I tried them on at first, they would not fit. Then, a few days before the softball season began, I tried them on again and they fit. If nothing else shows, that would indicate a loss in the waistline.

2. Reading – I am not going at any blazing speed, but I am steadily reading books. I just finished The Godfather and currently I am working on Book Two of the A Song of Ice and Fire books. Of course, I also spend numerous hours in any given week reading sports news and internet forums, not to mention spending way too much time reading Facebook status updates. However, I won’t count those reading sessions in my goals, only literary reading.
And now on to number three…

3. Writing – Though it may seem that I write very little, especially if you read this blog, I am actually getting a lot of writing done. Not enough to satisfy myself, but a lot, nonetheless. Some of my writing is for me, personal journals and, well, something I may need to explain to those not familiar with this particular genre of writing: dynasties. Some of my writing is for specific audiences, thus only available to those who would be interested in reading my goings on. For example, I keep a dynasty of my real-life softball accomplishments and post those dynasty postings on a sports simulation forum. My other dynasty writing deals with a life-long obsession of personal paper sports leagues. Thankfully these days I don’t have to keep entire histories on paper and can use computer programs to assist me, but I still write out stories and histories (and lately e-mails and letters) of those simulated sports leagues.

I consider writing to be my ultimate therapy, and escaping into a fantasy sports world is my Eden. My love for writing will always be there, but when I actually publish (despite my nearly completed novel that I like), I think it will be by writing about my passion, and my dynasty writing of simulated real-life and make believe sports scenarios is where it’s at.

So there is my update. I will blog occasionally, but I feel handcuffed about the day-to-day doldrums of life. Yes, there are things interesting that come up, but my audience of two here on my blog usually knows about those things through my Facebook status updates. Expounding on status updates through blogging seems quite tedious.

Becoming My Own Man

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I have had a dream for a long time of being an entrepreneur. I don’t know why exactly, but I have always felt that I would function best as my own man. Unfortunately, I have yet to pinpoint what exactly I want to do since that choice would involve a heavy investment of time and money as a start up.

What I can do well may not be what I need for a business idea, but those things can help me to be a success in whatever I put my heart into.

Some of my strengths:

A strong personality. Whether I am the boss or the gopher, I am able to self-manage and assert myself in any situation. A lot of people focus on the catering to the customer side of business, but there is also another side: not being pushed around. If I could say anything absolute about myself it would be that I do not allow myself to be pushed around at all.

Strong written and verbal communication skills. So I’m Southern and Cajun and do not speak with the hare’s pace of a Yankee. However, through my studying and avid readership, I have accumulated a sophisticated vocabulary and a direct, appropriate ability to communicate exactly what my wants and needs are. As a salesperson, I am solid. I can state my point definitively and without the need for a politician’s maneuvering, thus making everyone clear and comfortable with me in a business situation.

Willpower. If I want something, and I mean really want something, I will stop at nothing to make it happen. If I want to be successful at business, I will do everything I need to do, from excessive planning, to understanding the ins and outs of the industry, to busting butt every day to make it work.

Of course there are weaknesses, too, but I will not focus on them just yet. I know one thing I have not had a lot of experience with is managing people outside of the classroom. Not to say classroom management is not a monumental task, but investors do not usually see the connection.

Can I look for other ways? In a softball league here in Korea, I have become the newest captain in the league, manning a 13-player team. Already I have asserted what my vision for the team is and what I expected of the players. Hopefully I am the right manager for the job and can build further on skills I need as a future entrepreneur. In this way, I can be well on my way to being my own man.