Maybe it’s the Leo in me. Maybe I’m just desperate to share that it was my Haraboji’s—though, I never use that word in casual conversation. Should I? Am I doing my culture a disservice if I choose assimilation over history? Isn’t a watch—or any inherited jewelry, for that matter—one of those rare, seemingly innocuous invitations for passersby to do more than just dip their toes into your stream of consciousness? They ask and suddenly find themselves awash, even drowning, in the multi-generational current that has pushed, wound, and planted you in this particular moment. Isn’t a watch the perfect window for outsiders to peer into who [read: when] you are and how you got there [read: then]?
Part of me wonders what, if anything, I’d have to say. My Haraboji was a man of few, grunted words like, “You hungry?” “You full?” “D’as good.” “So strong!” And not much else. I suppose I wasn’t the best conversationalist at age eight or nine; but quite frankly, I hardly knew the man. In hindsight, my trust in, and knowledge of him relied entirely on the sparse stories I remembered from childhood.
But knowing that doesn’t make confronting the prickly reality of my Haraboji’s faults any easier. Because contrary to the narrative I grew up believing—and the narrative my family immortalized as he neared death several times over six years—Haraboji was not a man who saved or denied. In conversation with my Como, I learned that my Halmoni was the one who brought our family to America. It was her connection who helped them. It was her ingenuity and vision that turned the tide. In fact, Haraboji was little more than dead weight in their passage and progress. He gambled, and like most gamblers, felt that his first big win was just around the corner, except habits like those exist in liminal spaces defined by second hands that tick without moving and date counters caught between numbers.
It’s been years since I learned this, during which time, wearing this watch has come to feel like a lie, a truth, and a challenge all at once. It’s a revisionist history about a father who was less-than in life and greater in death, a testament to the masculine reverence perpetuated by Korean culture, a calling to celebrate my Korean-American hyphen through all our collective missteps, and an appeal to do better.