Korean dads go to “father school” to learn how to hug their kids

Come and get your hug.
Come and get your hug.
Image: EPA/Jeon Heon-Kyun
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The Duranno Father School was established in South Korea in 1995, with religious roots, to fix the perceived “growing national epidemic of abusive, ineffective and absentee fathers.” It became a nonprofit and has since organized thousands of multi-day retreats—in South Korea, the US, and 35 other countries—for Korean dads who need some guidance on how to be present and loving family men.

Fathers in South Korea are occasionally stereotyped as particularly stoic or unaffectionate. Traditionally, they’ve been expected to work long hours to ensure their families’ financial security—the tradeoff being that their wives are responsible for just about everything else, from cooking to parenting.

This style carries over to Korean immigrant households around the world. As Korean-American writer Jay Kang observed in an NPR interview in 2013:

…Having been around a lot of Korean families growing up and seeing it within my own extended family, I think it’s—what it means is that there is sort of a real sort of dark stoicism about Korean men and the way that they interact with their children and, sort of, a suppression of all positive emotions and that, a lot of times, the only emotion that you will see growing up is anger or like a sense of disappointment.

I don’t think that this is true of all Korean fathers. They certainly don’t even know if it’s the majority or not, but I think that if you talk to somebody who did grow up in a in a Korean-American household or even a Korean household, and you ask them what typical Korean father means, that they’ll list those attributes.

As Public Radio International observed in August: “It’s not until they’re empty nesters that many Korean dads realize they’re outsiders to their own families.” Now, “there’s a generation of young Korean fathers who vow to be different from their own stoic and uninvolved dads.”

That’s where, for some, Father School enters the picture. The program has been described as “part 12-step recovery, part Christian ministry.” During the course, men practice vocalizing “I love you,” writing heartfelt letters to their wives and children, and hugging—because physical embraces don’t come naturally to people who didn’t grow up receiving them at home.

Some men drop out of the course before it ends. For those who complete it, there is a certificate and an always-tearful graduation ceremony at the program’s conclusion.