I gave this speech last night at the service. I had to struggle for brevity and levity, since I knew I’d be the first of the family to speak. Also, none of the non-Korean guests would be in any mood for a long speech after a typically drawn out, forbidding sermon full of stern Korean Presbyterianism. The pastor was nice enough, but let’s call a spade a spade. My father-in-law only went to church for weddings, funerals, christenings, and the like. God was always one of those chimeras that he felt had no bearing on his free will to live life as he pleased, but allowed a pastor at his funeral “in case he says something that makes the people there feel better.”
Thank you all for coming. Jung-Kil Kim was my father-in-law, yes – but more than anything else, I’ll remember him as a loving grandfather. Ryan, Sophie, and Ayla, your Habi (shortened from Haraboji, 할아버지 Korean for grandfather) loved you so much – and as long as you remember his love, how devoted he was to you – he will live on. Your Habi was many things – he loved to tell stories, even if you weren’t listening; he loved to tinker with things, and actually, he fixed a lot of your toys when otherwise I would’ve thrown them away; ultimately, he loved nothing more than to be in the same room as you. Your presence was his happiness.
I didn’t get off to a great start with him. I think Susie and I had only been dating for about a month when I called him out of the blue and asked if I could take him to lunch. He didn’t know who I was, or why a stranger wanted to share a meal with him. So he did what anyone else would do in that situation, and hung up on me. Obviously, he eventually came around.
What truly turned the tide in our relationship, though, was when Ryan was born. I’ve heard this from other dads, how their relationships with their fathers-in-law changed for the better with the birth of a grandchild. It was as if any doubts or reservations he had about me disappeared when he held his grandson for the very first time. Until that moment, I hadn’t seen pure joy on his face. After that, I’d see it often. He didn’t even have to be holding Ryan, Sophie, or Ayla; just being near them filled his heart with happiness.
That is ultimately what I will always remember about my father-in-law, his complete and unconditional love for his three grandchildren. The man who wasn’t above sneaking candy or chocolate to them when we weren’t looking. The man who would give them gifts of five-dollar bills because doing so just matched his mood at that moment. The man who enjoyed watching Disney cartoon films with them. Or just holding them and talking about the bright future he envisioned for them.
Jung-Kil Kim’s ultimate legacy is these three grandchildren, whom he loved completely and doted on. He was a wonderful grandfather, and the kids and I will miss him.
Almost the same photo with my wife, taken 41 years apart.