Saintly Fathers in DramaLand Part 2: First thoughts on “Working Mom, Parenting Daddy” Episodes 1-25

Have you ever had the fun experience of finding something you thought was lost for good while searching for something else? Or maybe one day you put some clothes on that you haven’t worn in a few months, only to find some cash in the pocket? Something like that is almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face, right?

A few weeks ago, I was looking up some info on Yoo Jun Sang, one of the leads of “Pied Piper” who I knew much better as Evil Daddy Han in “Heard it Through The Grapevine”. I thought he was awesome in HITTG (he did win an award as I had hoped, which he fully deserved) and I had been waiting to see what project he might pick next. Interestingly, the AsianWiki page had a link to his wife’s page…Hong Eun Hee. Hmmm, I didn’t know his wife was an actress too. Had I seen her somewhere in DramaLand before? And that is how I found out about this hidden gem of a daily drama: “Working Mom, Parenting Daddy”.

I’ve casually tuned into a couple of daily dramas before, but always found them severely lacking. Bad dialogue, poor production, sketchy storylines, lots of screaming from the mothers/MiL’s, sexist male characters, doormat female characters and ridiculous secret keeping were enough to make me drop them fast. I got as far as 5 episodes with “The Promise” before a time-jump obliterated the cast of characters and I lost the plot trail. Five episodes was a personal record for me! Every other daily drama I’ve tried lasted less than that.

A few months ago, I started watching “My Little Baby“, a sixteen episode series (but only ~35 minutes each) starring a tough bachelor cop played by Oh Ji Ho who takes a leave of absence in order to care for his sister’s infant daughter after her and her husband are killed by a Kdrama White Box Truck of Doom. I had hoped to see some interesting social commentary on full-time fathering, and how difficult it is to raise a baby with so much internet information overload and changing social roles in today’s world. I knew that OJH would get cut some slack because of the tragic deaths that made him a daddy in an instant. However, that show was both poorly written and poorly acted and I couldn’t finish it. I actually felt sorry for the subbers because it was so bad. The show could have had some potential, but obviously no one was interested in exploring anything more culturally significant than poop and barf jokes.

Thankfully, the writer/PD nim of “Working Mom, Parenting Daddy” have no fears of tackling all kinds of difficult subject matter, including the pressures of being a working mom with a full time stay-at-home father of an infant. I strongly suggest watching (or at least reading recaps) of both “Misaeng” and “Awl” as a prerequisite to viewing this show. It will give you a taste of the jaw-dropping misogyny and workplace discrimination women currently face in South Korea. Even a respected publication like The Economist knows how bad it is for working women in Korea. It gives a big shout-out to WMPD to illustrate the point!  It’s difficult for someone like me who has never personally seen this kind of discrimination or heard openly stated sexist remarks to wrap my head around it. My boss for the last thirteen years has been a woman, and before that my boss was a male dentist that I had known since we attended University together and we had an excellent relationship based on mutual respect and trust. Even with a background of “Misaeng” and “Awl”, the first few episodes of WMPD are a tough watch.

Here’s the premise of the show from AsianWiki.com:  “Kim Jae-Min (Park Gun-Hyung) is a sweet husband who will do anything for his wife Mi-So (Hong Eun-Hee). Mi-So has a bright personality, but she learns that she is pregnant with their second child. Even with just one child, she has a hard time raising their child and working. Kim Jae-Min decides to submit for a maternity leave at his work and begin to raise their child and do house chores.”

Heh…if it was only that easy! The first couple of episodes set up the hamster wheel these poor parents are running on everyday. I understand now why the birth rate is so low in South Korea. I also urge you to read this thoughtful article on the difficulties of raising a family in SK today.

Both Jae Min and Mi So work at the same company. Their daughter Bang Geul is in First Grade. (my best guess) Mi So doesn’t have a mom to help her out with childcare, so anytime the boss wants her to work overtime–which is often–it’s cause for panic. Even though her saintly husband Jae Min is way, way more helpful than most fathers, she still gives herself the online moniker of “Sorry Mom” because she’s always saying sorry to someone for bailing her out. Jae Min has a mom who could help, but she’s massively self centered, constantly complaining, and is not exactly a warm and loving grandparent to Bang Geul. She openly expresses her preference for the new grandson which deeply hurts Bang Geul’s feelings. WTH kinda grandmother does that?!? Yes, I know it’s a cultural thing. No, I don’t have to like it. Gender preference toward boys is the start of a whole host of societal problems I won’t even begin to get into! Jae Min must have inherited his saintly behaviors from his own deceased father, because he sure as heck didn’t get it from his mom!

When Mi So finds out she’s unexpectedly pregnant, I was worried for a moment that she might want to abort the baby because their lives are already so difficult. Thank goodness our Saintly Husband and Father Jae Min is over the moon with happiness, and vows to do whatever he needs to make her life easier both before and after the new baby arrives. He sticks up for her at work too. Jae Min is an attentive and loving father to Bang Geul, and a caring, affectionate husband to Mi So.

wmpd23.1

#taking advantage of naptime!

Jae Min and Sang Tae in “Five Children” should be held up as paragons of husbands and fathers everywhere. I hope that my sons can be like these guys when they get married and have children, and my daughter better find and marry a guy with these qualities too!

Unfortunately, Jae Min can’t do much about one of the biggest problems in Mi So’s life–her co-worker Ye Eun. This woman is an ice cold, first class backstabbing witch. She spills the news of Mi So’s pregnancy to the entire office, after Mi So asked her to not tell anyone right away, which sets Mi So up for all kinds of flak from her boss (a card-carrying member of the He Man Woman Hater’s Club) who has the well earned nickname of “Dung Kim”. Ye Eun seems to simultaneously plot ways to make herself look good and Mi So look bad while sucking up to the boss like a Hoover vacuum on steroids. Watching this character in action gives me added evidence that Kdrama writers have a hidden camera on my life, and they conspire to incorporate all kinds of things from my life straight into dramas! (I know, how narcissistic of me. But it’s so true!) I am convinced that the character of Ye Eun was modeled after one of my coworkers at the dental office. They act so similar it’s scary.

There have been hints at some kind of subplot with bribes and money laundering involving Dung Kim and Ye Eun–

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which I pray results in having them both investigated and sent to prison–and it better be for more than 18 months! #grudge  I need to call my friend over at the Seoul Prosecutor’s Office and give him a ‘lil hint:

prosecutorjackpot

#fighting corruption since May 2014

I hope that Ye Eun and Dung Kim put all the info on a pretty pink flash drive. It will make things that much easier!

Ye Eun is married to Professor Cha Il Mok, a Seoul University graduate (think Ivy League level) who finds his University classes unexpectedly cut one day, and he’s out of a job.

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No problem here. He loves being a stay-at-home parent to their son Min Ho, and he’s good at it. He cooks, cleans, and shops like a black-belt bargain hunter. I love that he uses his intellect in a creative way; no education ever goes to waste IMHO. It’s also clear that he and his son are very close. Il Mok starts a blog “A Woman’s Story”  where he gives out all kinds of hints and tips for stay at home moms, but he doesn’t disclose that he’s a man writing it. #delicious irony  He carefully hides this blog from his wife, who will undoubtedly go ballistic when she finds out about it. Ye Eun also gets childcare help from her mom (?) stepmom(?) Grandma Ok Soo Ran, a very sweet grandma with a secret burden.

After Mi So has an emergency C-section, she can’t have a minute’s rest as Ye Eun meddles with Mi So’s project at work and Mi So has to come in and straighten things out. How does this woman do it? She’s up and running around way too soon after major surgery. It’s a miracle she can even breastfeed their little son for a week. Jae Min finally convinces his obnoxious and abrasive mom to come and help them out, but she soon injures her back and is laid up in the hospital. Mi So worries about taking a second maternity leave from her company–no worker has ever done that and not been fired. But she feels she has no choice, because there’s no one to take care of her baby. She has minimal legal protection too, because there is almost no enforcement of the labor laws. Now our Saintly Father really steps up to the plate and decides he’s gonna take the leave, and stay at home with his infant son and young daughter. He puts in for the maternity/paternity leave, earning consternation and derision from the majority of his male co-workers, and some quiet admiration and acceptance from others. I couldn’t help but laugh when one of his co-workers calls it a “paid 6 month vacation”. He has no clue about how difficult it is taking care of a home and two small children. (See the side story at end of post.) The two-faced owner/CEO of the company Chairman Oh acts like he’s cool with Jae Min taking leave, but turns around and orders Jae Min’s boss to find a reason to fire Jae Min while he’s on leave, which is totally illegal. Where’s the Labor Law Center and Goo Go Shin when you need them?!

Our saintly father Jae Min starts out as you might expect, bungling his way through almost everything a stay-at-home mom does, from accidently melting the baby bottles while trying to sterilize them, to switching the baby’s formula without understanding the dire consequences, and burning his wife’s favorite shirt with the iron. (Hint: Never iron directly on silk.) He can’t cook even the simplest meal without major help:

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#why HomeEc classes should be mandatory in high school

I’m gonna guess his mom did almost everything around the house and taught him no basic life skills like cooking or running household appliances. He can’t figure out the rice cooker, although to be honest, it looks like you might need a Ph.D to operate it. (and yes, PPL sucker Shamrockmom wants one!) His daughter is embarrassed that Dad drops her off and picks her up from school, and both Mi So and Jae Min lie to his mom about who is taking leave to avoid her screeching disapproval.

Jae Min has something special though–a soft and teachable heart. He doesn’t let his manly pride become a stumbling block. He’s more than willing to learn whatever it takes for his family to run smoothly. Jae Min soon becomes friends with the other saintly stay-at home dad Il Mok, and even calls him “Master”. It’s not said with derision or sarcasm either. Jae Min knows that Il Mok has a treasure trove of knowledge; from how to shop on a budget, to finding cheap second hand baby gear, to navigating helpful online forums and dealing with the stay-at-home moms in their community. And best of all, he can cook like a chef. More importantly, Jae Min sees that Il Mok doesn’t let other people deride him for his choice of being a stay-at-home father, even if his own wife is totally disapproving. The two guys stick together, their kids become friends, and Jae Min’s daughter Bang Geul is no longer embarrassed to have her dad walk her to school, since Il Mok is doing it too. Slowly but surely, Jae Min is learning how to cook as well as do all the house chores. The two dads even have the same taste in clothing; these fit fathers can still wear skinny jeans and look pretty good! The openly discussed bromance between these two is both heartwarming and comic relief–like when they go to a norebang to blow off some steam:

wmpd22.1

The third couple in WMPD have their own set of problems revolving around not only parenting roles, but class issues and working outside of the home. Back in the day, Jae Min was dumped by his then-girlfriend Jung Hyun, simply because he wasn’t from a wealthy background. His heart was broken, but then he met Mi So and now he loves her completely. Jung Hyun subsequently married a nasty but rich doctor Park Hyuk Ki. At first, it looked like it was entirely her choice, but later evidence points to heavy family pressure and Jung Hyun even admits that she didn’t love the guy; it was all about the money. It’s still amazing to me that people actually marry not for love, but for money and social status, and then they manage to have a child together. How does that work? A business arrangement marriage where the childless parties sleep separately with no notable physical affection (like Hye Won and Professor Kang in SLA) is awful, but marginally understandable. Call me naive, but the idea of choosing to be in a loveless marriage, then knowingly creating a child with someone you don’t even love (or lust over) seems rotten to the core. I feel sorry for their daughter.

Doctor Park Hyuk Ki is the biggest MCP (Male Chauvinist Pig), class-ist and misogynist I’ve seen yet in a Kdrama.

wmpd20.1

This statement brought to you by the OB/GYN doc who has a staff of female nurses! #hypocrite alert

He’s even more anger-inducing for me than Mi So’s boss! The actor who portrays this character also played a sadistically mean boss in later episodes of  “Awl”, so I remember him well. It’s a credit to his fine acting skills that he’s so hated! It makes my skin crawl that he is an OB/GYN doctor, given the way he treats women.  **shudder**  He constantly berates his wife for being stupid, thinks that having her work outside the home is a bad reflection on him, and emotionally manipulates his precious daughter who will no doubt need major psychotherapy one day. His wife Jung Hyun is anything but dumb; she has parlayed her cooking hobby into a popular website and bestselling cookbook. She has a boatload of regret that she dumped saintly Jae Min for the loveless but cushy life of a rich doctor’s wife. Meddling witch Ye Eun is already starting hateful rumors that Jae Min and Jung Hyun are having an affair. Jae Min is respectful to his former girlfriend, but he’s still hurt and he is very cold to her. I don’t buy that they will have an affair for a single second. The three couples all have kids in the same classroom, so there’s plenty of opportunity for Hyuk Ki to get into all kinds of conflicts with the saintly Dad duo. I am strongly rooting for him to get his posterior section kicked good and well by the end of the show. He needs a big honkin’ dose of Karma delivered right to his doorstep!

So far, this show is a total winner. I’m loving it, and I can barely wait for each day’s episode to be subbed Monday-Friday. How this show got relegated to being a daily drama and is not prime-time material is a mystery, other than the number of episodes involved. The big question is: Can Show maintain this pace and storyline for another 90+ episodes? That’s a lot of time for things to go haywire. The show is a little predictable, but then again, so are most Kdramas. Predictable or not, it’s still fun to see how realistically the writer resolves the conflict without going overboard. This show is so far under the radar it’s not even funny. It slays me that a magazine like The Economist mentions this show, but the Soompi Forum chatter is minimal. (see link above) There’s no one recapping/reviewing WMPD to the best of my knowledge either.  ***crickets*** I’d consider it (and finishing the Awl recaps) but I am up to my eyeballs taking a Pharmacology class this summer.

Similar to “Five Children”, the writer doesn’t drag out secrets or conflicts indefinitely–they get resolved and new ones pop up. Even the requisite Birth Secret/Child Abandonment Trope that this (and all) daily dramas have does not feel over the top. The scenarios the parents face are very real, almost to the point that I have to pinch myself and remember that it’s a show and I’m not voyeuristically watching someone’s Real Life drama. The sets are a notable upgrade from other dailies that I’ve tried and failed to watch. The BG music is mostly second-rate, and I hope it improves as the show progresses. There are a few cheesy moments, but it’s kept to a minimum and tolerable for me. The actors and actresses are doing a great job; the kids are perfect as always. I especially like the main characters of Mi So and Jae Min played by Hong Eun Hee and Park Gun Hyung: they are very believable as husband and wife, and bring a lot of emotion without going too melodramatic. The side characters are also far above average, from the office gossip “Trumpet Yoo” (I’m sure he’s the grownup version of Han Seok Yul in “Misaeng”, right down to his dubious fashion sense) to the quiet younger unmarried guy in the office (not sure of his name, but he’s a well dressed hottie) who seems to be sympathetic to Jae Min and Mi So. It appears he’s taking notes in his head for future reference, and observing how to treat his future wife and female co-workers in a respectful manner.

There is one scene where Ye Eun pushes Il Mok off the bed and he hits his head; I’m not sure if the writer meant it as DV or it was supposed to be funny. Ye Eun is physically the same size or maybe even bigger than Il Mok, so she gets a good shove in. DV isn’t funny, and it doesn’t matter if the victim is male or female. Generally, the show balances out the heavy topics with lighthearted fun without compromising the biting social commentary Shamrockmom loves in a Kdrama. I pray this show won’t make a wrong turn and go over the cliff.

There’s so much good stuff to consider here. How much do families suffer when companies have no flexibility to allow caring for small children? A corporation might argue that generous family leave policies hurt the bottom line. But if your employees are distracted and stressed out, isn’t that a problem too? Kids suffer too when they have to be shuttled off to daycare when they’re only a few weeks or months old; lucky parents have a family member to give love and care, but that scenario is not one that some parents have access to. Should grandparents feel obligated to help out, or is it okay if they want a break from childrearing for a while? What I particularly like about WMPD is that the writer is letting the story make all the points, and it doesn’t feel like I’m being on the receiving end of a soapbox speech. “Awl” could be a little heavy-handed in that regard, but I was fine with it; I know some reviewers weren’t so kind.

I have no idea who is subbing this show, but it’s not on the Viki/Dramafever map. (Viki has a fan channel, but no video yet) I’ve been watching it on Dramacool.to, Newasiantv.to, and Veuue.se. Whoever is subbing it is doing it very quickly, subbing each episode within 24 hours of airtime. The subs are decent, but the subbers must have taken a class at the DramaFever School of Subbing with their aversion to subbing family terms. It’s starting to not bother me because my brain can pick up the words much better now. The half-hour episode run times are perfect for lunchtime viewing.

Once in awhile, it’s good to have a fun, light and fluffy show to watch. I’m enjoying my socks off watching Namgoong Man acting cute in “Beautiful Gong Shim” right now. But I also like to engage my brain while watching a show, and WMPD fits the bill perfectly. If you’ve never given daily dramas a try, or you’ve been avoiding them for all the typical reasons, give WMPD a shot. Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

Today’s Side Story: When my oldest two children were about 3 and 18 months, my husband lost his job–again. (By now, he was already on the downhill run with his bipolar condition, but things were not mission critical yet) My mom was ill that day, so I told him he was going to have to watch the kids while I worked; we couldn’t afford for me to take a day off without pay. Like the good husband I thought I married, he cheerfully agreed. He had an easy day, since there were no doctor appointments or physical therapy sessions for our son. I separated the laundry into 3 loads, and told him if he ran it,  I would fold and put it away when I got home. The dishes needed to be put in the dishwasher and run; I’d put the dishes away too. He had to plan something for dinner with a fully stocked pantry, fridge and freezer that could ride out an apocalypse. Just an easy day….

When I arrived home that night, the house was in shambles. Toys, food plates, cups, video cassettes (!) and trash everywhere. No one was dressed, not even the husband. He had never managed to put on any clothing except his underwear that day. My daughter was in her panties and my son was in a diaper. Every surface lower than 3 feet in my home had peanut butter on it. The kids were dirty and sticky, with rings of food on their face, attesting to the meals of macaroni and cheese and Froot Loops they had consumed. (Froot Loops were a special dessert ‘treat’ for my kids back in the day, and not breakfast food! We knew they were bad, we just didn’t know how bad back in the ’90’s.) Not one dish made it into the dishwasher. Not one load of laundry made it into the washer. Nothing was prepared for dinner. The husband then proclaimed how hard his day was, and that he was exhausted–and then he took a shower and left to “take a break”. I know I should have packed up the kids right then and there and left myself, but I didn’t. I think I stayed up until midnight cleaning up the kids and the mess, but it took a couple of days for me to get the laundry and dishes done.

After that day, my husband never again asked me, “So, what did you do all day?” In fact, when he started working again that next week, he called me every afternoon about 45 minutes before arriving home, asking me how my day went, what the dinner plan was, and if he should stop and bring anything home from the store, including dinner if needed. As soon as he got home, he gave the kids a bath after he showered off the day’s grease and grime from his mechanic job, and got them in their pajamas and ready for bed. While I did the dishes after dinner, he straightened up the house and vacuumed without me having to ask. It was a single event that had huge repercussions on his perspective of what went on all day at home while he was working. My then-husband said later that he had no idea of how difficult it was to take care of two kids–and on a day with no doctor appointments or physical therapy for the son, he knew he’d had it easy. He really stepped up his parenting game for a while, until the mental problems finally sank him.

 

 

 

 

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