Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Korean Father's Day Gift?

Dear Korean,

What do you get your Korean dad for Father’s Day? My Korean dad never lets me know what he needs or wants.


The Korean is convinced that Korean men -- particularly in late 50s or above -- are the hardest people in the world to buy gifts for. In fact, it is somewhat sad when you consider why. Older Korean men, generally speaking, have worked in poverty all their lives. They did not have the money to develop a finer taste on anything, nor did they have the time to cultivate a meaningful hobby. Korea's traditional gift-giving culture be damned -- the very idea of gift-giving can be antithetical to these men, particularly when the gift is being given to them.

Taking after the Korean Father, who epitomizes Korean men in their late 50s, the Korean Family is totally devoid of sentimentality when it comes to gift giving. Prior to every gift-giving occasion, we ask each other what they want. Then we go out and get it. There is no thoughtful process, true, but there is no possibility of error either. It usually works nicely except when it comes to the Korean Father, who would rather not have anything. So, for Father's Day, the routine is for the Korean (and the Korean Brother) to ask the Korean Mother about what the Korean Father needs. (Needs, not wants. He never wants anything.) It usually ends up being some type of clothing, except this year the Korean Father was actually interested in iPad. This was the first time in 20 years when the Korean recalls the Korean Father wanting something for himself.

But there is something that Korean fathers do want -- their children's love and respect. No matter what you end up buying, do not let the material thing to be the substitute for your expression of love and respect. Make sure the gift is accompanied by a heartfelt card that you wrote. Korean fathers may not show their reaction outwardly, but they will surely smile in the inside.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I'm not Korean, but that one thing you said about the asking what you want is something very big with my father.

    He really held that philosophy when I was a kid that you're better off just asking what someone wants directly. He wouldn't wrap them or anything were it not for my mom and sister being very insistant on that sort of thing. I sort of like to put some thought into it, but my dad would rather just not make any mistakes.

  2. Or cry on the inside. My Korean father is definitely the "I don't want/need anything" type, but I know the stuff that he always buys when he comes out to the US, so I just get him that: fancy watches, fountain pens, golf gear and alcohol (whiskey in particular). And neck ties. He never complains about these kinds of gifts and I often see him using them. Well--except the golf gear: he's very particular, so I end up switching to golf apparel and apparently IZOD is still good with older Korean men in Korea.

    I think Korean men tend to vary in what gifts they will use, but some observation into hobbies or items that they like in can sometimes shed light onto what kind of gifts to get them. That is, if you've got the opportunity to observe.

  3. Well you definitely made me think more about why my Dad is so hard to shop for. Though he's Indian, I think his situation is comparable; he was born and raised in a village. From his stories, a present/reward was a piece of homemade candy a few times a year. What he found more rewarding were his achievements, and he kind of transfers that to me.

    But my dad has no problems expressing his delight when I write and make cute cards. Starts getting misty eyed at the table haha

  4. My Korean mom keeps telling me that my Korean Father just wants me to get married and start a family. hmmm.... I wonder if an iPad will be a close 2nd for him?

  5. Old Korean men enjoy Chivas Regal, Crown, or other whiskeys as presents.

  6. Great blog. father's day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June month every year in many Countries including USA for honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society.

  7. Buy a bottle of expensive whiskey/bourbon. Done.

  8. Give Korean dad a gift certificate to a Sauna or for a massage. Old Korean people love those luxuries, but wouldn't spend that money on themselves.

  9. My husband and I have the same exact problem getting gifts for my husband's father! He's not Korean but Filipino. That guy does not want anything! It's not even worth asking because he'll tell you "Oh don't spend your money on me. Get something for the kids instead". Ugh he doesn't understand the point. So now what we do is get him food. He likes to eat and he won't refuse a meal. Now Christmas is tough you can't get away with giving food so we ask my husband's mother what he needs and get him that.

  10. Wow, i'm a second generation korean and this is totally accurate of what goes down during the holidays. Thanks for your insight =)


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