I don’t remember how many times my mom packed her bags to leave my father, but it would definitely take more than one hand to count them. And I’d run out of all my body parts if I were to count how many times she said she wanted to leave him. Of course, those were just counts of what is in my memory. From what my maternal grandmother had told me, she’d packed her bags even before my older sister was born.
One might think this was like the boy who cried wolf. If she’d threatened so many times, but hadn’t left, she must not have really wanted to leave. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m quite certain she’d meant it every single time. Perhaps one day I’d have the courage to talk about why that was the case, but for now, I want to focus on the circumstances of women in Korea when I was young.
So what kept my mom from leaving? Primarily, her children. My mom earned a good salary as a private elementary school teacher with many years of experience, but my father, as a pharmacist, earned more. At the time, not only was divorce frowned upon in the highly patriarchal society where women’s place was by men, but the court system was also skewed toward men for the same reason. Just because my mom had means to support her children, didn’t mean she’d win a battle against the patriarch of the family, especially with less money. And of course, after she was made to quit her job, she really had no chance at winning her case in the court.
But my mom had tried. She always took her children with her when she tried to leave, but she’d realize the futility of her effort and come back. Running was impossible since she’d inevitably caught wherever she’d run to within Korea. And running to another country, of course, was impossible since the system in Korea made it impossible for her to take children anywhere without the permission of the father.
Fifty years later, my mom is still with my father. I think starting about five years ago, she finally stopped saying she’s going to leave him. Is that because she’s finally happy with her marriage? Perhaps. Or is it maybe she’s just tired of fighting?