Jiyong lifts your daughter, pulling her up to rest on his hip, her eyes scanning the shelf of candy in front of her.
‘Which ones do you want, princess?’ He asks her, swaying her backwards and forwards.
‘How many can I have?’ She casts her round, almond eyes at him, blinking her butterfly eyelashes.
‘As many as you want.’ He chuckles, his lips dusting her forehead.
‘No, Ji…,’ You warn him sternly, your hand coming to rest gently on his bicep. ‘She will make you buy the whole shelf.’ He shrugs ambivalently at you, a single eyebrow dancing upwards.
‘Yeobo, let me spoil her, huh? I haven’t spent time with her in two weeks…’ You shake your head, knowing that not matter what you said, your daughter would get what she wanted from her father. Her four year old self was the apple of his eye.
‘I want that one.’ Your daughter points to a coffee chocolate bar, and Jiyong reaches for it, slightly taken aback.
‘You picked this one? Do you know what it is, Jaeeun?’ His asks curiously as his hand wraps around it, bringing it closer to her face.
‘Yes. It’s coffee and chocolate together.’ She replies with confidence. Jiyong’s eyes furrow in confusion.
‘But Jaeeun, you don’t eat coffee, huh?’ The bar hovers in front of her.
‘I know. But I thought about Mummy. You didn’t say you would buy her one, and I wanted to get her that one because it is her favourite.’ She blinks at him as if her decision was the most obvious thing in the world. Your husband nods in knowing, a pleased smile spreading on his face, mimicking the pleasant feeling inside your heart.
‘Ahhh, my daughter.’ He sighs contently, pressing his lips against her cheek. ‘You have such a kind heart.’ She squiggles against his kiss.
‘Not you. You forgot Mum.’ If there was one thing your daughter had inherited from your husband, it was his confidence. She was never one to let her voice go unheard.
‘I didn’t forget.,’ Jiyong states calmly. ‘I was helping you pick first.’
‘But Mummy needs help too, and sometimes you don’t help her… like when she asks you to wash the dishes.’
‘Jaeeun, pick some candy, huh? We’re going to be late to see Uncle Youngbae.’ You press her into a decision, and she picks another candy bar, wrapped delicately in a pink wrapper. Jiyong reaches for it, clutching it in his hand.
‘That one is for Uncle Bae. He likes strawberries. And Dad, you can have… the same one as me.’ She pauses, contemplating the choices, before pointing to Jiyong’s favourite - a mint chocolate bar. He adds two of them quickly to his now stretched fist.
‘Good choice, Jaeeun!’ He nods in pleasure, before dropping her slowly down from his hip, handing her two of the candy bars to carry. She toddles straight to the counter, her balance perfect as her hands wave the candy bars excitedly. Jiyong had picked her outfit today - black skinny jeans tucked into her miniature doc marten boots and a blue and white striped t shirt peeking out from under a green army coat. The coat waggled after her, and you noted the content look on your husbands face, satisfied with his wardrobe decision. You both followed her to the counter, Jiyong taking it upon himself to lift her up so she was able to place the chocolate on top of it. He adds his two, smiling at the old woman behind the counter.
‘How many are there?’ He asks her, his English twinged thickly with an accent. Despite his lack of complete fluency, Jiyong made every effort to immerse your daughter in English. It was something you were both trying to do - talk to her in English, so she became bilingual quickly. Her Korean had inexplicably developed far more rapidly than you’d expected, and she was sometimes still mixing her words when she spoke in English. As your parents only spoke English, it was important to you that she became fluent in your native language as well. Her face furrowed in concentration as she counted.
‘One, two, three… sa!’ She giggled in glee, knowing the annoyance the Korean would bring to her father.
‘Yah, Jaeeun… Am I speaking Korean?’ He presses gently, tickling her in a non-aggressive fashion.
‘Dad, I want to give the lady the money…’ She switches back to Korean, holding her hand open, palm flat for Jiyong to place money in. He reached into his back pocket, balancing your daughter carefully on his hip.
‘Okay, Okay. Wait a minute, huh, princess.’
‘Oh, wow. Your Korean is very good!’ The woman behind the counter comments happily as she begins scanning the items, the smile on her face crinkling her eyes. You can see Jiyong’s body tense instinctively, his movement for his wallet pausing in a split second.
‘Of course it is.,’ Your daughter comments confidently. ‘I’m Korean.’ Her statement is one of fact. Jiyong continues to withdraw his wallet, his movement strained slightly.
‘No you aren’t.’ The woman replies, her tone equally as confident. Jiyong’s head, which had been tilted slightly towards your daughter, snaps forward to look at the woman. If there is one thing he was sensitive about, it was the perception other Koreans had about his daughters race.
‘I am… I’m Korean.,’ Your daughters brow furrows slightly, confusion flooding her face. ‘My daddy always says…’
‘Look at your Mum. Look at you… You can’t be Korean.’ Despite her pleasant tone, her voice was becoming more forceful. Your daughters eyes begin to fill with tears, her face turning as they pooled in her wide set eyes.
‘Dad, am I Korean?’ She questions, her voice unsteady.
‘Of course you are, Jaeeun. This woman doesn’t know what she is talking about.’ He cuts in sharply.
‘Ji, let’s just go, huh? Youngbae is going to be waiting for us…’ You knew what was coming. The tension leaching from Jiyong’s body was becoming palpable. Your hands reach for your daughter, and Jiyong passes her to you willingly. Her face burrows into your scarf as you pull her into a hug, her wet tears mixing into the wool.
‘My daughter’s Korean isn’t good - it’s great, because its her first language.,’ His voice has become louder and more blusterous with anger, and your daughter retreats further into you, her tiny arms climbing inside your coat. You cradle her, turning away from Jiyong and the woman. ‘You, though, have an extremely narrow minded view of the world. Of course my daughter is Korean. She has lived here her entire life and has only left the country twice.’
‘But…’ The woman, taken aback by Jiyong’s confrontation, opens her mouth in an attempted rebuttal.
‘No buts. She is Korean. Who the hell are you to say she isn’t and upset her?,’ He opens his wallet, removing a few bills of cash. You catch them out of the corner of your eye, a handful of hundred thousand weon notes. ‘Keep the change. Use it to buy some damn empathy, huh?’ He flicks the notes onto the counter roughly, his fist in an easy swoop, before turning to stalk out of the store. You follow him, your daughter still clinging to you, her face not showing. You coo gently in an attempt to encourage her out.
‘Jaeeun? Are you okay?’ You switch to Korean in an effort to console her, your voice nervously stumbling over the syllables you could usually pronounce without effort. Her head shakes a negative response. Jiyong continues his rapid pace, his long, thin legs carrying him quicker than you could keep step with. He stops abruptly, his body coming to a halt just in front of you. You pause, approaching him. ‘Ji, slow down, huh? I can’t keep up.’ He turns, his head shaking is disbelief, collecting a deep breath.
‘Sorry, I’m just…,’ He huffs, unable to articulate his words correctly. Your head nods down to your daughter, to draw his attention to her distress. His eyes close, his face crinkling to draw inner strength.
‘Jaeeun-ah.,’ He steps forward, his voice low in comfort. ‘Daddy’s not mad at you, huh? You know that right?’ Her small head peaks out from the grooves of your scarf, eyeing Jiyong suspiciously.
‘I don’t know.,’ She replies honestly. ‘I’m confused.’ Jiyong lets out a lengthy sigh, before offering his arms to your daughter. She twists, shifting her weight into him so he was able to swing her onto the ground, allowing her to come to a standing position. She turns to face him, and he bends on his knees to crouch down to her level. His hands clutch her shoulders gently.
‘I’m not angry with you at all. I’m angry at that woman. You did nothing wrong, okay?,’ His hands smooth down her arms, coming to clutch her tiny hands. ‘She was being very rude to you, and when someone is rude to you that makes me angry. No one should be allowed to make you feel bad by being rude to you. Ever. Do you understand that?’ Your daughter blinks her wet lashes at her father, a small nod coming from her head.
‘Why did she say that I’m not Korean? You always told me that I am Korean.’ Her brows furrow, confusion threaded over her face. You can’t bare to look at her, so your eyes flick to Jiyong. To his credit, his face remains staunchly calm.
‘Some people think that if your Mum or Dad is from a different country, you can’t be Korean.,’ He responds. ‘But those people are just stupid. When they say that you aren’t Korean, you have to tell them they’re stupid, okay? In your biggest, loudest voice.’ His fingers reach up to nip her cheek in a pinch, and she giggles excitedly.
‘I can call them stupid?’ Both her eyebrows arch in surprise.
‘You can. I’m going to let you say that to them, but only them okay? I don’t want to hear you calling anyone else stupid.’ She nods her head in understanding, her little secret agreement between her father and her bringing a widening grin to her face.
‘I won’t. I promise. But she was stupid!’ She shakes her hands, unable to calm her physical excitement at saying the world. A deep chuckle rumbles from Jiyong’s throat.
‘Who loves you?’ Jiyong asks, kissing his palm and balling his hand, holding his clenched fist out for Jaeeun. She leans forward, and he opens his palm, pressing it into her exposed, plump cheek. His fingers burst into movement, dancing down her neck to tickle her. It was their secret greeting. You’d had no idea where it had originated from, but they both adored it.
‘You do.’ She giggles happily, her shoulders shrugging up to avoid his fingers.
‘I do.,’ He pauses, looking at her, his hand cradling her face. ‘Come give me a hug, my Korean princess.’ She moves quickly into him, slotting easily between his crouched knees as her hands reached up to wrap around his neck. He pulls her close, lifting her feet slightly off the ground with the power of his hug. He holds her, longer than usual, the emotion he was feeling seeping through him. He settles her down again, his arms still holding her, but loosening slightly to allow her to step back.
‘Are you sad, Daddy?’ She questions as she studies his face.
‘A little bit.,’ He answers truthfully. ‘I don’t like it when people make you upset or when you cry.’ Her hands reach up to his face, squishing his cheeks to purse his lips. She leans forward, mushing her lips into his happily, planting a loving kiss on them.
‘I’m not sad anymore, Dad.,’ She says simply. ‘That lady was just stupid.’ She pushes his cheeks once more, before letting him go.
‘Ahh, my smart Jaeeun.’ He replies with a smile. She wiggles out of his arms, taking his hand.
‘Uncle Bae is waiting for us. Let’s hurry.’ She chugs him into motion, her legs thundering on the path as they break into a run. Jiyong stalls, his eyes flicking back to you to ensure you were following, hand reaching out to clasp yours excitedly, and you take it, running after them both.
A heavy sigh leaves his lips as he removes his t shirt, discarding it neatly into the wicker washing basket at the end of the bed. His head folds down, his hands running through his hair, haphazardly spraying the black strands in multiple directions. Despite his resolve in front of Jaeeun, it was obvious his mind was still lingering on the incident earlier in the day. You place your kindle on the beside table, peeking at him over the rim of your reading glasses. Jiyong had put Jaeeun to sleep hours ago. You’d watched him lay her onto the bed, the new stuffed unicorn from Youngbae taking up most of the space. He’d kissed her goodnight and told her she was beautiful, staying to let her hug his arm until she’d fallen asleep. He’d disappeared into the study shortly after and you hadn’t seen him since.
‘Do you want to talk about it?’ You press lightly, eyes scanning him. His frame sinks lower, head bobbing further still.
‘No.,’ His answer is short and simple. He stands, deep in contemplation, and you throw back the covers, swinging your feed over the edge of the high bed frame. You pad your way to him, your silk sleep dress swishing against you lightly. You approach Jiyong, your arms wrapping warmly around his sunken body, your head coming to lay on his wide shoulder blades across the top of his back. ‘Do you think I scared her? I mean, she has never really seen me angry before.’
‘You didn’t scare her at all, Ji. She was just a bit confused. You didn’t do anything wrong.’ You murmur the words into his back, a kiss pressing against the bare skin of his tattooed neck, your lips tracing the lines of ink. Another sigh leaves him, and he sinks into your embrace. Throughout your relationship, you’d learned very early that Jiyong was much more sensitive than he let on. It was one of the most endearing traits about him. However, you understood how hard it was for him to grapple with the copious amounts of empathy he felt for others. He’d often wear their struggles longer than they would. ‘You saw her with Youngbae… She was over the moon. I doubt she is even going to remember it tomorrow.’
‘I know she seemed okay… I just got so angry about it I couldn’t control myself. I can’t stop thinking about how easily that woman shot her down. I want her to have confidence and we’ve both worked so hard to surround her with positive influences. It’s upsetting that in one second someone can say something so casually and it can have such a big impact on her. How could she say that to our child?’ You cradle him, rocking gently back and forward, your head resting on him.
‘We can’t protect her forever.’ Your response seems simple, and he chuckles slightly at your words.
‘You mean I can’t lock her in a tower away from the rest of the world?,’ He shifts your arms gently, his palms pressing to open your hands. He turns, coming to face you, his arms connecting around your body. He meets your eyes, carefully considering your face. ‘It’s not that I want to do that. It’s just I know people are going to see her as less of a person because she’s only half Korean. I know what the lady meant when she was saying she wasn’t Korean. She was saying she wasn’t good enough to be Korean. It made me upset… It made me really, really angry that someone could say that to my daughter. If people say things like that to her, she is going to start doubting herself.’ Your hand reaches up to cup his face, drawing it close to you for a sweet, lingering kiss. The amount of love Jiyong had for your daughter was boundless, and it was something you found intensely attractive.
‘I know, Ji. I know it’s hard. I didn’t know what to say when it happened because I was angry too. It’s difficult, and her life will be difficult. I can’t deny that. But we’re teaching Jaeeun to be a strong, thoughtful, caring person. That’s all we can do. Maybe she won’t get angry about this kind of stuff, but simply feel sorry for people who were taught such a narrow minded view.,’ You kiss his lips again, the fluffy cushion pressing against you with more vigour. ‘I know she has an amazing father that is going to fight for her whenever she needs it. I know she is going to be just as sympathetic and have the same amount of empathy as he does. I can already see it in her, Ji. We don’t have to worry about her.’
‘You’re right.,’ He nods, his gaze shifting off you. ‘You’re totally right. I just hate seeing her upset.’ He shakes his head to snap out of his daze.
‘You wouldn’t be a good father if you didn’t, and it’s one of the reasons she loves you and trusts you as much as she does.,’ Your hand reaches to his face, cupping his cheek to stroke your thumb across it. ‘And one of the reasons I love you as much as I do, too.’ He leans forward, enveloping you in a long, drawn out kiss. His lips rub softly against yours, his tongue exploring your mouth. His hands slip low over your hips, coming to cradle the rounded cheeks of your bum. His kiss continues, building in passion.
‘Daddy… Mummy…’ Your daughters voice shatters the moment, calling from behind the closed door. Jiyong breaks apart, his shoulders sagging in disappointment.
‘Damn it… that was going somewhere.,’ He let’s out a low sigh, breaking from your hug. ‘Yes, princess?’ He calls.
‘Daddy?’ She calls again. Jiyong walks quickly to the door, peeling it open.
‘What is it, Jaeeun? You’re meant to be sleeping…’ His voice trails off when he sees her, her own face quivering as their eyes meet, her wet cheeks flooding with more tears.
‘I… I had… I had… a dream… and the… unicorn… died.’ Jiyong sweeps her up in his arms, her wet cheeks burying against his skin.
‘It’s alright, Jaeeun. It’s still there in your bed, huh?’ He coos to comfort her.
‘Daddy… I’m scared.’ She manages to splutter out. Jiyong bumps her gently up and down, shifting to the bed as he attempted to ease her worry.
‘That’s okay, princess. You can sleep here with us.’ You couldn’t fault his suggestion. Your daughter was rarely scared, and for the most part slept through the night. For her to be this upset was unusual. With his free hand, he threw back the covers, before gently laying her down between the crisp whiteness of the Egyptian cotton sheets. She let out a groan, holding her arms out to desperately to Jiyong as he let her go.
‘Daddy, no… You have to stay.’
‘I know, Princess. I’m just getting into bed.,’ He climbs next to her, snuggling himself up to her, and she accepts his hug gratefully. ‘Do you want Mummy to join us too?’ He suggested, his fingers sweeping over Jaeeun’s face to wipe the tears off her eyes. Your daughter nods eagerly, sitting up slightly to encourage you into the bed.
‘Come on, Mummy.’ Her voice is still croaky from her tears. You oblige her request, walking to the other side of the bed. You adjust the covers over both your daughter and husband, pulling them up to their necks, before peeling back the corner of your own side of the bed. It was spacious enough, and Jaeeun was small enough, that her presence made no difference to your comfort. However, you found Jiyong shifting closer to you and sandwiching your daughter between you. She rotates slightly, her sleepy head curling into your shoulder while her arm reaches back to touch her father. Her face is full of innocence and you again can’t help but think how a complete stranger could have been so forceful with her today.
‘Good night, Princess.’ You whisper to her. She leans forward, her lips pressing into yours in a goodnight kiss.
‘Goodnight, Mummy. I love you.’