I’ll start by prefacing: I personally don’t find any of my life story to be particularly interesting. It’s always felt a little bland to me.
But, I often think about the ways in which my father has shaped my life. And I think sometimes the only interesting thing about my life story is my dad. Every Father’s Day, I honor him, and whenever anyone asks me: “Who’s your hero?” I always bring up my dad. So that’s the story I want to share.
My father was born in 1935, before the Korean War. When he was thirteen, he and his siblings overheard a conversation between his mom and dad about a new ruling coming from Russia and China. It was very vague. Some were saying that it could be beneficial for Koreans, but my grandma was very wary about it.
As the war started, things got serious. My dad, his siblings, his parents, and his grandparents all fled from the north of Korea to the south, all the way to Seoul on foot. They were homeless for several months, living in strangers’ homes, looking for food, looking for any jobs they could get. My dad would make some money doing things like carrying elderly people on his back to help them get to the train station from the house. Throughout that journey, he witnessed so many sad things: dead people on the road, dead or abandoned babies.
Listening to those stories, I couldn’t believe my dad went through all of that.
Eventually, my dad married my mom in an arranged marriage, joined the Korean military, then moved to the United States. In the Korean military, my father was a technical engineer. But when he came to the states, he couldn’t utilize those skills. He had to work two jobs to support the family, sleeping at a bus station going from one job to another.
My dad was a Buddhist. So, though he worked really hard to raise his kids, at the end of the day, he just wanted us to be happy and healthy. Every time I seemed stressed or sad, he would tell me: “As long as you're happy and healthy, everything else just naturally falls through.” Though he never told me explicitly to become a Buddhist, he tried to instill Buddhist values in me, like meditation and showing me his Mala beads. One of the primary uses of Mala beads is to aid in meditation. As one recites a mantra (a sacred word or phrase), each bead is counted. The repetitive counting aids in concentration and allows the practitioner to keep track of the number of repetitions. He told me that the practice helped him to let go of the mind, to soothe overthinking and stress.
I was just a kid, so it didn’t quite stick with me and I put it off for many years.
During the pandemic, when I was starting to experience a lot of depression and anxiety, my father started jumping into my thoughts, reminding me here and there about meditation. I decided to try it more seriously. I read books, listened to podcasts, and watched videos. It helped, but in practice, I frankly didn't have the patience. It just didn’t work for me. So I quit, and then I found myself in a really dark hole that I couldn’t pull myself out of.
Part of it was that I was still reeling from my father’s death, from leukemia at the age of 75. My whole life, my dad had been a very positive and calm figure. But on his deathbed, he finally confided in me. He told me, “You know, all my life, I actually did struggle. I worked so hard, all to end up with cancer.” It was the first time he had ever been so vulnerable and real with me, after all those years of him being so positive.
Up until that point, I was all about working hard and burning the midnight oil, even though I was burnt out. I was emulating my dad. I’d seen how he’d had those two jobs where he worked so hard, and he still seemed pretty content. I wanted to have a similar passion for life. All of that just dissolved when I realized that my father had been hiding his stress, his worrying, and his burnout, the whole time.
Then I got really angry. I thought, here’s this family who fought through famine to get to a country hoping that they could live a healthy, happy life here, in a land of opportunities. But decades into living here, working two jobs, he stillcouldn't afford medical bills—all that for what? I got really depressed.
Eventually, I started looking into the benefits of psilocybin and how it helps ease depression. I found these healers in Canada who facilitate sacred plant medicine (shrooms, basically) ceremonies and decided to try it out after deep researching into it further.
I expected to have this profound experience. I thought my life was going to change forever.
But after the ceremony, the next day in the hotel, as I was trying to make sense of it all, I started getting a panic attack, again. What is going on? I thought the experience was supposed to be healing me. Now, it was giving me anxiety. My heart was palpitating.
That’s when I reached for meditation again. It presented to me the root cause behind why I'd been having these panic attacks all my life: whenever I feel unsure or insecure about something, it's always been associated with my mother's challenging parenting. This is what plant medicine has shown me. Once I understood this, I haven’t once an anxiety attack. And eventually, my mother and I were able to come together as adults. She, too, had a harsh upbringing. And she had a different way of expressing her care for me than my dad.
My mom was the polar opposite from my dad, with very different values. She was extroverted, and valued wealth and reputation. My dad was introverted, and valued self-worth. I took more after my dad. He was always supportive of me and my career and my passion for art and design, while my mother really wanted me to become a doctor or lawyer or something like that — a typical tiger mom.
I inherited this kind of deep empathy and lovingness from my dad, but I ended up also inheriting the anxious tendency from my mom. And I finally saw that with clarity through meditation and psilocybin.
With my own two children now, I try to instill self-awareness. I want them to think for themselves. I try to not just tell them what to do, but to apply coaching skills from The Grand at home. I try to ask them guiding questions instead of lecturing them and I let them speak up to me, to let me know when they think I’m wrong.
I believe this is a stronger way to build their characters, and I’m seeing them speak up more and more — my older daughter defended her younger brother on the playground against some bullies just last week! At the end of the day, I am my father’s daughter: as long as my children are content and healthy, that’s all that matters to me.