I recently wrote a new book geared to help parents have more meaningful conversations with their pediatrician and which will hopefully save them a copay or two as well! As I reflect back on the five year journey in writing this book, I wanted to highlight the contributions of my biggest influence – my dad.
In the summer of 1973, my father, thirty years at the time, boarded a plane with his best friend to fly overseas for the very first time in his life. Having recently finished medical school and his mandatory army training in South Korea, he was headed to the United States to begin his residency in Passaic, New Jersey. He would leave his recently espoused and pregnant wife behind to pave the way for a better life in the land of opportunity.
On a layover in Tokyo, a fancy new camera caught my dad’s eye. Japan at the time was light years ahead of Korea in terms of technology and my father reckoned that electronics were cheaper in Tokyo than they would be in New Jersey. He and his friend saw an easy opportunity to arbitrage a quick profit and spent what little money they had in hopes of selling the camera as soon as they immigrated into the States. As fate would have it, the camera was cheaper in America – is a good deal ever to be found at the airport other than possibly duty-free goods?
With even less money now but a fancy state-of-the-art camera to chronicle his adventures, my father began working long hours and preparing for the arrival of my mother who was ready to give birth to moi soon. The camera was an inauspicious start that would belie the incredible blessing that the United States would be to our family.
My parents both took huge risks (most have paid off better than the camera) and made many sacrifices to give my brother and I a better life. As a father of three now, although I am much more cognizant and thankful for what they must have encountered to establish life here in America – learning the trade of medicine in a foreign tongue, racism, no nearby family support, and the lack of any good Korean restaurants in Passaic (the travesty!) – I will likely never fully comprehend their early difficulties.
My father actually completed two separate residencies in America. When he first arrived in the United States, he trained as a family practice doctor and for a while after moving to Virginia, my family enjoyed a comfortable life. But as a foreign medical school graduate, my father was not allowed to sit for the board certification exam for family practice and so he decided to pursue a second residency in pediatrics (who did allow foreign graduates to sit for board certification). I will forever be grateful for his career change!
We returned to New Jersey, replete with a new little brother having been born in Virginia, and for three years the four of us lived on the meager salary of a pediatric resident. We lived in the bottom floor of a tiny two-bedroom duplex that had a scrumptious bakery at the foot of the hill we lived on. Although we were poor, my brother and I were always happy, catching fireflies in the summertime and throwing snowballs and eating warm pumpkin pies from the bakery during the cold winters. After finishing his training, my parents were eager to start their future elsewhere, so we headed south to Houston, Texas.
My father’s first practice was on Bingle road next to a diner that served the best chocolate ice cream shakes. I still remember the antiseptic smell that would overpower you as Donna the nurse would walk you to the back, tempting you to lose the recently consumed shake. There are many memories of me wailing as I received various vaccinations and penicillin shots – a tradition that my daughter has taken to new depths of sobbing.
My father opened his first solo pediatric practice in 1983 at Memorial City hospital on Frostwood road in Professional Building One. My mother served as the office manager and ran the business operations and the never-aging Masako, who still works for me today, was one of their first new hires. Many of my friends from church worked for my father at one time or another, a tradition that I still carry on today.
I finished my own residency training in 2002, and after a short mission trip to Vladivostok, Russia joined my father’s practice – a true mom and pop organization with their newly minted pediatrician son in tow! In late 2004 my father retired to go to the mission field in Yanbian, China, after which Dr. William Pielop and I started Blue Fish Pediatrics which just opened its third office in Katy and hired its thirteenth doctor this year.
Looking back at my career and life, it is easy to appreciate the outsize influence my dad has had on me. I love the Lord. I married a beautiful Korean woman. I am mildly OCD. And I love my work as a pediatrician. Lucky for me and because of the sweat equity that both my mom and dad put into his practice, I never had to flip a camera to get my start in medicine.
Dad, thank you for your hard work, sacrifice, and your love for the Lord. For everything you have done for me, I would like to dedicate my new pediatric book to you. Without you, I would never be where I am today.