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I helped my aging dad get a job in the kitchen of the hospital I work at. It's hard to see him in such a thankless job, but I'm so proud and love being his coworker.

Grace Ryu   

I helped my aging dad get a job in the kitchen of the hospital I work at. It's hard to see him in such a thankless job, but I'm so proud and love being his coworker.
  • Grace Ryu helped her 60-year-old dad get a job at her workplace when he retired as a business owner.
  • Ryu vouched for her dad and sat with him during his Zoom job interview to translate.

My dad owned a wide variety of businesses. We grew up in Maryland, where he ran a mini-mart in downtown Baltimore. Many Koreans owned liquor stores and mini-marts back in the 1990s, and when my dad talks about that business, he says those were the good days when he made a lot of money.

He worked every day from Sunday through Saturday and only took time off for one weekend in the summer when we went on a family trip to Ocean City. He even worked every holiday.

Because he worked a lot, I don't have too many childhood memories with him. But I do remember that every night after work, he'd go into his room, take out all the money he earned that day, and count it all before dinner time. I thought, "Wow, my dad is so rich."

My mom told me that he works hard so that he can take care of our whole family, which includes our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Of course, I didn't understand the kind of burden that was at the time — I was only 6 years old — but I just knew whatever my dad was doing was super important.

My dad owned many businesses

My dad moved us from Baltimore to California for better business opportunities in 2001, when I was 9 years old, but it was harder out here than it was in Maryland. He owned a dry cleaning business for a few years, but that was more of a struggle than owning a mini-mart, with more work and less revenue.

He eventually moved on to owning a small deli shop with the help of his brother. He did this, alongside my mom, for 16 years. My dad worked the grill and made the hot dishes while my mom took customer orders and packed the food.

In 2021, a little after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, their lease was coming to an end. They had two options: either renew it for another five years or sell the business and find something else to do.

My parents chose to sell because I was pregnant, and they wanted to be close to their future grandkids.

I vouched for my dad at my job

My dad told me that he still wanted to work after he sold the lease. He wasn't ready to retire — mostly for financial reasons.

He talked about working with my cousin in a dental lab or doing transportation for the elderly, but those jobs either required him to learn a whole new skill or get some type of license. He's been in the food industry for the last 16 years, and while my dad is sharp for a 60-year-old, I didn't think a big career pivot was the right move for him.

That's when I thought he could get a job working in the kitchen at the hospital where I worked. I talked to the manager of food services at my hospital and asked if they'd give my dad a job in the kitchen. I vouched for my dad and explained to the manager the different skill sets he picked up from owning all his businesses.

Whatever I said worked because my dad landed the job. He had a formal Zoom interview, which I attended to help with any translation. We were thrilled — the job came with benefits, so for the first time, my dad was receiving health insurance through an employer and signing up for a 401(k).

At first, helping my dad at work was challenging

As ecstatic as we were about him getting this job, going through the onboarding was a beast. He's lived in America for 36 years, yet his English was barely at an elementary reading level. This was mostly because my mom took on most of the administrative work when it came to the business. She was the one who talked to the customers, vendors, and inspectors while my dad hid in the back, cleaning and doing whatever else my mom needed him to do.

A big part of me was relieved I'd be close by to help him if he had any questions since I knew the hospital and how it worked. I knew helping my dad navigate through the hospital's system wouldn't be a problem, but being the middleman between him and others was difficult.

The language barrier was one thing, but the other challenge was his unfamiliarity with modern technology — he has never owned or used a computer in his life and struggles to even use his smartphone.

I had to fill out all of his onboarding paperwork since it was all online, and he couldn't be placed on some of the easier jobs, like taking orders for patients or administrative work. He was placed in the kitchen, where he plates patients' trays for mealtimes and does the dishes.

He wanted to quit after a few days

Working at the hospital was the first time my dad had a boss other than himself, and I think he might've felt looked down on because of it. Many traditional Korean men pride themselves on owning their own businesses and making a lot of money.

The first few days of work were the hardest for my dad, so hard that he wanted to quit. The language barrier, the cultural differences, and the technological illiteracy all became too much for him to handle.

I never pressured him to stay because I knew this job would be challenging for him. I told him I'd support him if he decided to quit, but my hope was that he would stay so that I could help him out with whatever problems came his way since we were in the same building.

It took him two months to feel comfortable at his job, and he absolutely loves it now. In fact, he loves work so much that he picks up extra shifts. He's learned more English so he can voice his concerns and ask questions to his supervisor, and he's always so excited to introduce me to his coworkers even though he's already introduced them to me before.

I love working with my dad

When I have a shift on the same day as my dad, I like to visit him in the kitchen. One day, on my way out, I looked back and saw my dad doing the dishes — and I wanted to cry. He was all wet, and seeing him do such a hard and thankless job broke my heart. The only reason I knew my dad was OK was because of how he looks as he works: he's always smiling with so much enthusiasm and joy.

In the 30 years I've seen him work, his demeanor and work ethic have never changed. Whether stocking groceries, ironing clothes in 100-degree weather, or making a big order of 100 breakfast burritos at 4 a.m., he never complains. He's taught me to do all things with joy, especially in my workplace.

I love the days I get to take breaks with my dad. We sit in the cafeteria and talk about how work is going, if there are things he needs me to do, or our family dinner plans. Ever since my dad started working with me, I've documented our time together. I always want to film myself watching him at work.

People in the hospital probably think I'm crazy for taking selfies with my dad and filming myself saying hi to him, but honestly, I don't care because I'm so insanely proud of him. He's my role model and the most hardworking and happiest person I know. I love working with my dad.

Grace Ryu is a registered nurse also studying to be a family nurse practitioner. She's a wife and new mom and loves spending time with her family in her free time.