A couple of years ago, my friend who works at a children’s hagwon told me an interesting story. She was in the middle of teaching a class when a middle school student came in late. Now, the fact that he was late was not strange, but the fact that he was squirming around in his chair and unable to sit still was. After several reprimands and attempts to make him focus, my friend finally got frustrated and said, ‘What IS your problem?!’ Her question was met by a chorus of giggles, but it wasn’t until another student pulled out a dictionary and showed her a word that she understood. ‘Circumcision.’ Not only had the parents decided to circumcise their tween-age son, but they had sent him back to hagwon directly after the fact. And because ‘education’ was so important to the parents, they had not even seen fit to stop by the house and allow their precious son to change out of his skinny jeans and into more comfortable attire.
Shocked by all the different components in this story, I asked Mr. Lee – my then boyfriend – why the parents had had their son circumcised at that age. I had been in Korea for 3 years and never heard about this. What this normal? Yes, he confirmed. And it is such a widespread practice that there were a lot of comedy skits about the experience. It was around the same age that he had been circumcised, and he was grateful for that because when he was in military service, the uncircumcised guys had to be circumcised at the beginning of their service and then return to their duties right away. I’m not sure if this was an actual rule at the time of his service, but when you combine Confucian culture + military culture, I think legality is a bit of a moot point. Social pressure and direct orders = the loss of foreskin it seems.
Well, this news shocked me to say the least because I had never heard of elective circumcisions at that age. For my part, I explained the practice of circumcision around the time of birth in Canada and unthinkingly said, ‘If you’re going to circumcise, I think it’s far better to do it when the child is an infant and cannot remember.’ Mr. Lee thought about it for a minute and said, ‘Yes, that is very reasonable. I think it is much better to circumcise an infant.’
Well, fast forward to the present, and suddenly this conversation is coming back to haunt me. Whereas I was a singleton believing that everyone should hypothetically do what was right for them at the time of that initial conversation, I am now about to be the mother of a son. And suddenly it really!!!!!! matters to me if someone goes at my kid with a knife when he is a newborn. You believe God commands you to circumcise your 8 day old? Go to it. You think it is essential for hygiene? Go to it. You think you need to protect your kid from AIDS? Sure…. But now suddenly it is my kid and my decision, and it is now very clear how I feel about my kid. Suddenly, nodding my head tactfully when others discuss their parenting choices has been replaced by a strong personal conviction that if my kid is to be cut, then he should be able to make that decision for himself.
Unfortunately, I seem to have made a rather compelling case to Mr. Lee all those years ago, and he is now completely convinced that circumcision at birth is the only reasonable decision. And unlike the ongoing debate of whether or not little Dragon should complete his Korean military service when he comes of age (a debate which always ends in both of us asserting in a rather uncertain way that there will be no need for military service in 20 years), this is an issue that needs to be resolved in the next 12-14 weeks.
This issue is nowhere near being resolved. It’s probably the only thing we really seriously disagree on when it comes to how to raise our kid (thus far). I’m hoping…because I don’t want this to turn into a massive fight…that this decision will have to be delayed because it is supposedly difficult to find a doctor here to perform infant circumcision because of the fact that tween/teen procedures are more usual. And, I’m hoping that our natural birth doctor will be opposed to what I now believe is a very unnatural procedure and that said doctor will find a way to rationalize against it in Korean in a more convincing case than I am able to make in English.
But oh silly me. Had I just kept my mouth shut all those years ago…had I just had a crystal ball that would have told me I was going to have a son…we would never have had this conversation until a time when Dragon was old enough to put up his own fight or give his own assent!