My Father’s 80th Birthday Party.

My Dad Turns 80!

Hello all!

Just a brief note today, as I’m literally sitting on my parent’s sofa in their living room in a very, very cold Chicago.

Earlier this month, my father turned 80 years old, which, in any culture, is a pretty big deal! It is a particularly big deal in Korean culture and as a result, my family has been discussing and planning the festivities (plural!) for over a year. We kicked things off this past weekend by throwing a small, intimate dinner of 37 people for the family and some friends at a local restaurant.

My father is a bit of a quirky man–he often says things out of turn, laughs really loudly at the wrong time, and commits other social faux pas’ with about the same frequency as blinking. A few months into dating, he told Anthony–with a big smile–that he thought Anthony’s first album was “too boring.”

My father is also pretty obsessive. Once he gets a bee in his bonnet… He somehow got it into his head that this 80th birthday shindig was his chance to do something a little fancy, a little “upper class.” So, no thank you, to the local banquet hall where all our church events were hosted; no thank you to catering from the Korean grocery store with the big green sign off the freeway; and a big no thank you to hanging a disco ball from the ceiling for a Karaoke party (I think that last one was a difficult one for my dad…). Instead, he wanted to send out invitations that required an RSVP; he wanted American food like pasta and halibut and salad; he wanted people to give toasts and speeches, while Sinatra played in the background.

With this vision firmly entrenched, he set out from the lounge chair in the family room of his two-story house in Wilmette, Illinois to uncover the perfect venue for his fancy 80th birthday party–and found one about .2 miles away, tucked into the whitewashed eaves of the Doubletree Hotel, kitty corner to Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie: one Jameson’s Charhouse.

“Don’t worry, Joanne. They have vegan options,” he assured me.

I was put in touch with the events coordinator. We picked out a menu that my father was quite pleased with, a couple wines he could proudly parade to his non-wine-drinking guests (my father himself hasn’t had a drop of liquor for years, since he was diagnosed with prostate cancer), and even ordered traditional rice cakes from a local bakery to distribute as party favors.

About a week before the big event, he texted me asking whether it would be ok if he shared a few videos from my YouTube channel with his guests. I know my father is extremely proud of me, but I didn’t want his birthday party to turn into a “Korean Vegan” thing (especially at a steakhouse…). So, I told him I’d make a video to present to his guests, one that incorporated the things he requested (videos from my YouTube, my interview with CBS Saturday Morning, my James Beard Award speech), while also making it about him and not me.

My mother.

On Friday, the day before the party, I spent about 8 hours, straight, putting together the video in my brother’s old bedroom, crouched over a footstool (the only thing that could serve as a desk), with a thick Korean style blanket draped over my shoulders as I spoke into the microphone I brought with me from LA. I made my mom lug out photo album after photo album so I could crop more and more and more photos of them when they were young and child-free. I stopped at one of them–a photo of my mom when she was a teenager (above). I could have been her twin.

On the day of, my father spent much of the afternoon preparing thank you notes for each of his guests, while Omma and Anthony prepared seating cards, and my aunt arranged centerpieces for every table. It was starting to feel a little like a wedding, which was stressful, but fun.

The dinner itself went about as smoothly as it could. The venue was, to my dad’s credit, perfect–small, intimate, sophisticated, but not overly so. The food was great, my cousins went back for 4 platefuls of appetizers, my mother-in-law tried one of every single dessert, and the three vegans got a massive bowl of pasta primavera. I invited my wedding photographer, Kenny, to take photos of the family for us, which my father appreciated. After the final guest left and we picked up the leftover party favors, we trundled into our respective cars to drive back home. My mother reported to me later that as soon as he settled into the passenger seat, Daddy declared “That was a success!”

When we got back into my parents’ living room, Anthony clapped his hands like it was Christmas morning and said, “Ok! Time to open the presents!!” My father had received a not insubstantial amount of gifts. As he unwrapped boxes, unsealed envelopes, uncovered yet another carton of golf balls, he exclaimed,

“I never received so many gifts in my lifetime!!”

I instantly thought of all the birthday parties I’d had, starting when I was 5 years old–when all my fellow kindergarteners sang “happy birthday” to me, followed by sheet cake and ice cream. Or the party my mom arranged for me the year after at the local McDonald’s–the one with an outdoor park with a twisty slide and trampoline. Or the one in fifth grade, when I invited all my friends to my backyard, and the boy I had a massive crush on (Robby) gifted me with an ugly white t-shirt with pink bows (one that I forced myself to wear every week for a year). Just last year, my husband threw a party for me at our home in Los Angeles, where all my closest friends showered me with thoughtful gifts and, more generously, their time and attention.

And it broke my ever loving heart to hear my father repeat over a handful of small parcels:

“I never received so many gifts in my lifetime!”

This Week’s Recipe Inspo.


What I’m…

Watching. A friend of ours recommended that we start watching Dark, a German sci-fi series on Netflix. Consistent with its name, episodes are, indeed, quite dark and humorless (which is why Anthony is not watching with me). The show circles around the mysterious disappearance of children, casting a sinister urgency across the storyline. If you enjoy shows that will keep you guessing and thinking and asking lots of questions (many of which will remain unanswered), definitely give this show a try. REALLY good writing and some excellent acting has catapulted Dark into the “critically acclaimed” territory.

Reading. The folks at Hello Sunshine gifted me with a copy of First Lie Wins, which was selected to be part of Reese’s Bookclub. Honestly, I didn’t think I would like it at first, but sure enough, I found myself drawn in by some really good storytelling. This book keeps you on your toes all the way through the very last page, which I really enjoyed. I’ve read lots of suspense thrillers and this one takes a bit of a different journey to get to that “aha!” moment. A very quick and low-lift read. Highly recommended.

Excited About. I am TOTALLY thrilled to be participating in this year’s Vegan Women Summit, which will be held in Los Angeles! I’m going to be joined by so many incredible storytellers, entrepreneurs, and activists, and I really hope you are one of them! Get your tickets now before they’re sold out!

Parting Thoughts.

For this week’s parting thoughts, I’m sharing the video I made for my father. 🙂

Wishing you all the best,

Comments And Questions

March 25, 2024

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