Fathers are the very foundation of our lives. They play an important role in shaping our future and building our character. They put the roof on top of our heads, make sure we always have food on the table, and defend us from those who try to hurt us. However, the essence of fatherhood is not limited to just one’s biological parent. Those who stood up for us as father figures whenever we needed someone also count.
Navillera is one of those family dramas that hit too close to home and bridged the gap that separates the young and old generations. Played by the veteran actor Park In-hwan, Shim Deok-chul is a 70-year-old ballet student who ends up with an obnoxious and angsty teenager as his ballet teacher. This teenager is portrayed by breakout star Song Kang. 23-yea-old Lee Chae-rok is an incredibly talented ballet dancer, but he has so much anger in him that he starts losing his rhythm in dancing. Deok-chul becomes his father figure in his darkest time, pulling Chae-rok out of his misery through his undying support. To say that they have an adorable bond is an understatement, as the two made a strong impact on each other’s lives. Deok-chul becomes more than just Chae-rok’s father figure—he becomes a mentor and a friend. In the end, Chae-rok is able to achieve his dreams because of one person who never stopped believing in him.
Yoon Hyeon-jong from Racket Boys
In Racket Boys, Kim Sang-kyung plays Coach Yoon Hyeon-jong of the high school badminton team his son is a part of. Unlike other coaches who are strict and firm, Hyeon-jong is soft, timid, a pushover, and sometimes a total mess, making him an unreliable character in the eyes of the viewers. However, in one episode, Lee Yong-tae (Kim Kang-hoon) shares how Coach Yoon is the only adult he trusts in this world full of adults taking advantage of each other. And true enough, Coach Yoon is different from the other coaches. He does not condone hazing, opens his house to the team when they can’t find a dormitory to stay in, feeds them, supports them, and treats them like they are an extension of his family. He makes mistakes but also owns up to them, making him trustworthy. That’s probably why his junior team sees him as both a father figure and a role model, regardless of what others think of him.
Hong Dae-young from 18 Again
Hong Dae-young is my favorite appa in this list, played by both veteran actor Yoon Sang-hyun and rising star Lee Do-hyun. Waking in his younger body from 20 years ago, Dae-young goes to his children’s school posing as a student in order to befriend them and keep an eye on them. Even with a younger body, he still has the mindset of a middle-aged man, so he always ends up reprimanding the other teenagers, especially his children’s friends. He tries to give them the best fatherly advice he can, looks after them, and reminds them to appreciate their dads. The more he gets to know other teens, the more he understands his own children, and so he tries even harder to sympathize with them. Like Navillera, 18 Again aims to close the gap between the older and younger generations by making the characters understand each other’s struggles from different perspectives. Aside from being the best dad, Lee Do-hyun also won the Best Actor in the recent Baeksang Arts Awards for his role in the drama.
Jang Tae-seung from Royal Secret Agent
Jang Tae-sung from Royal Secret Agent is one of the best Joseon dads I know, and even though he was portrayed to be more bound to his duty than be a father figure. Played by veteran actor Ahn Nae-sang, Tae-sung is the Royal Chief Secretary to the Joseon King. He takes in orphaned child Hong Da-in (Kwon Na-ra) to protect her from the political turmoil that kills her family. He knows that her identity will cause trouble someday, so he hides her royal status from the world and teaches her to protect herself in case he can’t. She grows up to be a mischievous woman, causing troubles here and there, but Tae-sung always comes to her rescue. Even though they are not related, Tae-sung puts his life on the line to protect Da-in, who, one day, will rise up to become part of the royal household. More than just doing his royal duty, Tae-sung does not hesitate in caring for a child’s well-being even when she does not share his blood.
Professor Yang Jong-hoon from Law School
We often hear at school that teachers are like our second parents, and that remains true up to this day. Set inside the most prestigious law university in Korea, Law School centers on a murder case involving the faculty and a freshmen class comprising of the country’s most gifted students. As one of the mentors, Professor Yang Jong-hoon (Kim Myung-min) or “Yangcrates” shows tough love to his class. He doesn’t go easy on them, and his whole class is scared of and intimidated by him, but he looks after them and nurtures them to become the best lawyers. He often challenges them to test their limits, but also believes in each of their capabilities. And even though he always acts cold on the outside, he has a soft spot for each of them. Professor Yang represents the dads who have no idea how to show their love, but they still try their best to support their children and to bring them up to be the best versions of themselves.
Lord Ahn Hyeon from Kingdom
Whether they’re human dads or zombie dads, all dads know best how to protect their children. Set in the Joseon period, Kingdom tells the story of a dark time in Joseon when the land is plagued with flesh-eating monsters. Heo Joon-ho plays the childhood mentor of the Crown Prince Lee Chang. As Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) battles the monsters to protect his status and his people, Lord Ahn Hyeon appears in front of him as he is about to lose hope. He is reminded of how Lord Ahn became an important figure in his life who helped shape up his character. Since his own father is always busy with kingly duties, Lord Ahn stepped in to provide him the warmth he longed for, which is probably why Lord Ahn’s death is the most heartbreaking death of the season. But even in his dying moment, Lord Ahn is still able to devise a ploy to protect Prince Lee Chang for the very last time in his life.
Cha Dal-gun from Vagabond
Vagabond’s plot is probably one of the most heartbreaking and enraging in this list, especially Cha Dal-gun’s (Lee Seung-gi) backstory. After being abandoned in an orphanage, Dal-gun has to step up to become the father of a nephew he doesn’t know. He then has to give up his dreams of becoming a taekwondo master to look for decent jobs in order to support himself and his nephew, Cha Hoon. This is not only heroic, but as viewers, we also feel how genuinely Dal-gun cares for Cha Hoon. He could have said no to adopting Cha Hoon, but he takes up the responsibility even though he is not required to. Not all people can do that, which makes Dal-gun’s agony at losing his nephew even more heartbreaking. Dal-gun is proof that fatherhood is one of the most genuine forms of love.
Lee Ik-jun from Hospital Playlist
I initially planned for this to be a list of father figures and not biological fathers of the characters, but I couldn’t help but include Lee Ik-jun from Hospital Playlist, played by the charming Jo Jung-suk. Ik-jun not only broke stereotypes as a single father who is also a divorcee, he also challenged gender roles by taking on the role of a husband taking care of his child while his wife focused on her career far away from them. Usually, it is the reverse that happens. Ik-jun is fantastic with his son, Woo-joo, who at a young age understands the situation of his parents, thanks to Ik-jun’s constant explanations and assurances. Even with his busy career as a brilliant surgeon, Ik-jun makes time to spend with his son and makes sure Woo-joo never feels alone, even when his mommy and daddy are separated.