“don’t call me pa”

Photo from Thai refugee camp

Warning: this is both a sad and happy story.

There’s mention of domestic violence and related things.


It’s Father’s Day and yesterday was World Refugee Day. Today, I share with you a story about my father and my family who are Lao refugees.

I release this from me and to the world because it has been a weight to carry these last couple of decades. Those near to me know, and some do not.

If a bomb is hidden and buried and you stumble across it, you might lose a limb, or your life, or part of your soul to it. If it is uncovered, you can detonate it from afar. This is an allusion to Legacies of War and the honorable work that they are doing to clear Laos of unexploded ordinance (UXO) dropped on the country during the Secret War, 1964-1973.

This is part of my discovery.


In Lao, you call your dad “pa” (pronounced like “paw). The last time my father was in our family home, he told me not to call him dad. I was stunned, and knew that he was in a mood. Nothing was out of the ordinary, aside from my late return home from school because of a volunteer activity. I am done trying to rationalize his behavior but for years, I spent energy on trying to do just that.

“Don’t call me pa” was a warning, and my instincts told me that things were about to go south. Go south they did.

For my father, a mood could be:

  • Grumpy silence
  • Stomping through the house
  • Yelling about something or someone to anyone nearby
  • Cleaning and loading his shotgun
  • Aiming said shotgun at family members, like his 10 year old daughter, and asking “Do you want to die?” (What a peach, amiright?)
  • Waving a knife around and threatening to kill family members

That night, he was in that last mood in the list. My older sister, mother, and I managed to calm him down somehow. Or were we pleading for our lives, but in different words? It felt like hours.

Finally, he put himself to bed in the living room. (If you’re wondering, I am and have been in therapy for quite some time and have made slow and steady progress in unpacking all of this.) I stayed in touch with my best friend, messaging her that I might have to ask her to call the police to my house. My sister told me to discreetly pack a bag, pack a bag for mom, and be ready not to return to the house after school/work the next day. I still do not know how she could think so clearly. I doubt anyone in my household slept at all that night.

And that was it. The last time he was ever a part of my life in any kind of meaningful way.

We filed a police report, and he was picked up. I don’t know the exact details of how that happened, but it makes me sad to think about it. I have compassion for my father despite many, many episodes like the one described above in the years he was the oppressor of his own family.

He is a strong but broken man. He is a monster but also my father. He is a veteran of the Secret War. I am certain he has PTSD that has never been addressed. He is a Lao refugee in a land that is so far from home to him, literally and figuratively. This is what I think about on Father’s Day.

Nai Kettavong, my father
My father, Nai Kettavong, veteran of the Secret War, refugee living in the U.S. photo taken in Laos in the late 60’s or early 70’s for his military documents

It’s not all darkness, violence, and family secrets though.

I have two amazing, funny, smart, and loving older brothers. And they are incredible fathers to their children. I am in awe and admire that they are so caring and supportive of their kiddos despite not having known that growing up themselves. I am proud of them for breaking the cycle.

I am fortunate to soon have extended family that includes fathers who protect and provide for their loved ones, rather than the opposite.

I see love all around me, and I am ever thankful for it.

with love and light,

Lasamee

One thought on ““don’t call me pa””

  1. Wow Laci. That is hard to read. I never knew this part of your family history. I am glad you feel like you can talk about it. I can’t imagine what this is like. Just know I will pray for you and your family. Love you sweet girl!

    Like

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