“don’t call me pa”

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

we can’t live in fear.

As a young girl, I never dreamed that I would travel as much as I have fortunately been able to. I didn’t think I would ever leave Texas (damn this and love this huge-ass state that takes 8 hours to get out of in either direction). I didn’t think I would ever have any close friendships and love the people who I am fortunate to be able to love now. My sweet friends who make me laugh, help me to cry it out, and share long, long, conversations for hours on end. How do we do that? My in-it-for-life partner. My soon-to-be in-laws. My deepened, improving relationships with my family members. For them, I am so grateful.


My father kept my immediate family isolated and only allowed us out of the house to keep up appearances (school, occasionally church on Sundays, or allowing Mormon missionary visitors…definitely another story) and to generate income as we could, as he himself did not (could not, truly) work. We socialized with a few other Lao families and always on my father’s terms. The consequences of speaking out against him or pushing back were severe. So we did not.

I was a lonely child, despite having siblings, for they were as lonely and oppressed as me. My mother’s oppression at my father’s hands is a different but interwoven story. We didn’t show each other affection; we didn’t say “I love you”; and we didn’t give hugs or receive them. How deep that hurts a child is too far to measure. We express our love now. I hug my mother several times before we leave each other these days. She laughs and always says, “Another? Okay!”

We were in it together, and we made it out.

I endured a decade and a half, broken up into The First Ten Years and The Last Five, of my father’s cruelty, while my older siblings lived most of their adult lives in his hold. My mother spent over 40 years with him. We are all still dealing with the repercussions in our own ways, and somewhat, together. (Huge thanks & shout-out to my counselor.)

My sister, Samout, in the darkest times and the most painful, difficult ones when faced with leaving our abuser, would say “We can’t live in fear.” And those words mean even more to me presently, compelling me to think about what living in fear did to our wellbeing back then, and how living in fear might, if we let it, affect us today.


These days, the responsible thing to do is socially distance ourselves from others and to keep calm, wash our hands, and try to live and function as normally as possible while working to protect our most vulnerable and each other. Having time to reflect, I know that right now, we are all in this together. Not just me and my family, but our community, our world, our existence as parts of a whole.

What is “this”?

The staying in our homes and/or having very limited movement outside. The trying to hold it all together when it feels like everything’s falling apart. The frustration that we are not fully in control. The loneliness. The yearning for human interaction. The desire to hug friends and loved ones. The wondering “When will this end?” The aching for things to be “normal” whatever that picture is for each of us.

I’m writing this for myself, but I hope it can help you somehow.

-Lasamee Kettavong

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Eve of Birth

Someone near to me gave me the idea that our birthdays are our personal holidays. I agree. How do we celebrate holidays? Food, drink, fun. Gifts, sometimes. Traditions. Since this marker of time is my annual renewal, I’ll treat it as I would approaching new year’s and make some resolutions. To write. To create. To share. At last.

My therapist would be proud. I’d make an A. Sometimes I joke about “getting graded” and how I “failed at therapy” today. More on that later. Probs not healthy, right?¬†

Someone else (or multiple people, surely), not near to me, came up with the idea of the 27 Club. Musicians and celebrities who passed at the age of 27 in the late 60’s and early 70’s are in this tragic club: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison… That’s where it started (Idk, fact-check me and Wikipedia), and oddly enough, in recent decades, other artists and actors and celebrities have passed at this age too: Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger. What’s the connection? Fame? Drugs? The coincidence of age? I don’t have the answer, but as I reach 27 (tomorrow) I’ve been thinking about what this means for me, since we’re all universally connected after all. Or maybe I should focus my energy on Saturn’s Return.

I think that something within me that has needed to die, that hasn’t served me (ever) will pass into the unknown and leave me. I will be happy about it. I will be glad. I will be lighter. I will be free. I’m declaring it now, so 2020, goddamnit, don’t disappoint me.

I’m exploring this with the The Wild Unkown Archetypes Deck and Guidebook, created by Kim Krans. I’m slowly leading myself through The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. I’m dragging my feet on Forgiving the Devil by Terry D. Hargrave. I’m committing to this journey with Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m finding relatability and feeling less alone with¬†Difficult Women by Roxane Gay. I’m consciously taking stock of what I consume and cook with Salt, Fat, Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat, Controlling Your Drinking by Drs. William R. Miller and Ricardo F. Munoz, and Hawker Fare by Chef James Syhabout. Gotta nurture that body and mind. Honestly, I’ve given up on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, so if you would like a copy, you can have it. If I were to designate these readings as a workshop or course, I might call it something like: Not Certain But Pretty Sure, For Adults. Wanna join me? Let’s have a book club. I have to thank my therapist for many of these recommendations. #mentalhealth #normalizecounseling

I’m holding myself accountable by writing this, and giving it to anyone reading.

In my 27 years, I’ve been

  • An infant and can’t remember much of anything but absorbed some developmental things that I’m sure affect me to this day
  • A toddler who saw some SHIT, man, that no child or anyone should ever have to see
  • A young girl who was weird and academically brilliant (that’s what I was told, my teachers’ words, not mine, I’m not that full of myself, thanks) but so awkward, sad, anxious, trapped, uncertain, hopeless, etc., etc.
    • MAN, I LOVE school. I miss being a student.
  • A teen/young adult – not sure how even to describe this, still kind of embarrassed about who I was, hah. Haha. Oof.
  • An adult finally coming to terms with the trauma of being the child of refugees and realizing that you can’t hide from your past and that ghosts can be living people and memories can be locked in by language and who occasionally allows a run-on sentence for the sake of whatever poetry is even though she teaches writing and composition

Today, I’m doing my best to sort this all out.