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First They Killed My Father


I feel compelled to write this today because I was deeply troubled after reading the synopsis of an Indian novel with Father in its title. Is he Father only to a perfect son? It seems unjust to pit an unfortunate woman, driven into dire circumstances, labeled as promiscuous and afraid of bringing in dark forces, against a privileged male figure portrayed as saintly with a god-like Guru for guidance. This exemplifies everything amiss in society.

Instead, I sought to comprehend the complexity of human nature through the lens of someone who endured a far more harrowing ordeal than mine, drawn from a true story. In her memoir, "First They Killed My Father," American human rights activist Loung Ung recounts her poignant and violent childhood experiences during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. In simpler terms, it seemed that they targeted anyone educated and intelligent, even just because they spoke English as if they were cheating at life by not adhering to traditional growth practices in prosperity.

This is how it dawned on me: First, they killed my Father for marrying my Mother, who was from the upper class, the ever-giving. 


We adored our Father as children, but his behavior often left us angry, baffled, and frustrated. Back then, mental health and issues like depression among men weren't widely recognized. Though he regularly sought help through rehab for his alcohol addiction, his emotional struggles seemed only to intensify. His once sharp intellect, charm, and wit began to wane, replaced by a distorted version of himself that both he and others exploited. Consequently, he earned the scorn of those around him, branded as someone of questionable character. His mistreatment of our Mother and us, both mentally and physically, only deepened the pain we felt.

Over time, he inflicted pain not only on us but also on those who once trusted him as a friend and wished him well. Despite this, there were still glimpses of the man they had once adored and admired. My Mother, however, clung to the fondest memories of him until the very end, holding onto the hope that he would somehow return to his former self. Her unwavering kindness towards him may have inadvertently exacerbated his turmoil, as it likely intensified the guilt he felt deep inside. Yet, one by one, everyone else seemed to fade away. His family, who had grown up alongside him, gradually forgot the good times they shared. His in-laws, unable to comprehend his struggles, distanced themselves. Even his friends, oblivious to the depth of his inner turmoil, eventually drifted away. It's understandable, given the complexity of his mental state and the stark contrast between his past on the top persona and his spiraling reality until his end.

Throughout all this, I harbored anger towards him for various reasons, yet never for simply being my Father. My love for him always remained, albeit less openly expressed than my sibling and with a certain detachment mirrored oppositely to my Mother's attachment. Our frequent clashes kept me at a distance despite moments of longing for a deeper connection. Despite the trauma he caused, fragments of the loving Father he once was lingered in my memory. If asked, I still yearn for another chance to be his daughter, envisioning a different lifetime where he's at his best, dressed in his finest suit.

Despite kind actions, people often prove thoughtless in their speech and opinions regarding us. Some unleash the venom they feel from their past interactions with my Father onto us, tainted by their love for my Mother and unable to bear her suffering. Meanwhile, those who once adored my Father incessantly criticized us and kept us at a distance, accusing my Mother of her stubbornness for refusing to acknowledge the reality of their union, suggesting her marriage to someone from a lower class, although accepting, contributed to inequality, which eventually led to his decline in health and poverty. Neither side comprehends the extent of the abuse my brother and I endured as children and now—bearing the weight of both our Father's transgressions and the societal stigma imposed upon us—physically, emotionally, and mentally, through their words, actions, and attitudes. 

They fail to see or understand that our family's misfortunes and our acceptance of their shortcomings make them and their children appear fortunate and respectable despite their flaws and imperfections. I write this with a heavy heart as I witness their children's fall from grace, transforming into plastics.

The underlying issues seem more complex than I anticipated, with each side's relentless cycle of blame. Therefore, I prefer not to dwell on this matter and reopen old, unhealed wounds without the guidance of proper assistance or professional help.

Instead, I've focused on understanding my family's dynamics in our relationship with my Father. I ponder where we may falter in pursuing independence and realizing our dreams. How can we rectify our missteps and lift ourselves out of generational poverty? I began to question how we can ascend or advance to positions that resonate with our intelligence, talents, and skills rather than merely securing a job or experience only to find ourselves in roles where we were either overqualified or underqualified. 


Before delving into the complexities of society, I must come to terms with my situation, placement, or label within society as a marginalized individual, living under the charity and generosity of other's hard work. I was expected to be under forever receiving, also because I was female. 

It was a jolting realization that an invisible system might enslave me due to my lack of awareness about my constraints and limitations. Regardless of my efforts and achievements, I will constantly be undermined and perceived as a recipient, advancing solely due to the influence of others.


They first sever my connections with anything remotely influential, impeding my healthy progress and stealing credit for my social development. I learned this lesson during my first project, when credit was denied to my brother and me, with loud mouths attributing our success to influential connections. This sentiment persists today; instead of receiving congratulations upon completing my last project, people cast doubts on how I obtained it. 


Next, I found myself confronting my fears—whether rooted in the world around me, personal experiences, or purely imagined—because these fears, ingrained since childhood, had made me reliant on others for protection.​ So, they had to cut God-like figures and those who claim to be our saviors. But to achieve that, I first had to break free from the grip of my fears that had kept me tethered for so long and dispel the illusions of their children or someone else seeing our shackles, understanding them, and freeing us. They, too, repeat the same mistakes, display similar characteristics of misunderstandings, carry the same torch of feelings, love, and pain, and are the product of the same misguided beliefs.

This is why I have faced and continue to confront every fear of mine—to liberate myself from relying on others for protection and to avoid forming unhealthy bonds that may entrap me once more in a never-ending cycle of poverty.

Ultimately, it boils down to three fundamental fears within my family stemming from my Father's influence. Today, I comprehend that my Father may have harbored a growing deep-seated fear of my Mother, my brother, and myself succumbing to the perils of money, drugs, and love, much like he did because that's what was expected from him and is expected from us.

Despite his lost path in his final years, I recognize his underlying fear and the driving force behind his crude demeanor rather than embodying sophistication. Comprehending even a tiny aspect of him is a step towards my healing. I am still on the journey to understanding his most painful and crude actions that inflicted immense suffering upon our family. I trust that the time will come when I am prepared and I will uncover more answers.

My parents always shielded us fervently from wrongful labels like "slut," "drug addict," or "corrupt." We were fighting an unseen war of labels. They instilled the importance of perfection in our actions to the best of our abilities. And to a certain extent, we achieved that. However, like all children, we made a few insignificant mistakes. Yet, instead of offering love, guidance, and forgiveness, society grew increasingly judgmental, scrutinizing our opportunities, sexuality, tiny amounts of fortune, and other freedoms; we succumbed to the pressure surrounding us. In our relentless pursuit of validation, as perceived by my Mother, we began to experience a similar struggle to the one my Father may have faced and ultimately lost in his youth. We gradually normalized the toxic and abusive behavior of those who refused to see us as anything more than a reflection of our fallen Father, inadvertently attracting other abusive elements within society because we started to fail to see and believe the value in us.

Despite the painful and heartbreaking experiences today, I am learning how fear can enslave us to certain societal elements, whether good or bad. So, I have let fear propel me to share my experiences through writing. My brother, my Mother, and I involuntarily plunged into the classroom of life, confronting the ever-present fear of being unjustly labeled as sluts, corrupt, and drug addicts. Through this journey, I have come to realize that we are not sluts; instead, we possess sexual freedom. We are not corrupt but rather victims of exploitation due to our disadvantaged status. Finally, we are not drug addicts but individuals who can manage our mental health by openly seeking medical assistance, all while bravely facing the negative stigmatization of being labeled as "maniacs."

This is just one of many steps towards attaining ultimate personal freedom. But first, I had to confront the fear-inducing labels associated with sex, drugs, and money by experiencing cold, heat, and rain without any protection. I learned that in the process of not letting something control us, even by its name, we must realize that trials, tribulations, and mistakes are part of the shared human experience, and they are what ultimately allow us to learn and grow.

I hope that wherever my dad may be, he finds release and feels at peace, knowing that his life was ultimately meaningful. 





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