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From Vietnam and Beyond: Misunderstood Asshole

December 17, 2009

Stephany Boa

My father was in Vietnam, and he is a misunderstood asshole, I suppose.  Though I love him, it’s been rough being his daughter.  I never could understand why he was always pissed off and irritable.  Why he always had to ruin our holidays and go into his shell.  I can’t even recall my family sitting down for dinner and enjoying a meal together.
One day he confessed that he’d killed a man with his bare hands, and the rest of his life had been a shadow ever since that event.  My father wasn’t put in jail for this. In war, murder is survival. The ramifications of this idea can lead to disastrous results of unawareness in a person.  It makes you bottle up inside and keep the pain for yourself and tragically, for anyone around you.  It could lead you to become a misunderstood asshole.

As a little girl, I saw my father stab himself repeatedly in the leg, and I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong to make him hurt himself.  He killed my cat in front of me. He terrorized me and my brother and sister, and beat our dog. He fought with my mother and made her cry. When I was a toddler, I reproached him for this, going up to him, pointing my finger and telling him, “You are the fuckenest man alive!”

My childhood has war written all over it, and I’ve never seen a day of combat in my life.

My father’s grandfather, a soldier in WWI, was taken prisoner in Siberia and escaped by killing a few guards.  He then walked back to Croatia to his wife, who lived out in the Adriatic Sea, on an island. His son, my grandfather, was enlisted in the American Army during WWII.  His back went out the night before the D-Day invasion, and landed him, alive, on this side of the world, where he stayed for twelve years before he could save enough money to bring his wife and daughter over to our country.  The two women lived the rest of their long lives trying to forget what had happened to them during war.

Now my own brother, who is twenty-nine, has spent two years in Iraq.  When he is home, he doesn’t talk much and avoids being around people.  My grandmother has said, “The same thing happened to him that happened to your father.  The Same Thing!”

I know what war is, and what it has done to my family, my life, and my heart.  The depressed and violent ramifications of war on my father’s behavior destroyed the innocence of my childhood. I grew up knowing fear and seeing misery in everyone in my family, and as a child, I was powerless to stop the pain I witnessed in my mother, who later retaliated against an abusive husband by turning her rage onto all three of her children. For me, the abuse did not end until I was able to separate myself entirely from my family and build my own life elsewhere. I chose art as a vocation, because creating makes me happy and brings beauty into our world.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m lying to myself by creating fantasy and beauty with a message of love and peace. Am I running from reality? Or am I facing it and overcoming the struggle of war and all its ugly manifestations on our planet? Am I trying to compensate for a botched childhood and a miserable adolescence?  Or did all the pain that I experienced and the collective pain of my war-torn family somehow enlighten my way of seeing this world?

As I create my way through life, through the struggles of being both a woman and an artist, I look to other women and other artists who have created their journeys and survived and thrived, women whose experiences I could relate to and learn from:  Joni Mitchell with her musical and artistic expression and her nomadic adventures; Marie Louise Von Franz with her intellectual and creative genius for understanding the human psyche; Maria Callas with her incredible voice and will, and the versatility of her dramatic gifts and musical brilliance; Carly Simon, with her titanic ability to persevere despite heartbreak and sexual discrimination in the music industry; Kate Bush, with her playful, masterful, and fearless musical expression; Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee with their political alliance to women’s rights, and their bravery in fighting an oppressive legal system and effecting change in a world where women’s voices have traditionally been silenced; Code Pink, an organization of “women for peace” with their mission to call upon women around the world to rise up and oppose war;, with their mission to promote positive images and public awareness of women’s contributions from all branches and eras of service; Malalai Joya, who risks her life daily in the service of promoting a just voice for the people of Afghanistan; potentially, you.

I think it’s okay to dream up a beautiful future, despite the pain of reality, as long as there are precedents we can trust and believe in.

Stephany Boa is a 23-year-old graduate of NYU, where she attended the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.  Her passion is making music she calls Cosmic Rock.  Despite living with lupus and hypothyroid, she has lived and traveled by herself in fourteen countries, ridden her motorcycle through Siam, and played her electric guitar in Jonathan Demme’s, “Rachel Getting Married.”  Equally at home in West Hollywood or a Brooklyn art space, Stephany makes indie rock and opera performance art, loves being a teacher for kids and teens, and derives spiritual satisfaction through working with animals and horses.  She currently lives in Santa Barbara, California. Email: is coming soon.

  1. Becky Bivens permalink
    December 17, 2009 8:14 pm

    My father was a misunderstood asshole too!
    …Thanks for sharing and being brave enough to be personal.
    I wonder about art that, rather than providing a means of escape by being brave, works through issues in your life?

    • December 18, 2009 3:47 pm

      Thank you for sharing. It’s nice to know that there are other people in the same boat with me, kids who grew up with misunderstood assholes.

      Art, I would agree, does help the artist work through issues in their own life. It’s a personal journey.

      • farley griner permalink
        December 18, 2009 4:45 pm

        I’m with you, Stephany. Art has incredible healing powers. I loved your narrative! I hope many more people read it.


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