"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau



Saturday, March 3, 2018

Liberation

The year I turned 40 I gave myself a new name. When I was born and for some time after, days or maybe a week or more, I didn't have a name. On my original birth certificate my name was recorded as Female Christiansen. Eventually, my parents decided on my name. A month after my birth, my name, Keicha Christiansen, was officially bestowed on me by my father in a Mormon religious ceremony known as a baby blessing. I wasn't given a middle name since my father decided they weren't necessary for girls, as we would eventually marry and have a third name anyway, or some such similar logic. In our family, the naming of the children was a decision mostly made by my father. Sure, my mom had some say, but the decision was ultimately his. In fact, my mom tells the story of her surprise at my younger sister Julie's baby blessing when my dad gave her the name of Julie Ann. For some reason his previous logic in regard to naming his daughters was thrown out when he named her. My mom found out about her youngest daughter's middle name, in church, with the rest of the congregation. Even now I shake my head in disbelief and wonder at my strong-willed mom's submissiveness to my father's authority during the years they were married. 

In the years that followed, my name changed several times due to marriage. I became Keicha Nielsen, followed by Keicha Chapman, and then Keicha Ballif. I changed my name without question each time I was married. It was just something women do, which is a weird tradition when you think about it, at least to me. A name is such a fundamental part of a person's identity. Now, I find it odd that so many women so casually discard their family's last name to take on the last name of their husband's family. 

Changing my name at 40 to what I thought it should be, Keicha Marie Christiansen, was surprisingly liberating. I had always been referred to as Keicha Marie by many in my family, and had I been given a middle name that would have been it. So I assembled all of the necessary paperwork to change what my father had decided was sufficient for me 40 years before. When I called to ask him to sign the paperwork allowing for my name change, I was surprised at his attitude. He did it begrudgingly, and let it be known that in some way he considered what I was doing disrespectful to him and his authority. Looking back, I realize what a courageous thing that was for me to do. I've always feared my father's judgement and have spent much of my life trying to avoid making him angry at me. 

For the last year, I've avoided my father completely. The reasons are plentiful, and complicated. It's been more than a year since we've spoken. My sister and I often talk about our father and our complex feelings about him. We've both decided that for now, it's mentally and emotionally healthier and safer for us to not have any contact with him. It may always be that way. 

My childhood, though often happy, was also fraught with conflict and abuse. The stories of the physical abuse I witnessed my father inflict on my mom are ones I will leave for her to share. The emotional scars I carry from being a witness to it, along with suffering from his emotional abuse, are mine to talk about. I've long resisted talking about this mostly hidden part of my history out of fear, but also due to shame, guilt and not wanting to hurt others in my family by speaking my truth. Even now, as I write this, my heart is racing and my palms are sweaty. There is a part of me that will probably always feel like an insecure young girl seeking her father's approval, constantly striving to avoid being the object of his wrath or disappointment. 

Today I finished reading a recently released book by Tara Westover called Educated: A Memoir. Her story and history is very different than mine, although there were enough similarities in some aspects of our upbringing that reading it left me feeling somewhat emotionally unsettled, but also filled with gratitude and respect for her. She is also estranged from her father. When I read this paragraph she wrote, I felt a shock of recognition. "But what has come between me and my father is more than time or distance. It is a change in the self. I am not the child father raised, but he is the father who raised her."

I've spent much of the last year trying to make peace with my history and my relationship with my father. There is much I love about him. His good side is delightful. He can be funny, charming and extremely interesting to talk to. During his life he's pursued many different hobbies including marathon running, backpacking, macrame, and photography. He is intelligent and well-read. He was an obedient, caring son, especially in the final years of both of his parent's lives. He has been extremely generous to me, and has been there for me many times when I needed help. Yet, he's also deeply hurt people I love, both physically and emotionally. I find his outward devotion to LDS religious principles disgusting and hypocritical given all that I know about him. His lifelong emotional abuse and manipulation of his children is so twisted that sometimes I've thought that physical abuse would be easier to heal from. His love and acceptance always came with a very steep price. Last year I finally decided I was no longer willing to pay that price. 

I haven't written much here for a year or more for many reasons, a primary one being that my writing voice felt strangled and afraid to write about what I've been experiencing. I didn't want to hurt or offend others, or create ill will with my extended family. And, yes, I am also afraid of my father. I fear him reading this and his reaction. I was, and still am, deeply afraid of speaking my truth and sharing my journey. Today I've taken the first small steps away from my fear. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Goodbye 2017!

As I look back on 2017 the first thought that comes to my mind is how quickly the year flew by. I know for many, including myself, it was a painful year due to the political climate. Excluding politics though, it was a great year marked by several milestone events, including birthdays, graduations, job changes, saying goodbye to dearly loved family members and joyfully welcoming new ones. 

Here's a recap of the year's highlights in photos. 




We welcomed 2017 with style, celebrating with our friends the Knightons at the beautiful Victoria Club in Riverside, CA. It was a great start to the new year! From there we traveled on to our happy place, San Diego, for some much needed R&R. 
The view from our beachside condo in Imperial Beach, CA.

The new year was also marked by sadness as I said goodbye to my grandpa, Charles Christiansen, who died on December 28, 2016. On January 5, 2017 he was laid to rest with full military honors next to his sweetheart, Gloria. 
My uncle Clayton Christiansen, a Vietnam War vet, was presented with grandpa's flag. 



The cold days of February were broken up by fun nights out in O-town and our traditional Valentine cookie making extravaganza. 
Kelly and I at a pre-Valentine's Day party at Ogden's Union Grill. 

Gillian joined the ranks of political protesters and marched with me in downtown Ogden to protest the president's proposed immigrant ban. 
March was mostly uneventful, other than one of our favorite events each year, the Eccles Art Auction. It's always a fun opportunity to get glam and spend an evening enjoying hundreds of pieces of great local artwork and socializing with friends. 
April brought sunshine and glimpses of summer along with more social events. We spent Easter in Dallas, TX with Kelly's oldest daughter and her then boyfriend, Simon. Kelly was thrilled when during our visit Simon asked him for permission to marry Cammi. The entire family is looking forward to their wedding next fall. The highlight of the month (actually the highlight of the year) was welcoming the newest member of our family, Leon Roberts Christiansen. My brother Jon and sister-in-law Sam surprised the family in January with news of his impending arrival. He joined big brother Atticus and immediately captured the hearts of family and friends across the country.  
Tessa and Keicha at the Junior League of Ogden Gala
Brady, Keicha and Kelly at the JLO Gala


May brought a whirlwind of activity. I spent hours happily digging in the dirt preparing my yard for summer. My heart was full of happiness and pride when I watched Gillian graduate from Ogden High School with an Honors Diploma on May 24. Three days later we were in Colorado to watch my nephew, Mason Hopfenspirger, graduate from Erie High. It was a fun-filled weekend full of family, laughter, love, and a few tears. On Memorial Day, May 29, I joined 50,000 others and my sister Amy to run (okay, I mostly walked) the Bolder Boulder for the second time. It was the perfect way to mark the 7th anniversary of the loss of our sister Julie. Kelly ran it too, but since he's in much better shape than me he left us in the dust shortly after we started. Amy's boyfriend Jewett was a good sport, joining us for his first ever Bolder Boulder. We had so much fun together on the race course that day!
Kelly riding in the Sunrise Canyon Bike Ride down Ogden Canyon
May 20, 2017

Mother's Day selfie with my girl





Summer was in full swing by June. My Easy Does It rose bush, planted in memory of Julie rewarded me this year with an abundance of beautiful blooms, as did my peony plants. I spent many moments of gratitude this year enjoying the golden light in the evenings and relaxing on my back patio. 

Kelly marked a birthday milestone in June, which we celebrated in style with a big shrimp boil bash in his backyard. 


The rest of the summer was filled with outdoor concerts, Raptors baseball games and another trip to Colorado in July to finally meet baby Leon. He didn't disappoint! July also marked the end of my 30-year career at the credit union. I enjoyed three weeks of vacation time and made the most of it relaxing in Kelly's pool as often as possible. On July 31 I started working as the executive director of Family Counseling Service of Northern Utah, a non-profit mental health clinic. It's been challenging, busy, exhausting and exhilarating so far. 

Family fun at the penny arcade at Manitou Springs, CO
Kelly was excited to find his favorite game at the arcade.

Gillian and her newest cousin, Leon.


The Shins concert with 7,000 other people!

Santana concert at Red Butte. 

Blues, Brews and BBQ at Snow Basin

Hope loves the Snow Basin concerts too.

One of my favorite views in Ogden - Lindquist Stadium 
The arrival of fall meant Utah Utes tailgate parties and football games, Kelly's annual Sigma Brothers golf tournament fundraiser, the Martini Bash, and Gillian's 19th birthday on October 6. We hosted our third Halloween party, which is always a fun-filled night! We celebrated Thanksgiving this year with friends and were happy to have Kelly's youngest daughter join us. 


Kelly and Kenzie at the Sigma Brothers Golf Tournament.
Gillian's 19th Birthday.





It's been a busy, eventful year with lots of happy memories made. Christmas was spent in Ogden with our daughters and Kelly's soon to be son-in-law. We'll bid farewell to 2017 and ring in 2018 in sunny Mesquite, Nevada away from Utah's polluted air and cold weather. 



Kelly, December 31, 2017
As I look forward to 2018 I'm reminded of this saying from a friend's Christmas card this year. This is my wish for myself and everyone I love and cherish. I hope 2018 is a year of peace for all of us. 

Peace: Not the absence of noise, trouble or hard work, but to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.