The Defining Generation
Defining the Role of the Sexes
Defining the Role of the Sexes
Evolution of a Husband
IN the Summer of 1969 I
arrived at Fort Leonard Wood,
For the previous four years, even while finishing high school, I had worked in the macho world of highway construction. Though I was small of stature, I knew I was tough--after all, I hailed from the state of Montana of which it was jokingly said "The men are MEN and the women are too." My manly self-confidence aside, I did begin my military training with some fear and trepidation. The drill sergeants were mean, loud, vulgar, and certainly intimidating.
Twenty weeks later I was a Corporal, a non-commissioned officer like the men who had pushed me to the limits during the initial phase of my training. During the subsequent NCO course, though my Tac Sergeants proved to be as tough and demanding as my Basic Training Drill Sergeants, I no longer feared them. Among the NCOs-in-training in my class, our mantra was, "Tac Schultz may be a BAD ASS, but he puts his pants on one-leg-at-a-time every morning the same way we do." Throughout my training I learned that FEAR, while a natural emotion, can result in irrational behavior and that true courage is the ability to stop, think, and act appropriately in spite of your fear.
During the nearly one year I spent at Fort Leonard Wood before leaving for Vietnam there were only two things that I was afraid of. I certainly feared and tried to avoid snakes, many of them poisonous, which were common during field exercises. I also feared the potential encounter of a female officer in uniform to whom I would be required to render a salute. I can now admit with considerable embarrassment and well-deserved shame that, when walking about the post whenever I saw a female in uniform I would dart into a building or across the street to avoid that unpleasant obligation. I was a "mountain man" from Montana, well initiated into the macho world of the Army combat soldier, and I resented the intrusion into my world by the "weaker sex."
Five-years-and-a-war later I finally welcomed a woman into my world when I met Pam Clark at a church function. The relationship that developed was again, the collision of two worlds. I was 24 years old, had served two tours in Vietnam, was self-confident and comfortable in my masculinity, and approached the subject of men and women as a traditionalist; which is a polite way of saying I was a male chauvinist. Pam on the other hand was 17 years old, quiet and shy, sheltered and impressionable; a real Southern Belle. She looked up to and admired me. She believed that I knew and could do anything, and wanted to find fulfillment by trying to make me happy.
Our marriage the following year set the stage for what might truly have become a Ward and June Cleaver lifestyle, an American dream quite in line with the popular "Leave it to Beaver" television show that had helped mold both of our attitudes towards marriage. I was the one who worked for a living and Pam took care of the home. I handled the finances while Pam depended upon me for even her spending money. Pam offered advice occasionally but I made the decisions. Two years later when the first of our four children was born, "Papa did the hurting (discipline) and Momma did the healing." Pam only once brought up the idea of looking for a job for herself. After my vehement "a woman's place is in the home" speech, she never brought up the subject again.
Frankly, this was a lifestyle we both could have lived comfortably with for the rest of our lives. Ours was a family based upon the values and roles we had grown up to understand from our parents, despite the fact that in both of our early lives the marriages of our parents had ended in divorce. Our early home was built on traditional roles of men and women in American society. Our relationship, responsibilities, and roles were based upon gender, not individual ability and/or potential. These were reinforced by both the teachings of our church and Hollywood portrayal of the ideal American family.
Slowly I began to learn that my wife, despite "being a woman", was far more versatile than I had appraised her to be. In particular, I remember our first year hunting together, a "manly" sport that is almost prerequisite to calling yourself a Montanan. I had always admired my own step-mother for her ability to go hunting and fishing with her husband and five sons and three step-sons. Despite being a woman, during these forays she was "just one of the guys." In contrast to my step-mother, I doubted Pam's ability to be much of a hunter. As a teenager, she had once come home in tears after running over a small mouse that crossed the road in front of her car.
Seven months after we had settled into our new Montana home I bundled my feminine young wife up in long underwear, layers of jeans and shirts, orange vest and armed her with a bulky old World War II Army surplus M-1 rifle.* I had taught her a little about shooting, as well as the nuances of hunting including advising her if she saw a deer to aim for the shoulder; the lungs provided a large target and such a shot would kill within minutes. That day we tramped the woods in snow and sub-zero temperatures for hours and Pam managed to keep up with me without complaint. Returning to our car when darkness fell she looked at me and said, "I sure wish I could have shot something."
"I thought you didn't want to shoot Bambi," I chided her in a sarcastic and all-too-chauvinistic tone of voice.
"Well," she replied, "I knew how much you wanted me to go hunting with you, so I just prayed and asked God to help me enjoy it." Suddenly, I felt like an awful heel.
There was no venison on the table that first year, but the following year we saw a small buck on our first day out. Pam started to raise the rifle to her shoulder when I told her, "Let it go, that deer is a good 350 yards out." Even I would not risk a shot at that distance.
"I can hit it," Pam told me defiantly as she pulled the trigger. I was still shaking my head when her rifle cracked and the deer dropped like a rock. Walking up to it still stunned at Pam's success I remarked, "You hit it in the head!"
she replied. "That was where I was aiming. I wanted to kill it
quick. I didn't want it to suffer."
Two years after Pam and I
were married we purchased our first home, a comfortable three-bedroom
house ten miles out in the country with a fenced yard and ample room to
raise a family. We also welcomed the birth of our first child. My job as
a Correctional Officer at Montana State Prison offered us a modest but
stable income that allowed us to purchase a new car, modern appliances,
and to begin planning eighteen-years ahead for our daughter's college
education. When I came home from work each evening Pam greeted me at the
door (in a dress), dinner was on the table, and our infant daughter was
eagerly awaiting my attention. We were well on our way towards becoming
the traditional American family we had been subtly programmed to
emulate. Slowly however, I began to realize I was no Ward Cleaver.
Rather, I had become Archie Bunker.
Perhaps my redemption was ultimately found in Pam's and my desire to not only build our own American Dream, but to do something meaningful for others. We were both ventriloquists and, aware that there was little for children in our hometown of Deer Lodge (population 3,000) to do, we began putting on a monthly program for kids at a local church. In helping others we began to find our own personal fulfillment. Two years later we sold our house, purchased an old school bus which we remodeled into crude but comfortable living quarters, and "hit the road". For the next eight years we traveled from church to church as evangelists, entertaining families with puppets, ventriloquism, magic, clowning, and other talents through which we could communicate a spiritual message. Our daughter and soon thereafter a son became part of a family troupe billed as the SHARE Family.
That new calling demanded that I rely more and more on Pam not only as a wife, but as a partner. She excelled and, in her own right while still remaining a faithful and traditional wife, began expanding her personal dreams. As her self-confidence grew she began to realize that she was capable of far more than I had expected of her, more even than she realized. Eight years later when that phase of our lives passed and we settled down once again to a more traditional home life, during which we welcomed two more children into our growing family, we BOTH took jobs. As managers of multi-family housing units (apartments) in Denver, Colorado, and later in Pueblo, I not only found myself working WITH Pam, but FOR her. In several of these assignments she was the manager and I was the maintenance man who took orders from the woman in charge. It was quite a leap from the sexist attitudes I had held only a decade before, and from the limitations I had placed on the role of my young wife. It also proved to become a teamwork effort that worked for us, and we excelled as a TEAM.
Ultimately I was to find that the more I empowered my wife to pursue her own dreams and goals, and to develop to her own personal potential, she became my "greatest asset." (If that sounds condescending, I can honestly say that I hope Pam can say the same about me.) I recall, for instance, a 1998 long distance phone call I made to Medal of Honor recipient Admiral Eugene Fluckey. His wife Margaret answered the phone and relayed my name across the room to her husband. "Who?" I could hear Admiral Fluckey ask in the background.
"Doug Sterner," Margaret Fluckey responded again.
"Who's that?" I could hear the Admiral ask his wife.
"Oh, you know," Margaret finally responded, "Pam's husband."
Twenty-Five years after we married and settled down to start a traditional American family with a comfortable house with all the appliances and the white picket fence, both Pam and I became non-traditional college students. As she has throughout our marriage, Pam deferred to me and I graduated quickly with a 2-year degree in computers. Pam, whose personal confidence in the prospects for educational success was shaken by her average performance in high school three decades earlier, stuck it out to not only graduate with honors two years after me, but to achieve academic honors that had never before been accomplished at Pueblo Community College.
Three years later at the prompting of her Community College instructors who had seen in Pam a potential she had never seen in herself, she graduated magna cum laude from Colorado State University-Pueblo with a Baccalaureate Degree. At the time of graduation she had been inducted into two prestigious national honor societies and held the unique distinction of seeing one of her college papers transformed into needed legislation that was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President.
If those who knew Pam when we were first married could see her today, they might well be tempted to respond with the phrase "You've come a long ways, Baby." This was a catch-phrase widely echoed throughout the 60s revolution to illustrate the acceleration of women's rights in that period of history. Perhaps, however, it is a phrase that should be more appropriately applied to her husband.
* When proofreading this chapter, Pam further pointed out the extent of my own personal chauvinistic attitude early in our marriage when she remarked, "That (hunting trip) was the first time you ever let me wear pants."
The Defining Generation: Copyright © 2006 by Doug and Pam Sterner
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