Monday, December 13, 2010

The Dreaded D-Word

Sponsor’s Name. Dependent’s Name.
I stared at the words on the form and wondered what I had gotten myself into. “Dependent” was like a foul curse word to me. My independence was a crucial part of me, a part that had been built by struggle and sacrifice, and good ol’ fashioned wear and tear. I am a feminist, a title I bear proudly. I am a woman who worked my way through college and law school and the bar exam and was proud to have done it all without the help of a man. And now, here I sat, being reduced to a blank on a form next to the dreaded D-word.

My husband interrupted the condescending man with graying hair and suggested that he talk to me about our finances and other household questions, since I handled most of those matters. He also reminded the man that I, in fact, had my own career. But, the man either didn’t hear him, or chose not to. Either way, he continued to refer to my husband by his rank and me as “Mrs”. I wondered what the insignia would look like.

I also wondered if keeping my own name would have changed this conversation. Maybe I could have at least corrected him and said that, actually, my name was not Mrs, but actually Ms. . . . Thank you very much. But, I doubted that my last name would matter. His insistence on calling me “mrs” had less to do with my last name than it did with his belief that I was merely a shadow of my husband. I’m sure that even if my last name was Rosie the Riveter, he would have continued to call me “mrs” or “little lady” or something equally dehumanizing. And, besides, I love my last name. Now.

My husband expected me to keep my last name when we got married. He also offered to take my last name. He knew that I would struggle with changing my name. But, I decided that my independence was not tied to my name. And I wanted his name—our name. And now, almost three years after saying I do, my name has become just as much a part of me as he has—this strong, brave, yet sweet and vulnerable man who I was proud to call my best friend and partner.

As the gray-haired man continued talking to my husband about our upcoming move, err, PCS, I thought about all the new titles I had taken on in the past three years. Before we got married, I was Pam. I was a woman, an attorney, a friend, and a mother to my beautiful little girl. Now, I am still all of those things, plus some. I am still a mother, but now to two more precious children. I am a wife. A title I never planned to take on again, after the failure of my first marriage years ago. But, a title that I now appreciate and cherish.

And, I am not only a wife, but an Army Wife. Before becoming one of them, I used to think of Army Wives with a mixture of awe and pity. I wondered how they could deal with the multiple deployments and difficulty maintaining their own career because of repeated moves. I wondered why anyone would ever do it . . . until I met him, and he made me understand why. And now, after enduring two tours to Iraq, one that has just ended, my sense of awe for Army Wives has grown, while the sense of pity has been replaced by admiration.

I have struggled with this title from time to time, worrying that it took away from who I was, who I made myself to be, before I was his. Did being an Army Wife make me any less a woman, a mother, a feminist? I worried that it made me less Pam. But, each time I began to worry that my independence was slipping away from me, I thought about the nights I stayed awake waiting for a phone call, and worrying that it may never come, or that it might be replaced by the dreaded knock on the door. I thought about the endless shovels of snow I wrestled last winter while he was away in the dessert. I thought about the nights I cried myself to sleep and then awoke determined to make the day a good one, for me and for our children. And I realized something . . . being an Army wife—or, as this gray-haired man described me, a dependent—didn’t make me weak or any less myself. In fact, it has made me stronger. And loving someone who you risk losing, someone who spends more time on your computer screen than in your arms, is perhaps the bravest and most independent thing I have ever done.

I glanced over at my husband and saw that he was growing increasingly more frustrated with this patriarchal old man. This, made me love him even more. And I decided that being called “Mrs” wasn’t so bad, as long as your Mister was this wonderful.

After all, independence is really about choice. The choice to have a career, the choice to stay home with your children. The choice to stay single, the choice to be married. The choice to be independent, the choice to be a wife, and the ability to do both.

I stroked my husband’s hand, to assure him that it was ok. I was no longer bothered by this man’s insistence or the form’s antiquated language. At least, not enough to protest. I was content to be by here, sitting by my husband, who was home and safe at last. And nothing, not even this conversation, would ruin this moment. Although, I didn’t resist the temptation to respond to our elderly questioner, as he once again referred to me as “Mrs,” this time placing a sickening the in front of the term. “Actually,” I said as I squeezed my best friend’s hand, “my name is Pam.”


  1. "I decided that being called 'Mrs' wasn’t so bad, as long as your Mister was this wonderful."

    Great, great sentence :)


  2. I always introduce by myself as the "sponsor" of my dependent soldier-husband.