My old school is finally letting girls in. Honolulu’s Damien Memorial announced that after 50 years as an all-boy Catholic school, it is about to admit its first female students. I’m not close enough to the prep versus public school debate in Hawaii to offer an opinion if this is the right move or not; but with a current enrollment of 374 students in grades 6-12, I am not entirely surprised. Whatever the current circumstances that are causing this dramatic shift for the future, it has given me an opportunity to pause and reflect on the lasting impression Damien left on me.
Inspired by the life of Father (now Saint) Damien in the leper colony on Molokai, the school’s mission has always been to guide young men to become “‘responsible, respectful and community-minded gentlemen who are prepared to excel in higher education and are ready for the challenges of the future.” The story of Damien is a story of selfless service to others. The school’s Latin motto, Viriliter Age, translates to “Act Manfully”.
Quite honestly, my idea of “acting manfully” has gone through some changes over the years. Frightfully, it can be broken down by the decades of my life.
In the 60’s, my pre-teen perspective of “acting manfully” included playing sports, scouting, and dreaming of someday flying to the moon. I idolized quarterback Bart Starr and loved watching my dad come back from sea in his Navy uniform. Although I may have landed in detention once or twice, the repertoire of ‘dick’ and ‘fart’ jokes I learned at the school playground would prepare me to mark the passage of time by changes in bodily functions.
In the 70’s, ‘manly’ pursuits were largely measured in terms of achievements and accomplishments in schools, sports, and the back seat of a Toyota station wagon. I played quarterback for Damien when we won the first ever high school football game played in Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium (9-19-75 – I’m still waiting for the plaque!) Practicing drinking “like a man” would lead to other life lessons. My sense of community service was influenced as much by Father Damien’s life with the lepers as it was by George Carlin’s “7 Words you can’t say on TV” (Go ahead – say ‘em!).
The 80’s brought another cataclysmic shift in defining ‘manly’ acts. Graduation from Annapolis and our wedding in 1981 began the decade that would be marked by fighting communism, starting a family and watching MTV. Along with combat operations, car accidents, two children, three knee surgeries, a silver ZZ Top key chain I just “had to have”, and an unplanned suspension of my drinking career, it was a very confusing time for me to figure out how to act manfully. It is not entirely clear just how much my ‘stopping drinking’ in 1988 influenced the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but I’m bringing it up just in case there’s an outstanding reward out there.
The 90’s gave way to yet another reassessment of my ‘manly’ pursuits. As luck would have it, the children I sired, Chris and Caity, actually had minds of their own; independent minds (Where did that come from?). This is when everything about being a man became about being a dad; and vice versa. Career changes, spiritual seeking, near-financial ruin, and dancing with cancer all provided backdrops against which Chris and Caity could see me “becoming a man”, not just “doing manly things”. This is when I began to learn about the difference between a ‘human-being’ and a ‘human-doing’. This was also the time when the “Pat” answer, “That was the 70’s; it was different then!” was guaranteed to cause eyes to roll and heads to shake.
Finally the new millennium ushered in teenagers with attitudes, colleges with tuitions, mom’s prolonged illness and death, antidepressants, and more spiritual seeking. Although I’ve remained in remission from cancer since 1995, this new decade would be when I finally admitted my body had started falling apart; specifically a total knee replacement, ocular shingles and failing eyesight. I finally acknowledged the need for glasses when I couldn’t tell if the blue pill I had between my fingers was an Ambien or a Viagra; either way I knew it was probably gonna be a great night, I just didn’t know which! Drunks give drunkalogs and cancer patients give organ recitals; everybody marks time by one bodily function or another.
As for those that might take pause with Damien finally admitting women as students, please consider this: When I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1981, we were just the second graduating class with women. There are dozens of wildly successful life stories created by the pioneering women from the early co-ed days of the service academies. Some of my friends include Kay Hire, the first woman assigned to a combat air squadron. At age 50 Astronaut Kay launched into space for the second time where she was responsible for attaching an expansion module onto the International Space Station. There is also Laurie “Mik” Miklos who served for 23 years as a combat helicopter pilot. Mik is now an artist in Northern Kentucky raising two beautiful daughters. And then there is Noreen Leahy whom has been a dear friend from nearly the first day we reported for Plebe Summer. She and her husband Jim live on Long Island where, after serving 9 years as a Surface Warfare officer and raised their 3 children, Noreen is the Administrator for Special Education in her local school district.
These girls rock.
I suspect the future women of Damien, like my USNA classmates, will do just fine. Acting manfully isn’t always throwing touchdown passes and coming home a hero. For me it’s become the willingness to show up every day with my helmet on, looking to be of service as a parent or a friend. Viriliter Age – no matter the gender.
One other thing… could you pull my finger?