Navy Fathers and Their Daughters

IMDB NAS Emerald Point.PNG

IMDb NAS Emerald Point Cast Photo

The other day I found the first episode of NAS Emerald Point on YouTube. Having lived on two Navy bases growing up, I was excited by this show (CBS 1983-84 season). I’d never seen the life of military dependents portrayed on TV. Often, one hears about the sacrifices military families make to support the careers of their fathers and husbands.  The show touched on this some to some extent, but also featured a Navy Daughter following in her Father’s footsteps by graduating from the US Naval Academy and being accepted into flight school. It made me think about the opportunities that were presented to me as a Navy Daughter. I didn’t go into the service, but my Father’s service gave me the chance to live, work and study in many places. It also exposed me to Supply Chain, which I spent the first 20 years of my career performing. The TV show featured another real life Navy Daughter, my class-mate actress Stephanie Dunnam. We first met when we were 13 and I felt a geeky pride to see her in this show. She didn’t follow in her Father’s footsteps, but one of her Father’s tours of duty gave her life changing experiences.

Stephanie Yearbook

My 1974 Yearbook

Stephanie moved to Japan to live with her father and step-mother from 1972-1974.  Our Fathers had been stationed together at NAS Atsugi and we rode the “A” bus to Zama American High School. I didn’t get to know her much until I started working at the Atsugi Community Theater where she had already spent a year as the only minor dependent being cast in adult roles. I was looking for things to pass the time and got involved with costumes, gripping and playing the piano a bit. But for Stephanie, this was the launching pad of a long acting career and associated traditions.


Photo by James Amato, Zach Theatre, Austin, TX

Years later, I reconnected with Stephanie at a Zama High School Reunion. I learned that she continued to move with the demands of being a working actress, in television, movies and on/off-Broadway. A couple of years after the reunion, I went to see her in Austin, Texas where she was staring in Metamorphoses.


Recently, I used Facebook to query friends and acquaintances about how they created traditions for themselves while living non-traditional lives. Stephanie was one of the people to respond. Like others I have interviewed so far, she wasn’t sure she had traditions, but mentioned how staying in touch with Zama alumni was so important due to the bond created amongst people with the shared experience of living overseas and going to a DOD school.  One of the ways in which she created traditions for herself was reconnecting with alumni in the Dallas – Fort Worth area, after she moved there from Los Angeles to help her Mother. She received invitations for holiday dinners, which she attended in order to reunite with old friends.

In raising her own daughter,  she described annual camping trips, sometimes paired with destination half-marathons and cancer benefit walks. She and her daughter have shared many theater going experiences over the years. In fact, her daughter has followed in her footsteps by entering the same industry as a writer. Because they are now separated my many miles, Stephanie would like to start an annual tradition of  seeing plays together during the Christmas holidays. Another tradition we discussed was the concept of care packages to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. The focus of this family tradition was to remember and celebrate, but that it didn’t necessarily have to arrive on time…as long as it was the right month!

Like a lot of daughters, Stephanie’s life has included breaks from her own life goals to help care for aging parents. She once again relocated, this time to the Atlanta area, to help her Father and Step-Mother. She continues to act in theater and television, and is studying for her BFA in Film at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. Sadly, Stephanie’s Father passed while we were working on this profile piece.

In memory of Commander William Dunnam, USN Retired.



Things That Should Be Discussed

911 blog


Family Secrets – Talk About Your “Stuff”

In an earlier blog, I wrote about how “perfect” my Mom was.  I never met my Mom’s parents and it wasn’t until I was 40 that I learned why my Mother strived for perfection.  She had high expectations for me as a daughter (including the white glove test.)  She was upset when I told her I wanted to be married at a local B&B. Nothing less than a fancy church wedding and reception would do.  She hand sewed my bride’s maids’ gowns and helped over see the selection of music, flowers and catering.  It was perfect.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t have done it without her.

It wasn’t until the failure of my marriage, that I bothered to asked her why she had cared so much about those fancy things when I did not.   We just didn’t talk about “stuff” in my family.  Then, she told me that while she was getting married in a court-house, her own Mother was living in a sanitarium.  She wanted to do for me what her own Mom could not do for her.  She added that she was born out-of-wedlock and raised by an extended family.  As a teenager, she had her name legally changed to match that of a step-father. She worked very hard in order to escape judgement.  She did not want me to be judged either.  Insecurities aside, my Mom turned out to be a high functioning bad ass of a Mom.  Though her perfectionism annoyed me at times, she made up for it with a great sense of compassion for people in similar circumstances plus a wonderful, sometimes devious, sense of humor.  As she continued to age, she opened up more and more about things.  I just wish she had the chance to have those conversations with her own Mother.

Talk about “stuff” while you can, it’s good for your mental health.

The Assistance We Need – Ask for Help

Mom's makes me laugh

Mom Making Me Smile

Mom had been in hospice for a year and half.  Even before this, I was reluctant to travel for business or pleasure.  After completing several months of FMLA I broke down in a conversation with my brother.  He asked if I needed help.  I did and his response was, “I’m coming.”  He and my sister-in-law relocated from California to help care for my Mom.

One day,  before my brother was here, I took my Mom to the grocery store.  At the time, I was single-handedly putting her in the car and stowing her wheel chair in the trunk.  A kind woman stopped to help in the Kroger parking lot when she saw me struggling with Mom half in/half out of the car. The struggle continued as the two of us together could not move my Mom.  We stopped to catch our breath,  introduced ourselves, and she said she was a nurse.  She was experienced with transitioning, so wasn’t sure why this was so difficult (Mom wasn’t helping at all.) She asked “Can I sit here with your Mom while you go in to do the shopping?”  I laughed, hugged her and said “we’re done shopping, I’m trying to get her back in the car!”  Once our goals were aligned, we quickly got Mom into the front seat.  We thanked her and as we drove off Mom said “I was wondering how long it would take you two to figure that out.”  I told you she could be devious.

Talk about what you need in order to avoid working at cross purposes or working yourself to exhaustion.

What You’re Afraid Of – Getting Over Yourself

During Mom’s illness,  I spent 3 years thinking I wasn’t doing enough for her and affraid she would pass away in my absence.  I finally talked this over with a friend who said, “Tracey, your Mom appreciates you and hasn’t asked you to never take  trips, right?  If you go and something happens, you’ll come home.  That’s it.” beach before Mom diedI finally decided to go to the beach, but sat on a blanket with my cell phone and never got in the water.  My friends went out on this super raft while I fretted.  The second day at the beach I got “the call” from our hospice nurse….I needed to go home.  Ironically, this was the day I’d been dreading, but I knew just what to do.  I went home and sat with my Mom as she passed.   Perhaps she was just waiting for me to leave.

The death of a loved one is about them, not you.  You don’t have to be there all the time, but be present when you are.

My Mom died September 11th of last year.  I’m publishing this early because I’m going back to that beach and getting on the raft this time.