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 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 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.
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.