By Lawrence Charters
Kenko Shimbun, May 1984, p. 5.
Say “military spouse” and most people will immediately think “wife.” The stereotype military spouse has long been assumed to be a woman, probably a high school graduate with no job experience, who devotes her life to following her husband around the world. She spends her time keeping house, raising a family, and maybe doing a little babysitting on the side.
This year the first National Military Spouse Day gives us an opportunity to examine this image, and possibly revise it. Often forgotten is the fact that many military members are, themselves, “military spouses” – in their role as husbands or wives as well as through their marriage to other military members. Also overlooked is the influence of increasing professionalism, technical competency, and education in the Navy and Marine Corps. Professionals tend to marry professionals, resulting in rising numbers of teachers, lawyers, researchers, and executives joining the ranks of military spouses.
Then there are the “DH’s” – Dependent Husbands – a relatively new kind of military spouse to which few of the old stereotypes apply . Generations of dependent wives have followed their husbands around the globe, adjusting to foreign cultures and attempting to establish stable households in spite of constant relocations. Dependent husbands face the same problems – and a few new ones as well.
On the trival side are the many standard forms with boxes for “Active Duty,” “Dependent Wife,” and “Child,” – forcing DH’s to draw in new boxes and label them “Dependent Husband.” Wive’s Clubs have long provided support for dependent wives, but similar organizations are all but non-existent for the dependent husband. Publications such as “Wifeline” do offer aid to military spouses – but obviously not all military spouses.
Probably the biggest problem facing DH’s, especially in overseas areas, is employment. Right or wrong, people assume husbands pursue independent careers. Yet at overseas duty stations job opportunities are severely limited, forcing many men to experience for the first time the meaning of the word “dependent” in the phrase “dependent husband.” Journeymen carpenters must take jobs as youth sports officials, electronics technicians find themselves working as warehouse workers, and research historians become reporters for base newspapers.
David Gibbs, a bank accounting executive, recently explained this problem in terms of self image. “A person with a self image as a professional has a real problem stepping down – accepting a less sophisticated role.” Overseas, there are constant reminders of how unimportant you are: you might try to buy something, you might want to go someplace, you might wish to do something, but you must first get permission from your military sponsor. “Men are not used to this; they find it hard to accept. It isn’t the image of themselves they are used to. It isn’t the image society prepares them for.”
When Gibbs’ wife was transferred to Yokosuka’s Naval Hospital, he saw it as an opportunity to travel and experience an entirely new culture – and did not realize it would come at the expense of lost employment opportunities. Banking is a dynamic field, constantly changing as laws and methods change and automation expands. While the Navy needs skilled financial experts, nearly all such positions are filled by military and career civil service personnel, locking out military spouses. The possibility of being unable to find appropriate work makes Gibbs uneasy. “Job skills go stale after spending three years in forced quasi-retirement.” Instead of working and providing an income, he must now give serious consideration to spending money on additional education merely to keep from losing touch with his profession.
While Gibbs bears no resemblance to the stereotypical, tradition al military spouse, he does exhibit one virtue long associated with military spouses: a willingness to experiment. Given an opportunity to appear in a Japanese movie, “Zero Warrior,” he accepted . Chuckling at the memory, he recalls his role as the lead U.S. Navy carrier pilot in World War II, briefing fellow pilots on Japan’s Zero fighter plane. A nice opportunity for a guy well over six-foot — who wears glasses.