Reunion Ruminations IV: The Men of Dartmouth

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In his memoir-cum-novel, The Periodic Table, Primo Levi wrote this of his twenty-fifth college reunion:

I wanted to go and I didn’t want to: but the motivations for both decisions, closely examined, were not very noble. I wanted to go because it flattered me to compare myself to and feel myself more available than the others, less tied to money and the common idols, less duped, less worn out. I did not want to go because I did not want to see wrinkles, white hair, didn’t want to count how many we were, nor count the absent, nor go in for calculations.”

This pretty much sums up the pre-reunion experience. You want to go but have mixed emotions. Worry that you’ve gained too much weight, haven’t landed the perfect job, perfect spouse, perfect life. And then you go and you realize that reunions are best attended with a “come as you are” mentality. You have fun and feel a great sense of relief that your life is not so far off course. Next…

But, there is so much more to a reunion than this sophistry. A reunion can be an opportunity to gain new insight into not only yourself but into those who peppered your life years before and who unknowingly influenced the person you are today. In my case, these individuals would be part of a collective whole: men, and more particularly, Dartmouth College men

Before I started at Dartmouth, I was warned that the male student body was of a particular type and yet representative of the whole: sexist, immature, obnoxious and so on. It didn’t help that a certain film classic called Animal House was based on a fraternity at Dartmouth. It also didn’t help that when the college trustees recommended the school shift from its centuries old all male tradition to a coeducational institution, the alumni made such a stink that all that remained was a sour hint of inherent insidious mysogeny  permeating the college and its surroundings. Still, it was an Ivy League and so when I was accepted, it was hard to say no. Plus, it had been co-ed for nearly a decade, it couldn’t be all that bad, could it?

Well, it could. I have no idea if Dartmouth was any different than any other university at the time, but I found it to be a place that didn’t inherently like women. I was a self-proclaimed feminist and a strong-willed woman who didn’t feel the need to “kowtow to the tender egos of the men around me.” I have been told that I scared most of my male classmates. An empowered woman was pretty unfamiliar territory in the early 1980s at Dartmouth College. I also have no doubt that I had the proverbial chip on my shoulder. As a result, I didn’t date much. The men scurried and those who didn’t were either gay or drunk. Except my husband. He saw beyond the bravado to the timid soul beneath. He helped me realize that truly strong women can also be tender, kind, and patient (still working on the patient part). He also taught me that the strongest men are men who like strong women.

Since college, I have been blessed to find many men who have been proven to be of the strongest type. Men who celebrate their own balance of feminine and masculine and celebrate that shifting balance in the women around them. As the mother of two sons, I am encouraged by the changes I have seen over the decades in the expectations of roles and responsibilities. And while, we have much work to do as a society to truly support  and encourage each member to live to their fullest self, my glass is half full and the anger I felt as an early feminist has mellowed into an optimism for the next generation.

However, all this hazy goodwill did not translate into feel-good for Dartmouth. As I prepared to return to my alma mater for my twenty-fifth reunion, I found myself anxious not about my weight or my sputtering career but about the lingering sense of disappointment I felt regarding my males classmates and by inference the men of my generation. I wanted to believe that change has happened for the better and worried that my optimism cloaked a rationalization regarding not only my own choices but the limitations my children will face.

You see, I have a daughter who will soon be of college age. My hope for her is that she will not suffer the indignities of being pawed by drunken classmates, or dismissed by imperious professors, or propositioned by those who have the power to alter her college career if she wouldn’t just “be more agreeable” and stop fighting the system. I wanted to find a college where she can be who she is not who they want her to be. I wanted Dartmouth to be that place.

The reunion? Sure there were the idiots who never left the Phi Delta basement the entire weekend. But those were the same idiots who never left it twenty-five years ago, and this time, they were the minority. It was the other men, the men who’d I’d been slightly wary of as an undergraduate, not sure of their intentions or mine, but who then intrigued who now were so compelling. There was David, the creative one, who’d spent much of the last two decades flying around the world as a lighting director for famous opera, ballet, and rock stars. He’d married a fascinating woman who’d brought him into port just north of San Francisco and now he, who had never wanted to settle down, was the father of two. There was Derek, who married another classmate Jan. Together they had created one of the few integrated marriages to come from our class. To watch them was to see hard work in action as they overcame the challenges of different races and religions to create a marriage to which we might all aspire. There was Jamie who regaled me with stories of his three daughters, obviously the pride and joy of his life. And there were so many others. To put it simply, my college classmates have grown in to men who like women, strong women, and are proud of it.

This gives me hope. As these men parent the next generation of men, perhaps the American Male will evolve so that when my daughter attends college, she doesn’t need to be an apologist for the tender male ego and can just come as she is on the very first day of school. Perhaps that school will be Dartmouth.

 

These bloggers found their own reasons to go to their college reunions. Christine Hallser says it is about making closure. Lima gives us ten reasons to go and Gretchen Rubin says it will make you happy. Now that is reaon enough. Yours is coming up soon. What will you do?

 

 

 

 

 

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