On Self and Family: ​A Dartmouth legacy’s complicated relationship with the Father who helped get him here

My dad was a member of the Class of 1965. My grandfather was a member of the Class of 1939. My uncle is a member of the Class of 1971. There is no doubt that I would not have gotten into Dartmouth if it weren’t for this family connection and I have occasionally felt an inferiority complex. It is not, however, the inevitable look of subtle condescension I get from people when they hear that I’m a “legacy” that most bothers me about the label. Since freshman fall, I’ve felt guilty about one thing in particular: I’ve never actually been close with this very connection that undoubtedly brought me to Hanover in the first place.

Like many legacies, I’ve been surrounded by Dartmouth paraphernalia since birth. Want to see a baby picture of me with food all over my face while I wear a Dartmouth sweatshirt? Blitz me! (Don’t actually blitz me). It was always a given that I would end up applying here early decision (a lot of legacies can probably relate to this sentiment, for better or for worse) — even if I wasn’t completely sold on the fraternity culture or the rumored conservative climate that CollegeConfidential.com and its esteemed peers always warned me about. Regardless, the following sequence of events happened in 2009: I applied early, got deferred, thought I had my chance to get out of going to a school where I wouldn’t be happy, got in regular decision, went to Dimensions, hated it, committed to coming here anyway. At the time, I vaguely felt like I was being boxed into going to a school I wasn’t super keen on just because my dad expected me to.

The funny thing is, my father and I have always had a really stunted relationship, which I finally started to acknowledge openly this year. It wasn’t an infectious love of Dartmouth that he impressed upon me which caused me to come here. Honestly, it was just the allure of an Ivy League school and the convenient connection that he provided.

My father was diagnosed with manic depression when I was really young, though my mom didn’t try explaining that to me until I was in middle school — and rightfully so. I’m not sure what I would tell my children had I been in her shoes. It’s not something that is particularly easy for my dad to talk about, either — like anyone with his condition, he’s completely at the mercy of the ebb and flow of his serotonin levels. When he’s down, he can barely be bothered to make small talk, and when he’s up, well, why would he want to waste his time talking about something so painful? In recent years, there hasn’t been much of a middle ground between these two states, and it’s become increasingly difficult to develop any sort of relationship.

I’m not enough of a selfish jackass to disregard my dad’s experience. It’s been much harder for him than anyone else in my family, and I am completely sympathetic to him and everyone who has to deal with mental illness. But I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been difficult for me. I sometimes feel like I’ve deprived of typical father-son experiences, and I really only have one parent that I feel comfortable talking with about issues — you know, like boys and shopping. I’m only sort of kidding.

I ended up really liking Dartmouth a lot, and I have no regrets about coming here in spite of initial apprehension. However, my Dartmouth experience could not be more divergent from that of my father. My dad was an active member of Psi U, on the rowing team, joined Dragon —he in many ways embodies the old boy stereotype of Dartmouth. I first became heavily involved in the music department: I joined the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra and the Dartmouth Wind Symphony, and I later became executive editor of The D. Being a member of a fraternity has always been a part of my experience, but not my defining experience. Naturally, all of my dad’s friends from college are all white men who are very similar to him. Mine are mostly girls. Our degrees will have the same university on them — and we both once lived in Lord Hall — but otherwise there are very few things that link my dad’s and my experiences at Dartmouth together. Someone like me certainly would not have found a way to feel at home at my father’s Dartmouth, and even though he and I now have this school in common, we are no closer now than we were in September 2009.

Alumni and other students occasionally ask me if I’ve always known that I wanted to go to Dartmouth because of my family’s history. If I were to answer honestly, I would say no. I never knew that I wanted to go to Dartmouth until after I got here. It wasn’t my family that sold me on the school — it was my own individual experience I’ve had since I got here. Even though I’m a legacy, my “Dartmouth family” does not really include my family who went to Dartmouth. I will always be indebted to my grandfather and my father for giving me the opportunity of a Dartmouth education, but the family ties don’t run much deeper than that.