During my years as a Boy Scout, at the close of every troop meeting, all of the Scouts and adult leaders would stand in a circle, arm raised with the three fingers of the Scout salute extended, and recite the Scout Law.
A Scout Is…
It has been 24 years since I attended a Scout meeting as part of Troop 461, but I still consider the Scout Law very good advice for how to live an honorable life. The Scout motto of ‘Be Prepared’ remains a guiding principle for me both personally and professionally. I love the outdoors, and I still remember my Totin’ Chip training every time I swing an ax. To put it plainly, the lessons I learned in Scouts have stayed with me
I often describe my family as a Scouting family. Neither my mother or father really cared if we played sports but they damn sure cared that we were in Scouts. Sports were a sideshow for us. Our calendar was built around Scouting. My sister was a Girl Scout for many years and my brother and I both came up through the ranks of the BSA. I am not exaggerating when I say that Scouting was life-changing for me. At a time in my life where I was desperate for male role models, because I only saw my father one day per week, I could attend weekly meetings, go on camping trips, work on service projects and get the mentoring I needed from the fathers of my fellow Scouts who volunteered their time as adult leaders. And even though I didn’t spend as much time with my father as I would have liked to, he was still an important part of my life. He attended some of our volunteer work sessions and one of my proudest weekends was when he joined me on a winter camping trip and I got to show him my wood skills in person.
After discovering dating around the age of 16, I came up a little short by finishing with the rank of Life, but my brother achieved the rank of Eagle. It was a bit hard for my pride to see him accomplishing what I didn’t, but I was also proud. The outdoor stuff was always my forte in Scouting and I remembered trying to mentor him on his first camping trips as a Scout and trying to set him on his own path as an outdoorsman. I also remembered gently hazing him and his friends, in the great Boy Scout tradition, by sending them to other troops to ask for bacon-stretchers at annual camporees. Seeing him 6 years later, a leader himself within the troop, and achieving the highest honor in the organization was a good lesson in hard work for me, taught by his example. In all the years I had with my dad, I only recall seeing him cry three times. Once was when my oldest daughter (his first grandchild) was born. The second when my stepmother died. And the third was when my brother made Eagle Scout. It was a big deal.
I’m also happy to report that the legacy of Scouting continues for my family. Just a few weeks ago my sister’s oldest boy, who is the closest I will ever have to a son, also made the rank of Eagle. We haven’t attended the ceremony yet, but I am positive that I will shed tears, just like my dad did all those years ago. It’s hard to put into words just how proud I am of that kid.
Today the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would be allowing girls to join their ranks. As a father of two daughters that are now too old to participate, I can’t help but feel a little bit jealous. Nothing I say here is meant to be a slight to the Girl Scouts, however I am delighted that the organization that meant so much to me growing up is now open to girls that are looking for a different experience. My youngest daughter spent several years in the Girl Scouts and it was a great social opportunity for her, but it never had the appeal of other experiences she would later have. Both my daughters spent over a decade of summers at a YMCA camp, plus several annual trips to ‘family camp’ in New Hampshire. They’ve both spent quite a bit of time in the outdoors over the years and have each come to love it in their own way. I think the Boy Scouts might have nourished that interest a bit more. So I look forward to hearing stories about the first girls to enter these programs and what it means to them.
I am also heartened to hear that the programs for boys and girls will be kept somewhat separate. It’s not that I don’t think both sexes can benefit sometimes from interaction, but I also appreciate the ‘focus’ I was able to have without girls there for my Scouting days. In much the same way, I am still immensely grateful for my Catholic high school experience which was in an all-male environment because sometimes those teenage hormones simply needed a break. In time, Scouting will learn when to host co-ed activities and when to keep them separate. Achieving a good balance should not be hard.
No doubt there will be many who will complain about this, including many who never participated in Scouting themselves. They will suggest that liberal feminists have once again subverted an American institution. To that I ask, how do they explain that to their daughters? As I was telling someone today, the older I get and the more I appreciate the opportunities I had, the more I want other people to have them. If opening the programs of the Boy Scouts to girls has the positive effect it had on me, I see no downside to the decision. Yes, as a conservative I believe we must protect our traditions, vigorously at times, but not at the expense of our children.
There was comment making the rounds in 2004 that said, “America is returning to the values that Scouting never left.” While that was politically motivated and implied things I don’t feel comfortable about today, the sentiment of the Boy Scouts representing certain traditional values does ring true for me. So today I am proud to be a Scout and happy that Scouting is sharing our values with more people.