I was never very good at the Pinewood Derby. My balsa wood cars looked sleek and stylish, but never, ever raced well, not even when I’d gotten help from dad, the other den dads, and Pa June with all his wood-working skills.
I know you found my Cub Scout den maddening, and how could you not? When there is just one of Jordan’s buddies over, I think about those den meetings with wonder and amazement. That you would attempt to get all eight of us to work on tying knots, complete art projects, or go on field trips is worthy of my undying admiration and sympathy.
For me, though, the whole experience was heaven. Despite my derby disasters, the rest was everything I could want as an eight year-old. I loved learning the sign, salute, and handshake. An inherent rule follower and over-achiever, I was devoted to working through the various requirements that earned me the rank of Bobcat, then Wolf, then Bear. The crowning glory was when I completed the twenty activity badges that made me a Webelo.
At every den and pack meeting, we recited the motto, the Law of the Pack, and the Cub Scout Promise:
I drank in the simplicity and order of The Promise: its encouragements and clichés, its dogged self-reliance and unrelenting duty, its exhortations and utter simplicity. Much like the Our Father and Hail Mary I learned from you and dad, The Promise became both guidepost and comfort. It is something I can still recall word for word, even now, nearly forty years later.
You are right–scouting was good for me. It was nothing that Mark was interested in, and it didn’t involve team sports. More than that, I had a group of other boys to be friends with, challenges I could meet and conquer, and valuable skills to master, some of which have lasted a lifetime (I can still get a great campfire going in minutes, and cook a delicious beef and vegetable stew in an aluminum foil pouch in its glowing coals).
I mentioned that it was heaven, right?
I’m not sure what happened after Webelos. Do you remember? When I changed schools in 6th grade, did life just become busier? Was there no time to take on the demands of being a full-on Boy Scout and work towards the coveted Eagle Scout? I know by high school I had left scouting behind for a brief tenure on the high school swim team, and after that I found musical theatre.
When I was growing up there was, or course, no civic dialogue around whether or not gay scouts and scout leaders should be allowed in the BSA. But I can’t help thinking that as I grew to understand my sexual orientation, I must have known on some level that scouting would not be the most welcome place for someone like me. That’s too bad, because for so long it had been such a solace.
I agree that Jordan would do well in scouts. If Patrick and I could get past the “God and country” stuff (which we have heard from other dads is somewhat incidental in many of the Seattle packs), scouts could provide some of the rigor, order, and opportunity for success (in something other than video games) that we would love for him. But as you mentioned, it would be hard to encourage him to join an organization that is fearful anddisparaging of men like his dads.
Our good friends watched as their son gave up his scouting membership two years ago when the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their ban on openly gay individuals. He refused to re-join last year when they altered the policy, welcoming gay scouts but not leaders. For him, the contradiction and hypocrisy is appalling, and this young man’s refusal to continue as a member embodies the bravery the Scouts claim to cherish.
I do hope Robert Gates is able to bring the Boy Scouts into the 21st century, ending the discriminatory policy and welcoming all young boys and young men who want to join its ranks. The Boy Scout law says “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” I’m sure Gates knows that you can be all these things and be gay, too. Can he convince the rest of the organization of that as well?
Unlike the CIA or the military where he could just hand down an order, he’s contending with an organization of volunteers who could just leave. Perhaps if Gates does manage to abolish this policy and there is a mass exodus of those who are upset, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I would much rather see the BSA of the future filled with young men like our young friend, our son, and others who are welcoming of all.