Last weekend, my son attended a campout with some of his fellow Cub Scouts. As a third-generation Scout, he seemed subconsciously compelled toward Scouting.
And while I deliberately avoided any sort of push in that direction, I won’t pretend I’m not proud that he’s following in my footsteps there. After all, Scouting was one of the few positive social influences in my youth.
I watched from the sideline as he sang along to catchy camp songs that awoke more deep-seated nostalgia than any BuzzFeed article, earworms that bubbled up lyrics that I couldn’t believe I still remembered.
I smiled with joy seeing him embrace his friends with laughter and warmth as they played with sticks, grass, and other things that lacked batteries.
I beamed contentedly as his wide eyes watched a clear night sky reveal stars, constellations, and a glowing strip of galaxy he never sees in the suburbs.
I smirked wryly at seeing lightning flash through that same sky hours later and hearing rain pelt our tent as autumn storms rolled past.
I sighed contentedly, watching him mouth the Scout Oath:
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
Scouting, I’ve found, hasn’t changed.
Boy Scouts Pivoting
Given the timing of last week’s announcement that Boy Scouts will now accept girls as members starting in 2018, my eyes were open to more than just memories replaying. My initial reaction being openness to the change, I was curious as to whether reliving these experiences might shift my perspective. How would I feel about my son losing this all-boy environment? How would I feel about girls in boy scouts?
With my eyes open, I found it was tricky to find such a thing. My son carved a pumpkin at a table with 4 girls. He stood in line for chow next to boys and girls alike. I was the only father who attended from those among his den (which is common for den meetings as well).
Even around the campfire that night, amid iconic moments when Arrow of Light boys are preparing for the big leagues and Tiger Cubs are bringing boyhood silliness, siblings had a voice. One girl stood and told a spooky story, her face aglow with a flashlight.
I couldn’t help but snap a few photos and send the following tongue-in-cheek message home to Clara:
It would be terrible if there were vaginal influence in Boy Scouts.
This was very different from my memories of Cub Scouts. Occasionally a den leader was a mom, but for the most part, girls weren’t allowed. I recall at summer camp as a Webelos developing quite the crush on staffer in large part because she was literally the only woman there. Oh, and she talked to me twice.
Scouting, I’ve found, has changed.
When my son joined Cub Scouts, I found I recall the Scout Law surprisingly well. These adjectives collectively describe what a scout is expected to be. As a Boy Scout, I was expected to portray these characteristics in all aspects of life.
A Scout is:
- and reverent.
As a kid, I had to be taught what some were (thrifty and reverent aren’t exactly common words), but the Law gave me something to aim for.
And then there’s the motto: be prepared. More than anything else, that has stuck with me. You know that moment when you realize you left your charger at home and you ask, “Hey, does anyone have a phone cable?” I’m the guy who says, “Sure, what kind of phone do you have?” Because I have them all, even if I don’t have that kind of phone (a Scout is helpful, after all). I always carry a knife in my pocket, and I use it at least 3-4 times per week. I once used it to cut away airbag material so I could help an officer get to an accident victim. Be prepared.
As I watched the campfires, as I hummed along to silly songs, as I watched, teary-eyed, Wolves graduating into Bears, I ask myself, “Would it be so bad for my daughter to be here?”
Is loyalty a masculine trait? Should only boys strive to be physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight? Does a child’s internal plumbing affect their ability to be prepared, or even the value of being prepared?
I picture my daughter, twenty years from now, pulling over after seeing an accident, whipping out her pocket knife, and helping someone get to safety. Is she more masculine, or at least less feminine, for such an act?
I hardly think so.
Instead of having my knee-jerk openness to BSA’s announcement waver, I found myself strongly in support of it.
Yes, it presents a branding challenge in America, since “boy” is literally on everything from highway signs to patches and badges. But that’s a small price to pay for my daughter to have the chance to become an Eagle Scout if she so desires.
A Girl’s Choice
Sure, there’s always Girl Scouts. Admittedly, I’ve had almost no firsthand interaction with it beyond cookies, but I’ve researched a little. They also share the “be prepared” motto, and their Law seems quite familiar (though I can’t help but chuckle at how simplistic the boys’ version seems by comparison):
I will do my best to be honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong,
and responsible for what I say and do,
respect myself and others,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.
My daughter still has a few years before she’ll be able to choose one over the other, or even if she wants to do either at all. Yet while I’m certain that Girl Scouts provides an excellent program with a wealth of opportunity to develop as a leader, I’m also grateful to live in a world where she can choose to share the experiences of her brother, her father, and her grandfather. A world with girls in boy scouts.
Yes, I think it’d be cool if my daughter were a third-generation Boy Scout.