My Career in the Boy Scouts of America
As of this writing I've been an active adult scout leader for nine years. I've provided planning, coordination and leadership for three long-term summer camps, attended many camporees, pow-wows, campfires, cracker barrels and roundtables, organized and attended countless courts of honor, boards of review, troop, pack and den meetings and troop and pack committee meetings. I've forgotten how many campouts I've attended and organized, and have pleaded time and time again for fathers and mothers (usually fathers) to become more active in the program with their sons. I have instructed many boys in merit badge topics and have seen them advance and progress through the system to Eagle. I have a big stack of adult leader patches from Cub Pack Committee member to Scoutmaster, with serious holes in my shirts from sewing and resewing these onto sleeves. My own son won his first Pinewood Derby, did very well in subsequent races (with only nominal help from Yours Truly) and was awarded his Eagle rank in October, 2000. (He actually qualifies for the bronze palm, having more merit badges than needed for Eagle). He was even awarded a Heroism Award for attempting to save a life. Given all of this, you'd suspect I had some meaningful positive experience with the program as a boy, right?
The sum total of my scouting experience as a boy was with a couple of den meetings, a horrible experience with door-to-door salesmanship, an even worse experience with a pinewood derby and this rather odd photograph - all in all about a month or two in 1965 or 1966. I'm nine or ten in this shot.
I must first go on record as being in favor of the old-style Cub Scout caps I am shown modeling here. I agree with my wife and my mom: they were cute. (Whether "cute" is something any self-respecting eight, nine or ten year old is interested in being is another matter, of course.) But the current baseball-style caps scouts wear are just too generic. These had style!
I'm not sure how I got into Cub Scouts, but I remember my very first pack meeting, held in the school auditorium/library. It had an Indian theme and involved pouring blue water (representative of the sky) and yellow water (emblematic of the sun) into a cauldron suspended over a fake campfire. The cauldron was filled with dry ice, and the ensuing smoke made an impression on me I've never forgotten. (I have since reproduced the ceremony a couple of times for my own pack.) The Cubmaster pinned my Bobcat badge on me - upside down - and my "Good Turn" was in opening the car door for Mom. So far, so good. (My son repeated this with his mother, and at his Eagle ceremony I charged him with keeping the tradition alive should he have a son.)
Den meetings, however, were a drag. We'd congregate at a lady's house (back in those reprehensibly sexist times female Cub leaders were called Den Mothers) and listen to her more or less extol the virtues of her son and his friend, who would perform for us on their guitars. To this day I cannot bear to listen to "Never On a Sunday," which they also performed for a teacher I intensely disliked. (What's worse, in front of the entire class they dedicated the song to her.) When we went into the back yard to play, we weren't allowed to climb up into their nifty tree house, which was an attractive nuisance if ever there was one.
My one fund-raiser required me to go from door to door selling something or another, I forget what. Candy or magazine subscriptions, I suppose. After four hours or so with no sales (and no encouragement from anybody), I gave up.
The last straw was the pinewood derby. I was handed a balsa wood kit and told, "make it." Mom or Dad weren't available to help, with the result that after a seeming eternity of sanding, not only was my car ugly, it was too heavy. I was disqualified and left Cub Scouts in a mostly self-inflicted disgrace, thinking that I had done something wrong. I thus gained the reputation of being a cheater and a failure. When I was told that as a Lion (the rank was discontinued in 1967) my next step up would be WEBELOS, I couldn't have cared less.
In addition to free love, relaxed grooming and hygenic standards and a youth-oriented drug culture, the Sixties also gave us the notion that the traditional Scouting virtues of patriotism, self-reliance, community service and reverence for God were old-fashioned and unhip. (I struggle against these characterizations to this very day, in my work with scouts.) So when I dropped out of Cub Scouts it was no big deal to anyone, and I suspect my parents were secretly relieved - or didn't care, since by then both were too old and too busy working to really get involved with my interests.
Obviously, given all the volunteer work I've put into the system I've overcome my initial failure and disenchantment to the point where I'm sorry I wasn't given a little more help and encouragement to stay with the program. Camping would have been fun for me, and the rank advancement and merit badge programs would have given me some much-needed self-esteem as an adolescent and teen. Years ago, when I took a required psychological test for employment with the National Security Agency, I responded to the question "I wish my parents had..." with the first thing that sprung to mind: "...helped me with my Pinewood Derby car."
Parents, take note! I shall conclude this little piece with a apt quote by a wise man. Never was there anything truer: "Being a Daddy is priority number one. When you are old and facing oblivion in a nursing home or a hospital or on a golf course in winter, you are not going to wish you had spent more time at the office or making a sales call or watching a show. You will wish you had spent more time with your family." - Ben Stein