Recent discussions surrounding Boy Scouts has caused me to think back about the organization that provided me so many enjoyable experiences during my youth. Most of my time in Scouting was centered around traditional activities like hiking, camping and to a lesser degree community service. By far our primary activity was camping. Even though I remember multiple examples of service, hikes of five, ten and even 20 miles at a time, our Scout Troop really focused on camping which we participated in, often. Our goal was to camp one weekend per month year round – in hot Florida summers where the often nearby lake offered relief from the daytime heat and we wore ourselves out in the water so that we easily slept thru the humid nights – to camping in the winter, while not especially bad in Florida, still cold enough on occasion to freeze our water supply. Those were the same cold nights when fellow Scouts with lightweight sleeping bags squeezed in with those of us with heavier gear trying to share body heat to keep warm. Just a bunch of innocents enjoying the outdoors.
We were as diverse and boisterous as any collection of 11 thru 17 year old males might be, but overall we were good kids and never behaved badly or maliciously. Thanks to our adult Scout leaders we operated in a structured environment with discipline and focus on what Scouting was about by spending most of the time learning the basics of living outdoors and the other skills Scouting teaches. As a result, in time, all of us became good at being Boy Scouts.
But in hindsight I don’t consider that I was a particularly successful Scout in that I lacked the self-motivation required to progress thru the different level of achievements that result in earning the badge of higher ranks until you reach Eagle Scout. I stalled after achieving the rank of past Second Class Scout and my effort to reach First Class really faltered when I failed to develop my skills in the area of swimming. If you aren’t a good swimmer you won’t go very far in Scouting. So by age 15 with my father’s consent I had dropped out.
The media image of the Boy Scouts most frequently presented today focuses on the sexual conduct of its leaders and sexual orientation of the boys – areas of life that were treated differently or not at all during my time in Scouts. But that’s not to say we never thought about it. Like most of my fellow Scout-mates at the time I suspect, I was sexually inexperienced and generally uninformed on the topic. The first time I admitted to anyone any attraction toward a female occurred during a weekly troop meeting when some of us were discussing who we had a “crush” on. When pressured I gave only a girl’s initials, who I assume never knew how I felt, thinking her identity would remain a secret. I should have known living in a small community with a very limited number of females another Scout would figure it out in short order and use the knowledge to tease me. Scouting introduced me to the prospect of dating at age 13 when rumors began to spread about a joint Boy/Girl Scout Christmas party in the works. I knew exactly which Girl Scout I wanted to invite as a date to the event (the girl with the initials I previously mentioned) and spent several agonizing days trying to work up the courage to ask her. The more I struggled the more hopeless it seemed and I finally gave up the idea about the time it was announced the party had been cancelled. I had never felt that much emotional turmoil over anything in my life to that point and it set the stage during high school for my eventual surrender to the idea that I wasn’t up to the task of dating. Although I don’t think I ever gave up wishing – I just turned away from trying to work up the nerve to ask a girl out.
Apart from the occasional bragging by one of the Scouts of his success in getting beyond just holding hands with a girl nothing even approaching actual sexual contact was remotely imagined at the time. In hindsight I’ve never really wondered if more intimate contact was taking place either inside or outside Scouting but I’m not naive enough to now believe it wasn’t.
But as anyone alive now who was there knows, it was a different time. To even consider that any of our Scout leaders possessed the capability of being a sexual predator is beyond my comprehension today.
After initially starting this post late in 2012 I saved it in draft form but months later I’ve pretty much given up on the idea the Boy Scouts will restructure themselves to treat all boys (and leaders) without prejudice and just get back to the basics of Scouting.
I’ m proud of once having been a Boy Scout but that feeling is eroded by the current choices of Scouting’s decision makers.