Friday, March 28, 2014


My son Eli is a Cub Scout. He doesn't like Scouts, but he won't quit. Of course he likes to get together with his friends; the portion of each meeting that includes unstructured play is a blast. But when the Scouting program starts, he often shuts down. He has anxiety. He doesn't like to participate in group discussions, sporting activities, anywhere he can be objectively judged. He gets excited about the sleep-away summer camp, but he ends up being stressed the entire time he is there. Still, he won't quit.

Our Scout pack is very small, so most of the parents are required to be in leadership roles to make the pack run. I'm an assistant den leader, Susan is on the pack committee. We help plan the meetings and events. We are two of the core adults of the group. But we don't like Scouts either. For us it is mostly about managing Eli's anxiety.

Susan comes from a conservative family. They operate very much in black and white, good and bad. Good people go to church, bad people get tattoos, that sort of thing. Her parents and siblings tend to focus on what they should do as opposed to what they want to do. Perhaps these are the same thing for them, but they think everyone else should share the same beliefs. One of those 'shoulds' is Scouts. Eli's three male cousins are Scouts. He is the youngest of the four, and for as long as he can remember he has heard how important it is to be a Scout. The best people are Scouts (or Scouts are the best people). He hears this from his aunts and uncles and especially his grandfather. His oldest cousin has been planning his path to becoming an Eagle Scout since he was six, his parents standing right behind him with a map.

Because Eli has not shown a lot of interest in extracurricular activities, Susan & I decided to support his desire to be a Scouts. It wasn't an easy sell. Scouts requires an affirmation in the belief of God, and (at the time) a requirement to be heterosexual. For us to support an organization that does not accept all people is against our beliefs. But since Eli was six years old at the time, his belief in God and sexual orientation were pretty much irrelevant. We decided to just go with the flow, see how things went. It's been rough.

Not only is our Scout pack small, but it is slack. It is very much for the casual Scouting family. Sort of "Cub Scouts Lite". The dens meet once a month and pack meetings a bit less often. This is a very small time commitment, and seemingly as much as the boys and parents want. Scouting for the non-committed. Some of the parents are very much into Scouting. They seem to share the sentiment of Susan's family: to be the best, you need to be a Scout. But they also see the need to balance Scouting with other activities. So our pack has worked well for them too.

And this casualness has apparently been our downfall. Our inconsistent nature has let families slip away. Our pack is folding – dwindled from thirty kids to ten in about a year. This seems like a fantastic opportunity to sneak away from Scouts altogether, but suddenly Eli is getting a lot out of it. At the last few pack and den meetings, he has been much more participatory. Raising his hand in group discussions, even participating in sporty-type things. The very reason we joined Scouts seems to be coming to fruition.

With the closure of our Scout pack, we as a group have evaluated other area packs to see if any would be a good fit. One of our families has two moms. And while Scouting has relaxed its prohibition against gay Scouts, not so against gay leaders. Gay and lesbian parents are not permitted to participate in any volunteer role. It is a tricky and hostile navigation for this family, and because we hope to stay together as a unit, tricky for our group as well. We want to go somewhere that is welcoming to this family. Susan and I want to go somewhere that is welcoming to everyone, including non-Christians like us.

Each Scout troop is required to have a sponsoring organization, and in our town, these organizations are all churches. We worry that Scouting's requirement to affirm God will become twisted into a requirement to affirm Jesus. For many Christians, this is the same thing. I respect their belief, but I also recognize that in an environment like our town, many are unlikely to respect our beliefs. This is ground-zero in the "war on Christmas" backlash. Folks around here just cannot seem to understand that non-Christians do not want to celebrate Christ.

One of Cub Scout's annual themes even focuses on faith. Over the past three years, Susan and I have been on the edge of discomfort with this topic. Assignments have been set for the boys to talk about how they participate at their church. No recognition that non-Christians typically do not go to church. The assumption here is that everyone is Christian. This isn't a fight I want to start. I have no interest in making an issue about the definitions of God and faith. I just want Eli to have an environment where he can participate and hopefully gain some confidence. As we redefine the annual faith assignment to fit our family, no one has called us on it.

But as we evaluate other area Scout packs, many of these issues are resurfacing for me. I feel that in our Scout pack, everyone is respected. We all have developed comfort with one another. The other kids and leaders accept Eli's hesitation to participate, our non-Christian status, another boy's two moms. We all have our quirks, our issues. Moving to another pack, we are starting over. Setting boundaries, drawing lines in the sand. What is acceptable, what is off-limits. We will be the outsiders, and therefore likely to be viewed with skepticism or disdain. We will be expected to get with the program – their program, without a bunch of fuss, without rocking the boat.

And what is their program? I saw their published pack schedule for the last 2 months. Weekly den meetings, monthly pack meetings, a few other scheduled outings and service projects. And three weekend trips over the two-month period. Lots of father/son time, but I have a wife and daughter, too. This is going to be one of our lines in the sand. Even if we could make that sort of time commitment for Scouts, we wouldn't. We enjoy spending time together as a family. It centers us. Susan and I have taken jobs, selected hobbies that minimally disrupt family time, that don't take us away for full days, for overnight trips. It seems counter-intuitive for a family oriented activity like Scouts to cause so much separation of families. Male-bonding at the expense of everything else.

I don't know where we are going with this decision. The rest of our group has been moving towards joining the new pack. But for two months, Susan and I have been hedging. Not committing and not closing the door, either. We seem to be waiting for a decision to be made for us. Maybe Eli will realize that he doesn't actually like Scouts. Possibly he will find a new activity – Running? Drums? Karate? These are all activities he is drawn towards. Possibly his interest in Scouting will drift away. But this is unlikely to happen, and in the next few weeks, we will be forced to decide.

On a side note, my favorite part of Scouting is the Pinewood Derby competition. Eli attacks this with enthusiasm reserved for almost nothing else. And Sophie and I make cars for the family competition. Below are the two 'cars' I've made. Not the fastest, but possibly the most creative.

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