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None of the above, that was me


So this is where I was last night. In a church. At the Court of Honor for a new-minted Eagle Scout, Jordy, son of one of my best friends.

Now, I know there are people hereabouts who did the whole Boy Scout thing. But this is all new and foreign to me. When I was the age a boy might become an Eagle, I considered the entire business of uniformed do-gooding and mandated wholesomeness fascistic. I considered the few boys who took that path to be complete dorks. Of the twelve traits listed on the left side of that program, I could proudly have proclaimed “none of the above.” (Although I’ve cleaned up and gotten more cheerful since then, you can guess which two traits I’ve still never even attempted. And never will.)

I’m still not sure there’s a teenage boy on the planet who can honestly state that those 12 claims apply to him. Back in the day I’d have considered that hypocrisy. Now I can see that it’s actually aspirational. But … urm, the whole business of uniforms and badges and promises to be “clean” (we all know what that means in teenage boy terms, as is made clear in the Scout’s prayer on the back of the program) still creeps me out.

This ceremony was rather a big deal, though. Although the littlest scouts endearingly fumbled their way through it and the oldest active scouts fumbled their way negligently or embarrassingly through it, for Jordy, it was some accomplishment. He’s the second son in a two-boy family. His brother Mike, an Eagle before him, is one of those typical older sons to whom everything came easy. Handsome, smart, earnest, and likable, Mike always seemed to breeze through school, sports, the social maze, scholarships, and all that life hands to teenage boys. Jordy followed doggedly in Mike’s path. But for him, it was a struggle and a slog. His path to the honor roll and the running-start program (in which he’s finishing his last two years of high school and his first two of college at the same time) ran though years of odd, hard-to-diagnose learning disabilities. His final steps in the Eagle program were marked by small catastrophes and the tendency toward inertia. Although he now seems likely to follow Mike into a challenging engineering program at a challenging school, for a while it seemed doubtful he’d go to college at all.

He has that second-son haplessness to overcome at every stage. But with the help of strict (but loving, involved, and intelligent) parenting, overcome it he does. In fact, thanks to his dogged competitiveness, he even beat Mike’s accomplishments at sports.

So I hauled myself out of my cozy house in the cold dark of the night to be one more person saying, “Well done, Jordy.” The whole business was way too much God and country for (non-obedient, non-reverent) me. Too much church-going, too much flag-saluting, too much public praying. (It’s telling that, in a crowd of about 50 people I didn’t know anybody but the immediate family. In a town this small, you always know somebody; but this was a seriously different world than the one I inhabit.)

Still: “Well done, Jordy. Congratulations.”


  1. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran December 19, 2016 2:11 pm

    I was a Boy Scout, but didn’t make Eagle and quit when I went to high school and played sports (football and basketball), while also working an after school job at a supermarket. Something had to give and it was Scouts. I really enjoyed the camp outs but wasn’t much into the meetings and such, but I had a pretty good experience overall with being in Scouts.

  2. Claire
    Claire December 19, 2016 2:19 pm

    Speaking of campouts and such, I have to say that the troop Jordy and Mike belonged to was very hardcore in that way. Winter camping. Fifty-mile hikes, improvising shelters, etc.

    Most of the scouting in our area is connected with the Mormon church (as it is now, nationwide). And admirable though they are in some ways, the local Mormon scout leaders have the reputation for running “badge mills” designed to qualify their boys as quickly as possible for as many awards as possible. Jordy and Mike and their fellow troop members had to really work and learn and do. The fact that their father is the scoutmaster probably meant they had to work even harder than most.

  3. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran December 19, 2016 2:30 pm

    I did some winter camping in Scouts, but I was young and looked at stuff like that as a great adventure! I bet Jordy and Mike did have to work hard and learn to get their merit badges, especially with their dad being a scoutmaster. I didn’t push my sons towards Scouting. We tried Cub Scouts for a year with my older son, but it really didn’t seem to interest him and the Pack was trying to hook me into being a leader and I did not want to do that, so I let it fade away.

  4. jeanaalexander
    jeanaalexander December 19, 2016 3:21 pm

    My oldest is an Eagle as well. Scouts REALLY helped him a lot, and he uses much of what he learned in “real life” ( now aged 22 ). He’s now an EMT working at an ambulance service, and will start college in 2017 toward a nursing degree. His troop was “hardcore” as well – one real campout per month – even in New England winters. He didn’t quite get a “zero hero” award – where you sleep overnight outside at 0F.
    Scouts made him very self-reliant, and survival conscious. And, yes, the twelve things a Scout IS aspirational. What other organization – for teenaged boys – has anything like that?

  5. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal December 19, 2016 5:06 pm

    A year or so ago I was camping while a troop of boy scouts camped nearby. All I noticed them doing was practicing flag worship and goose-stepping of one sort or another. Eventually I found myself talking to a small group of them. I asked what skills they were learning. They said they had learned some “survival knots”. I asked about fire-making, or knife usage, or things of that sort. Nope. They said they couldn’t touch a knife until they earned their knife badge (or something like that). I asked how they were supposed to learn to use a knife if they weren’t allowed to handle one. They looked at me blankly. Anyway, maybe some places have good troops, but that one seems worthless to me.

  6. Dana
    Dana December 19, 2016 5:29 pm

    “the whole business of uniforms and badges…still creeps me out.”

    But the ability to successfully wear any uniform can be a useful skill.

  7. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran December 19, 2016 6:26 pm

    kentmcmanigal wrote: “They said they couldn’t touch a knife until they earned their knife badge (or something like that).”

    Back when I was in Scouts, there was the “Knife and Axe Card” that after training a Scout earned with the guidance of an adult leader in the basic safety practices and precautions that one should practice when handling a knife and axe, as well as a saw. Once a Scout earned the Knife and Axe Card, they were allowed to handle them, but if caught using them in a careless and/or irresponsible manner, a corner was torn off of the card and the Scout was retrained. If a Scout was irresponsible with the use of a knife or axe to have all four corners torn off of their card, they were not allowed to handle knives, axes or saws. This is common sense as we’re talking 12, 13 and 14 year old kids here and teaching them responsible and safe practices in using knives, axes and saws will hopefully keep them from chopping off their foot or stabbing themselves or a fellow Scout. A few years later, when I turned 16, I received hunter safety firearms training before I could get my hunting license. When I enlisted in the USAF, I received training and had to qualify with an M-16 and a .45, Automatic, M1911A1 pistol. BTW, I never effing “goose stepped” either in the Scouts or in the USAF, but I do fly the American and POW/MIA flags regularly. It isn’t “flag worship”, it’s loving our country!

  8. Jim Bovard
    Jim Bovard December 19, 2016 7:30 pm

    Thanks for the great vignette, Claire! It brought back memories of my pre-Dark Side youth. I wonder how many anarchists have been spawned by a recoil from the Scout laws & tub-thumping for obedience.

  9. S
    S December 19, 2016 8:13 pm

    Good for you, Claire, for honoring the young man with your presence.

    I earned Eagle Scout. It was and remains a source of pride for me. The twelve descriptors of the Scout Law were certainly aspirational, but I like to think I made an honest attempt at each, even as a teen. I do so today, although my interpretation has changed.

    As for being seen as complete dorks, oh yeah. I wore my uniform to school once because I was leaving early to be in an honor guard for the president of the United States when he landed at our small-town airport. The school part didn’t go very well. The honor guard part was pretty cool, with no hassle by Secret Service or anyone else, and shaking the president’s hand.

    Our troop wasn’t quite so hardcore – 20-mile hikes, 5-day survival camps (changed how I looked at food and hunger forever), frequent camp outs, competing at things like orienteering and fire starting with other troops.

    I spent 6 years in the Scouts, and while my association has waned it has not vanished completely. I’ve never participated or seen anything that could remotely be characterized as “goose-stepping.” Fire starting was still taught and practiced the last time I checked, and while the Tote ‘n Chip Card described by rochester_veteran may be harder to get, the interest of young men in things sharp and shiny has not abated.

    I also learned to shoot at Scout summer camp, earning an NRA “marksman” and perhaps “sharpshooter” badge. I don’t remember the specific titles or scores. I do remember that these required scoring 10 consecutive targets of 10 shots each above some minimum score. Harder than it seemed, and an excellent introduction to the discipline and control of shooting sports.

    For me at least the “tub thumping” of the Scout Oath and Law was a good match for my intellectual and emotional maturity at the time. I wasn’t quite up to rejecting the concept of government, questioning the legitimacy of the constitution, or challenging the moral authority of law at age 12, but I was ready to learn about responsibility, self-reliance, honesty, integrity, and hard work. Membership in the Scouts ends at 18, and there is a reason for that.

  10. Desertrat
    Desertrat December 19, 2016 10:26 pm

    In the way-back-when, I had learned how to swim and how to sharpen my pocket knife, my grandfather’s axe and how to be accurate with his .22 rifle–long before I joined the Boy Scouts.

    Back then we learned from “the book” and hands-on doings for the skills to earn merit badges. Very little actual regimentation.

    And we got in free to Longhorn home football games, acting as ushers until the end of the 1st Quarter. 🙂

    I’m no Bible-thumper, but if you stay somewhere near the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, along with the Boy Scouts’ Creed and Motto, you’ll generally get along just fine with your neighbors.

  11. AG
    AG December 19, 2016 10:44 pm

    Another Eagle Scout here, class of 1993.

    The merit badge courses were often comparable to college classes in difficulty, and I’m grateful for them….and the entire experience (good and bad).

  12. Pat
    Pat December 20, 2016 1:49 am

    Speaking for the distaff side, I was a Brownie for one year, but quickly realized it was a clique of “popular” girls with vanilla-flavored interests, and I didn’t fit in. I remember being mad that we couldn’t do what the Boy Scouts did. The only thing I got out of it was my first train ride to visit Luray Caverns, which was a thrill for me–I’ve loved trains ever since, and been fascinated by caverns.

  13. Joel
    Joel December 20, 2016 7:30 am

    …you can guess which two traits I’ve still never even attempted. And never will.

    “Obedient” is hard to picture.

  14. Joel
    Joel December 20, 2016 7:39 am

    I’ve never participated or seen anything that could remotely be characterized as “goose-stepping.”

    “Goose-stepping” may be Dullhawkian hyperbole, but the subject matter does seem to have varied from troop to troop. While I personally was never a boy scout, I did attend a couple of exploratory troop meetings in my teens. These kids met in a high school auditorium and apparently didn’t get out much – plus this was in Detroit, so fire-starting merit badges were probably pretty rare. But the scout master did have a proclivity for standing at attention in lines. There was also some Manual of Arms training going on in one corner.

    I decided on the evidence that this scouting thing wasn’t for Young Uncle Joel.

  15. S
    S December 20, 2016 8:12 am

    There was a formal assembly to start every meeting, and it generally included some sort of inspection. They call them a “uniform” for a reason, and there are right and wrong ways to wear one.

    I don’t recall any marching at all, certainly learned more about drills in high school band than in the scouts. Another activity widely viewed as dorky.

    Calling it “goose-stepping” could be hyperbole or a calculated insult, as the term has acquired a pejorative meaning.

    A requirement for instruction in rudimentary safety practices before bestowing knives to 11 year old boys didn’t strike me as foolish or overly authoritarian. Like many such lessons, the strongest one was driven home by a violation. A wide-eyed circle of young men on a hiking/camping trip watched me (as a 17-year old “senior patrol leader”) stitch a big flap of shin skin before packing out a 13-year old who violated those rules goofing with a friend while swinging an axe. They both lost their tote’n chip cards, and the lesson and lore put an end to horseplay with edged tools for many years.

  16. cm1
    cm1 December 20, 2016 8:21 am

    Another Eagle here: We distilled the 12 into “Don’t wreck shit or hurt people”.

    On reflection, pushing back against fascist elements mad me a better libertarian.

    We carried folding and sheath knives and hatchets routinely. Early ’60’s’

  17. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal December 20, 2016 8:51 am

    “Goosestepping” may be hyperbole, but not by much.
    As I watched them over the course of over 24 hours, about the only activity (beyond cooking and eating) I saw them engage in was marching while being coached on how to hold a flag. Marching stiffly, back and forth, over and over and over. I swear they looked like nothing other than good little German Brownshirts in training. Maybe others have had different experiences, and maybe the local air farce base holds an undue influence over this troop and its leadership, but I saw what I saw, and I was disgusted- and disappointed for those poor boys.

  18. larryarnold
    larryarnold December 20, 2016 10:05 am

    My father, brother and I were all Eagles, and many of the things I learned have come in handy. Dad was scoutmaster, and even though he was a career Army officer we rarely marched unless there was a reason, like appearing in a local parade. Which is how we all met Jay North, who at the time was Dennis the Menace on TV.

    We hit the other end of the camping-weather scale, out in Mojave Desert summers. Marksmanship Merit Badge, and Junior NRA membership, prodded me toward being a firearm instructor.

    I started as a Cub Scout, age 8, in 1955. We also had a class before we could carry a pocketknife, but it was about the first one we took. By third grade we were wearing our uniforms to school, complete with our knives, and I’ve carried one ever since. (Don’t try that today!)

    As I watched the “Occupy Wherever” folks, who were completely incapable of managing a simple campsite in a city park*, I kept thinking of the 1960 National Jamboree I attended in Colorado Springs, where 56,000 Boy Scouts became the third largest city in Colorado for fourteen days, brought their own supplies, provided their own sanitation, managed without law enforcement assistance, and left without anyone having to clean up after them.

    *Couldn’t manage a campsite, but wanted to tell us how to run the whole world.

    What other organization – for teenaged boys – has anything like that?
    4-H, and it’s for boys and girls.

  19. Lowell Sammons
    Lowell Sammons December 20, 2016 10:12 am

    My wife is a cub master for our local pack. They are children from first to fifth grade. most packs are controlled by the leaders in that the scouts have little say over the parents. Boy scout in a good troop plan and decide everything with a couple leaders for supervision and guidance. the whittling chit in cub scouts is not aloud to be receive before proof of safe handling practices is proven using dull blade like items similar to butter knifes. As for the badge mills, they as sad groups that happen across the country, and sadder still council is making it harder for us to not just give badges away.

  20. Claire
    Claire December 20, 2016 7:04 pm

    That’s a nicely provocative piece, DG. I may base a Friday Freedom Question on that and see what discussion we can get going here on the topic.

  21. Parabarbarian
    Parabarbarian December 21, 2016 7:19 am

    One problem with any list of virtues is that too many folk treat them not as ideals to aspire to but as excuses to make rules.

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