Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Scouting: Turning Boys Into Men

February 23, 1998

"Consider what heavy responsibility lies upon you in youth, to determine, among realities, by what you will be delighted, and, among imaginations, by whose you will be led." John Ruskin.

What is a man? What is manly, in the best sense of the word?

A man takes responsibility for work. He selects worthwhile goals and works steadily and aggressively toward them. He takes his place as a provider for his family. He produces more than he consumes. He is generous. He is helpful and considerate to those who depend on him.

A man takes charge, strives and keeps on striving. He is trustworthy. A man’s work carries its own set of duties among which is loyalty to self. He is a hard worker, a builder, a creator.

A man takes risks. He takes courageous action even in the face of danger and adversity - even when he has to stand alone for right. He must fight even when the odds are against him. He acts on moral courage and vision.

A man protects his family, community and nation. He sacrifices for others. He is resilient and hardy. He is expected to bear hardships impassively. He accepts challenges and confronts problems. He faces fears. He is loyal to a cause.

When is a man not a man? When he is inept, lazy, selfish, passive, weak, or cruel - a complainer, a clinger, a recluse. A man can lose by running away. Men are expected to show fearless grace under pressure.

This code of manhood helps boys learn loyalty, sacrifice and self-discipline - be give of themselves to others. They learn this from their fathers and other men. If they do not learn these lessons, it is easy to stay a boy, to be taken care of and run from demands. It is easy to be lazy, to retreat to a mother's side, to hide from danger, to escape reality and to give up.

Where does a boy learn these things? The best thing our society has outside of the family and church is the Boy Scouts. In Boy Scouts, boys learn to be leaders under the guidance of able men and women. They learn respect for authority, love of country and reverence toward God.

Scouting memories. As a Scout, I remember the camaraderie of singing around the campfire, doing skits, and going on my first snipe hunt in the Little Belt Mountains in Montana. I remember the canoe water fights at scout camp, being in awe of the majesty and beauty of Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park. Our family moved to the Pacific Northwest. As a scout, I climbed mountains and went winter camping on Mount Rainier. I developed an eye for beauty and a reverence for nature. A star-filled sky stirs the soul about the wonders and mysteries of God and His creations.

I remember being tested to carry a big pack, to go farther than I wanted, to stifle back weariness and keep on going. As a scout leader, I watched sniveling, tearful young scouts go from dragging up the rear of a hike to zestful, tough leaders guiding others on the trail. It takes a year or two to see this transformation.

Earning merit badges involves many skills and attitudes that build character and self - confidence. Success comes with goals, preparation and persistence - truly valuable lessons in life. It happens with men and women who are dedicated scouters, going the extra mile to provide a program of tradition, excellence and adventure. Teamwork and cooperation were taught and lived.

The best and quickest way to my heart is to love my children. As a scout, the scoutmaster can detach enough to allow for mistakes and learning without the anxious concern of a father. Tolerating imperfection may be easier for scout leaders than parents.

You can judge a leader by the size of the problems he or she is trying to solve. It takes special people to care about the growth and development of someone else's children. Is there anything more noble that helping boys become men and girls become women?

Role models. Despite the attention to detail, the organizational skills and scouting lore the leaders had, it was the one to one relationships that really mattered. I remember the names of my leaders when I was a young man. My father wasn't home much and these men became my role models. I needed them and they were a part of my life. Children benefit from having adults who take the time to become involved, excited and concerned about them. For many it is a lifeline to a better life.

Youth aren't good at understanding the sacrifices leaders make. They don't say thank you enough. A leader may have to wait years to glimpse the impact they have had.

In our day and age, when men are losing track of what it means to be real men, to have self-discipline and live bedrock values, we have the scouting program. We need it now more than ever. It is a sacred, hallowed work whose effect spreads out during lifetimes and over generations. It is about love and service. Of course those who give it become greater themselves - not out of design but as a by-product of living the law of love.