Wednesday, June 15, 2016


In 2001, I made a conscious decision to re-join scouting as an adult. I didn't know exactly why at the time. I knew that I missed some of the opportunities, of course.  Camping, hiking, the outdoors in general. But, I was kind of floating at the time.  Not really a true purpose in my life at that moment. 
Sure, I have daughters, and have a good purpose in raising them. And the joy and pride in being their parent, I cannot put to words.  But, I was lacking something.  Once I joined Scouting again, I found camaraderie & brotherhood which I’d not experienced since my time in the military.  But camaraderie wasn’t it alone.  I started working with youth, which us incredibly rewarding. Entertaining – so many funny stories! - but really rewarding.  Just like parenting, really.  But, that wasn’t it, either.  Paying back to the program that taught me so much, was a good notion.  But was that why I was there?

Why was I doing this?  What was my purpose in this? Did I have something to prove? Did I need to be there?

Over the years I've heard or said great words. “I'm here for the boys.”  “I'm here to pay forward what I learned as a boy.”  “You remind me of my son” (who had passed just before I returned). “You deserve to have earned your eagle”.  “I'm helping raise a generation of boys who are worthy of my daughters.”  All valuable and extremely valid reasons. I’ve learned that my failure to earn Eagle, no matter the reason, has been an example to young men – a ‘don’t be like me’ kind of example, but still useful.

But, it wasn't until 2007 when it truly sank in.  I stood at a funeral, eulogizing a young man killed way too young.  I told a story about a man throwing starfish back into the sea. He was criticized, being told he couldn't make a difference for all of them.  And he responds stating as he threw another back, ‘I made a difference for that one’.

But at that funeral, standing there in front of more than 100 people in this tiny chapel, standing room only, I admitted to everyone that there are young men in this world who have made a difference in my life.

I know there were adult leaders in my life who must have felt the same way about the boys they worked with.  I know it is impossible that there aren’t.  I know that everyone has their own reasons for being involved.  I will honestly admit, my family's pride in what I do drives me more than anything else. And my family's long history in this program keeps me going.

But moments like last Saturday night make the difference.

I never made eagle.  Politics.  But I am a Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow. I've been awarded the District Award of Merit. My lodge bestowed on me the Phil Paul award, given for service as adults to men who were youths in the lodge program. I've earned several Philanthropy Awards at companies for whom I've worked. One year, the boys even voted to give me an award for the ‘most valuable player’ at our annual lodge powwow!  I've been praised for what I do. But that Saturday night was a shock.

The singing group I am part of was asked to sing a couple of songs for an Eagle ceremony.  We’ve known the family for years, the new Eagle Scout is one of our Lodge’s dancers, and the family dances and sings with us whenever they are able.  At his first NOAC dance competition, the boy achieved 6th place in the Nation in Grass Dance – in part due to the coaching he received from a lot of adult advisors in our area, but mostly because of talent. 

So, there we sat, getting prepped for a song we sing specifically for Eagle Scouts, watching patiently as they call up family members for pins, and putting his neckerchief on.  This troop uses the same ceremony for each Eagle scout court of honor – they have a lighted tree with the different ranks displayed, and a presentation of flags and honors.  And the singing bit was thrown in because of the boy’s love of dancing and his involvement with us.

Around the drum, we’d just been talking that I would never earn awards like the Silver Beaver, because I am not involved in a troop.  My grandfather earned one, my wife’s grandfather earned one.  But, I keep my Scouting involvement at the District and Lodge level mostly – I have specific talents that others do not, so it keeps me in that niche, if you will.  And I realized a good friend of mine, who had been a Scoumaster for years and assistant SM for many more, had never received that award either.  So, there isn’t a chance in a million that such an award would be bestowed upon me. 

But, then my name was called over the PA.  Like tends to happen, I had sort of lost track of what was going on in the ceremony.  The boys had on their blue neckerchiefs, the parents had sat down, and the boys were handed something.  And then it hit me like a freight train.  The boys were calling people to recognize them with an Eagle Mentor’s pin. 


Heart in my throat. 

Cold sweat. 

He just wanted my help in recognizing someone else – that in itself would be an honor – right?

But, no.  I had to sneak out past the drum, and everyone around it was smiling at me.  That didn’t help. 

My allergies chose a few minutes before the ceremony to begin acting up.  So, eyes watering, I approached the stage where the others stood.  And those men were all smiling at me as well.  Maybe they knew.  Maybe they understood my reaction already.  These men were Scoutmasters, troop leaders, men who had a direct and lasting impact on the boys’ lives on a daily basis.  Not like me.  I can’t be put in the same category as them, I don’t do the same stuff.

Or do I?

I stood there, tears – caused by allergies, I might add – in my eyes, as the boy almost gingerly pinned this tiny golden recognition on my uniform.  I shook his hand and gave him a big hug, and thanked him for the wonderful surprise.  And tried not to let a tear drop – damn allergies! 

And then it was time to sit down.  I very carefully did not look at my family until I was headed back toward them.  My wife sat there beaming.  Yes, beaming!  Her beautiful smile as big as the sun, her pride more than evident.  My daughters with their mothers’ smile plastered to their faces as well.  The guys at the drum, some of my closest friends, all smiling as well.  The allergies wouldn’t be beaten so easily, it seemed.  It was a good thing I was in the corner, as I quietly wiped my eyes. 

I won’t lie, allergies weren’t the only thing at play here.  I can take pride in what I do.  I know that what I do, I do to the best of my ability.  But, it’s when others take pride in what I have done - not for their own sake, but because they truly believe in what I do and love when I am recognized for it – that’s when it punches me in the solar plexus, makes it difficult to breathe, and yes, hold back tears.  I can’t explain it.  My family understands without saying anything.  And I think that is one of the reasons their pride in me is harder for me to fathom.

But, I am humbled.  Earning awards is fantastic.  It isn’t why I am here, doing what I do.  But, it is definitely nice to be recognized.  But, by that same token, being recognized is humbling.  Truly Humbling, with a capital H.  I don’t know that I am worthy of that recognition.  But, I will try to live up to it.  Every time I put on the uniform I will see that pin and remember why I am here, doing what I do.

I made a difference for that one.