Category: Parenting

The Scouting Promise

Dear Mom,

I was never very good at the Pinewood Derby.  My balsa wood cars looked sleek and stylish, but never, ever raced well, not even when I’d gotten help from dad, the other den dads, and Pa June with all his wood-working skills.

cub scoutI know you found my Cub Scout den maddening, and how could you not? When there is just one of Jordan’s buddies over, I think about those den meetings with wonder and amazement.  That you would attempt to get all eight of us to work on tying knots, complete art projects, or go on field trips is worthy of my undying admiration and sympathy.

For me, though, the whole experience was heaven.  Despite my derby disasters, the rest was everything I could want as an eight year-old. I loved learning the sign, salute, and handshake.  An inherent rule follower and over-achiever, I was devoted to working through the various requirements that earned me the rank of Bobcat, then Wolf, then Bear. The crowning glory was when I completed the twenty activity badges that made me a Webelo.

At every den and pack meeting, we recited the motto, the Law of the Pack, and the Cub Scout Promise:

cub scout promise

I drank in the simplicity and order of The Promise: its encouragements and clichés, its dogged self-reliance and unrelenting duty, its exhortations and utter simplicity.  Much like the Our Father and Hail Mary I learned from you and dad, The Promise became both guidepost and comfort.  It is something I can still recall word for word, even now, nearly forty years later.

You are right–scouting was good for me.  It was nothing that Mark was interested in, and it didn’t involve team sports. More than that, I had a group of other boys to be friends with, challenges I could meet and conquer, and valuable skills to master, some of which have lasted a lifetime (I can still get a great campfire going in minutes, and cook a delicious beef and vegetable stew in an aluminum foil pouch in its glowing coals).

I mentioned that it was heaven, right?

I’m not sure what happened after Webelos.  Do you remember? When I changed schools in 6th grade, did life just become busier? Was there no time to take on the demands of being a full-on Boy Scout and work towards the coveted Eagle Scout? I know by high school I had left scouting behind for a brief tenure on the high school swim team, and after that I found musical theatre.

When I was growing up there was, or course, no civic dialogue around whether or not gay scouts and scout leaders should be allowed in the BSA.  But I can’t help thinking that as I grew to understand my sexual orientation, I must have known on some level that scouting would not be the most welcome place for someone like me.  That’s too bad, because for so long it had been such a solace.

I agree that Jordan would do well in scouts. If Patrick and I could get past the “God and country” stuff (which we have heard from other dads is somewhat incidental in many of the Seattle packs), scouts could provide some of the rigor, order, and opportunity for success (in something other than video games) that we would love for cub scout 2him.  But as you mentioned, it would be hard to encourage him to join an organization that is fearful anddisparaging of men like his dads.

Our good friends watched as their son gave up his scouting membership two years ago when the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their ban on openly gay individuals.  He refused to re-join last year when they altered the policy, welcoming gay scouts but not leaders.  For him, the contradiction and hypocrisy is appalling, and this young man’s refusal to continue as a member embodies the bravery the Scouts claim to cherish.

I do hope Robert Gates is able to bring the Boy Scouts into the 21st century, ending the discriminatory policy and welcoming all young boys and young men who want to join its ranks.  The Boy Scout law says “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” I’m sure Gates knows that you can be all these things and be gay, too.  Can he convince the rest of the organization of that as well?

Unlike the CIA or the military where he could just hand down an order, he’s contending with an organization of volunteers who could just leave. Perhaps if Gates does manage to abolish this policy and there is a mass exodus of those who are upset, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I would much rather see the BSA of the future filled with young men like our young friend, our son, and others who are welcoming of all.

Love, Christopher



Time is of the Essence

Dear Christopher,

I just re-read your entry from last week. I finally have a minute to myself after some hectic days. Wow.  I feel so honored and privileged. You did make me cry.  And made me remember those moments we had together.  Yes, I do remember lots of chats and lots of laughs too when I wrangled you into helping me with an activity.  Maybe wrapping Christmas gifts or even seeing an inappropriate movie!!


Family of FourTime seems so short now. I suppose it is to everyone of my age. I cherish those past times we had together as a family. I remember seeing you and Mark learn to water ski from Joe Leone’s boat. It was great seeing you guys learn to do something I was sure I would never do. I felt confident of your swimming skills since I dragged you both to swimming lessons in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in a car without air conditioning.   We all three sweated our way to the Y and back.

Then there was the poor turtle that fried in the back seat while we went into a store. Like your daughter, you always wanted a pet. We went from turtles to fish to the bunny. I know you wanted a dog, but we always had the excuse of your allergies. Plus Dad said he never wanted the responsibility of a dog. Can you believe that now Dad actually enjoys taking your dog for walks? Surprise, surprise!! He pets Moe and rubs her ears. His granddaughter’s love for dogs has made him a convert.Family Portrait

Yes, do try to savor those moments with your kids.  We have these times together for such a short time.  I know Jordan and Isabella will remember with great fondness the camping trips, the nature walks, the vacations among a thousand other experiences.

Ten plus years ago when you called to say you just brought home this darling baby girl, I knew you and Patrick would be super parents. Over the years I have observed you both up close in wonderful and in trying situations. Never for a moment have I doubted you. If I helped you take on the nurturer role of parenting then I am doubly honored, even thrilled.

Our time together is so valuable, especially when we all get to go away for a weekend trip, and just hang out with you guys and the kids. In addition the whole family vacations with Mark and Barbara and the kids make for such a special time. I remember my mother would look around the dinner table when all of us were together and count heads when the phone rang. Then she would beam, and say, “All my family is here.” Well now I understand. Thanks for making those essential family times happen.

Love, Mom


Honoring Mom

Dear Mom,

On Wednesday I got a call from Isabella at school.  She jammed her finger playing tether ball during recess, and told me, in tentative, hushed tones, that she feared it might be broken.  The assistant principal got on the line and said she doubted it was broken, and thought Isabella would be fine to take the bus home.  When she stepped through the door a half hour later, the tears she had obviously been holding inside burst forth, and she crumpled into a heap on my lap.

Isabella, Ma and GrammyLater, after the emergency room visit and the confirmation that there was no broken bone, Isabella asked me if I had ever been rushed to the ER as a kid, and I told her about the time I was playing with Nick Schmitt in our garage on Parkside and fell and hit my nose.  You and dad thought it might be broken, and off to the ER we went.

I think I understand now how you must have felt that day, and many other days before and after: the mix of concern, self-assurance, and helplessness when parenting a child through life’s missteps, challenges, and emergencies, both big and small.

We’re starting to prepare our house to go on the market, and Patrick and I are dealing with some additional stress this spring.   With work and chores and laundry and dinner and lunches and now this moving thing, so often by the end of the day (and by that I mean 6 PM), all I really want to do is sit on the couch in front of the TV with a big glass of wine.  The energy it takes to do bills, plan lessons, grade papers, negotiate care for our kids (and fold laundry) seems overwhelming.  I am yawing just thinking about it all.

I remember as a kid that no matter what I was doing or what you were doing, you would set all your adult responsibilities aside and attend to my needs.  Help me with homework? Check. Listen to me complain about a friend? Check.  Laugh at a joke? Check, check, check.

You have talked about being astounded that parents today feel like they are responsible for fulfilling each of their child’s needs, and have said that when you were raising kids, parents were not held to such high account.  I know as a kid I felt cared for, nurtured, and loved.  It never felt to me that you were not taking care of my every need.  I certainly never felt that you would not drop everything to pay attention to me.

This carried through to adulthood.  You ushered me through some relationship woes with men (what did I know about that at 25 and just out? What did you know CRD and Mom Old Houseabout gay relationships? Yet I spoke, and you listened). You helped Patrick and I navigate the details of our commitment ceremony. Not long after, you assisted two neophyte parents deal with our new little new bundle of responsibilities.  Emblazoned in my memory is the moment you spoke with Patrick’s mom on the phone from Seattle, assuring her that he and I were doing “just a fine job, these two” as new parents.  I felt so proud to have your validation.

Jordan wanted to show me something one night this week. I was cleaning up after dinner, thinking about the house we’re going to sell, the work we have to do, the list of too many things to accomplish prior to bed that night.  My mind wasn’t in the game.  It was far away.

Thankfully, I reminded myself: enjoy this moment. Give him your attention now.  These days will pass.  Some day he will live thousands of miles away and I will long for him to call and share something seemingly small and insignificant, a tiny part of his day that he wants to share with me.

IMG_2929I’m way over here and you’re way over there.  Still thinking of you today, and honoring you, and feeling so lucky to have such a great role model of a caring devoted parent in my life. To nurture, care, encourage, and support are some of the traditional expectations society has for mothers, but they are really expectations for all parents.  I’m going to claim them as a dad, and say thank you mom for teaching me how to parent.