Last week, my eldest and I took the day off to go on a little road-trip. We hopped in the car and headed south on the interstate, past downtown Austin, past the over-developed shopping mecca on the southern edge of town, out of the city limits, through a series of tiny towns until we reached San Marcos where I pointed the car west and headed out Ranch Road 12 towards an area of the Texas Hill Country known as the Devil’s Backbone. Here in this neck of the world, situated between the road and the Blanco River lies a couple thousand acres owned by the Boy Scouts of America, a place where I spent some of the most formative days of my youth.
The first time I laid eyes on the place was during the summer of my eleventh year when my troop went for summer camp; our caravan came around a curve in the road and the view to our right just opened up. I saw the land drop into a sea of green, rise up again into dusty peaks all across the horizon, and I understood immediately why they called it the Devil’s Backbone. It’s the first time my breath was literally taken away. I was in love with the place and I hadn’t even set foot on it yet.
The picture, it does not do justice
My troop went back every summer without fail. After a week of swimming and canoeing in the Blanco, picking out constellations, building fires, swinging axes, eating god-awful camp food, skirmishing with other troops, lusting after the females on staff, hiking up and down the hills of Satan’s vertebrae, and maybe learning a few things, we went home exhausted, dirty, reeking of nature, and perhaps a few merit badges richer.
As drained as we were by the end of the week, it was always a bittersweet departure, at least for me. Which is perhaps why I signed up to work on camp staff as soon as I was old enough. I spent the next five summers living in a tent. There are far too many stories from those days for me to go into here, but suffice it to say that they were some of the most amazing times of my young life. I did good work that I believed in and felt good about, I made a lot of friends, and I had ridiculous amounts of fun, some of it sanctioned, some of it, well, what do you expect from a bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings stuck out in the woods? Those road signs weren’t going to steal themselves.Bridge On The River Blanco
So here I was bringing my oldest son out to this place that holds so many memories for me. We met up with an old friend of mine that I worked with for several summers. He’s a dad now too, and his son’s troop was camping here for the week. As much as things had changed — a new shower here, a different bridge there — the place was as gorgeous as ever. It felt strange, for both of us I think, to stand there as adults. I showed my son around, talked to him about what all those older boys were doing there, all the cool stuff that went on here, things that maybe he could do when he’s a little older. He seemed to dig it.
I was involved in scouts throughout my youth, all the way from Cubs up through Boy Scouts. I earned my Eagle Scout when I was sixteen. The opportunities, the experiences, the things I learned, the challenges I faced, hell, just the amount of time I spent outside in nature, so much of that would have never happened had it not been for scouting. So with all that in mind, it seems a no-brainer that I would want the same thing for my two sons, right? The truth of the matter is that I’m very much torn on the question of scouts. As positive as my experience was, I have some serious issues with the Boy Scouts of America’s politics. Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not talking about their ideals. I’m not arguing with trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, etc. I fully support the doing of good deeds on a daily basis. And I’m definitely not worried about how dorky my kids will look in those uniforms. No, I’m talking about the organization’s politics, particularly with regard to their stance on homosexuality, which is that homosexual individuals may not serve in leadership positions or in the organization’s employ, a policy that has had a variety of repercussions over the last few decades. I’m not going to argue the legality of whether or not the B.S.A., as a private organization, has the right to forbid certain people from joining its ranks. Legal or not, it amounts to discrimination. Bigotry. It’s a policy based on the ridiculous belief that homosexuality is immoral, which is absolutely not a lesson that I wish to have anyone try to teach my kids.
Scout Law Signs
On the other hand, I think back on my time in scouting, and I can honestly say that I don’t remember anyone, be it a scoutmaster or some other kid’s dad or a camp director, ever trying to push this kind of bigotry. There were people I worked with on camp staff that were gay. It could be that the issue just never came up. It could also be the fact that scouting is something that happens, by and large, on a local level, and the scouting experience in a given area is driven in much larger part by the people in that area who volunteer their time rather than bureaucrats sitting in an office somewhere.
Still, the policy is there, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s an ugly blemish on the face of a group that does a lot of good, and that could do so much more if it wasn’t so invested in enforcing policies based on tired old falsehoods that haven’t the slightest kernel of truth about them. And while individual troops may not explicitly endorse this stance, I have to wonder if it doesn’t have a permeating effect throughout the entire organization.
So will my boys become scouts? We haven’t decided yet. There are opportunities that I don’t want my boys to miss out on, and I admit, the idea of being a scoutmaster holds a goofy kind of appeal for me. But I struggle with the idea that joining up implies consent and agreement with ideas I find abhorrent. Thankfully, I have a few more years to decide. I’d love to hear what you think.