The email was a surprise and then it wasn’t. The man was in my scout troop in San Francisco thirty years ago and as a teen was not the best example of the principles of Scouting. In his first interaction with my son, Matt was left in tears. The man tracked me down on the Web in order to make amends. Although unnecessary from my point of view I recognized this step in recovery and agreed to help.
I became a scoutmaster mostly to insure that Matt had a safe experience. Boys can be bullies and some adults can be rather juvenile. It was best to take on some responsibility. The Boy Scouts are great with their training and they had wonderful resources for activities particularly camping. I enjoyed my own scout experience and had a great time in San Francisco doing all the things my first troop did not. My volunteerism became a part-time job and excellent managerial training for my day job. I never had a goal of transforming anyone’s life, but I hoped to add molecular experiences that nudged a few of them in positive directions. The man who wanted to talk on the phone was not one of the bright spots. By the time I joined the troop he had been there several years and had met other adult leaders. Within a year or two the man received his Eagle and left for college. My goal with him was to keep him from hurting others.
Fast-forward thirty years. He explained he was sober now and wanted to apologize for things he had done as a scout. I accepted his amends and offered the one enduring memory I had of him. The occasion was a Court of Honor, the annual troop awards ceremony attended by the families. The scouts received their merit badges and their promotions, and the adults got kudos for their contributions followed by juice and cake.
The seventeen-year old came to the event in his scout uniform with his dad in a suit and tie. The dad was falling down drunk, literally. The young man held his father up and, despite my low opinion of him the mortification and shame on his face just about broke my heart. His family secret was public as if his pants had fallen down. He remembered that episode too amid the rest of the violence and abuse as he grew up. Still, he did not sound like he blamed anyone else for his actions. He took full responsibility.
The man commented that my positive comments and my encouragement of him and the other boys really stuck with him. The other adults in his life were probably just keeping order and annoyed because he was such a jerk. I approached leadership and even parenthood and grandparenthood with how would I want to be treated here? How does a four-year old or a fifteen-year old or a rookie investigator want to be talked to, to feel respected?
Well I guess it worked. In addition to the call last week I’ve had other compliments like “best boss” and “someone to look up to.” Those are good to hear.
The man asked how he could make it up to the troop so I suggested he call the Scouts and volunteer. Maybe he will learn what I learned.