Cub Scouts sure does teach you a lot about life, even if you don’t put on the uniform until your 40s.
I guess I did have a blue shirt with one or two patches when I was a kid, but I wore it for just a few months one year until my neighborhood den fizzled out. The only thing I remember about trying to earn the Webelos patch is how embarrassed all our parents were once they realized I’d taught the guys a revolting song about eating worms for a big show.
Not a whole lot to guide me into manhood in that lesson.
So I don’t start counting my scouting years until 2012, when I buttoned my blue shoulder loops in place and sewed the numbers of my firstborn’s pack onto my shirt because nobody else wanted to be the assistant den leader for the first graders.
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And there was the first lesson: The world is, indeed, run by those who show up, even (Lord help us) if they have no idea what they’re doing.
Then the den leader was tapped to help run the entire pack, I got bumped up to be leader of my son’s second grade den and there was the second lesson: People really are promoted until they rise to the level of their incompetence.
Thing is, I think I got away with fooling everyone into believing that lesson number two didn’t apply.
And that’s all, thanks to lesson number three: Folks notice the facade, but it’s a good frame that keeps a building standing.
For those second graders, and every year until they outgrew Cub Scouts a couple weeks ago, that frame was my friend Chad Kanatzar. An Eagle Scout, he swaggered into our sons’ meetings as the assistant den leader ready to teach them how to pick a good spot for a tent, a few ways to build a fire and how to make a one-pot dinner to satisfy even the picky eaters.
I mapped out the path through each year’s curriculum, sent the emails, handled the lessons on things like fitness and citizenship, and got to be pretty good at telling campfire stories.
I could even teach scout skills when I had to, given enough time to learn them myself first. (“I need you to show me how to use a compass today,” I told an old scout in the pack once, “so I can show your son how to use it tomorrow.”)
But with Chad around I could mostly be the emcee who introduced the lessons and the record-keeper who kept track of who earned which badges, and then step back while he taught what Cubs need to know.
And guess who got the praise? Yep, my two Outstanding Den Leader medals shine as proof of how a good facade can dazzle.
Chad doesn’t care. His uniform has a silver eagle dangling from a red, white and blue ribbon, and that’s the finest award an old scout can wear.
My medals mean the other parents were happy with how I organized the hour a week when they entrusted their sons to me, a huge honor.
But it’s that frame that really counts.
I couldn’t have done my work if my son’s first Cubmaster and his untiring wife, Will and Nikki England, hadn’t breathed a fading pack to vigorous life. My planning wouldn’t have amounted to anything nearly so good if Chad didn’t rush over after work every Monday to pass on the skills he’d been taught as a young scout.
That’s the most important lesson we left our sons with as one by one they stepped from their den last month to be surrounded by new friends who replaced the Cub Scout insignia they donned as little boys with new cloth they’ll wear in the last legs of childhood: Yeah, the world is run by those who show up, but it won’t go far without support from the people who know what they’re doing.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.