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A Father Shares His Story About His Son and What It Means to be a Good Scout

Baltimore Sun, December 28, 2000
501 N. Calvert Street
Baltimore, MD, 21278
(Fax: 410-332-6977 )

Real Boy Scouts live Scout values
By Sandra Kelman

Does the Scout demonstrate charity and hold to the principles of doing what's right and good in his relationship with other human beings?

Several years ago, my oldest son, then a teen-ager, was detained at a mall on suspicion of stealing a wallet the previous Saturday. When questioned about the theft, my son responded, "I'm a Boy Scout. I would never steal."

While he may have resembled the actual thief, my son had been far from the mall at the time the wallet was taken.

My son first learned about the Scouts when he was seven years old. A few months after he turned eight, he joined a local Cub Scout pack. Since that day, he has never wavered from scouting.

Despite a profound hearing loss and a reading disability, he realized his dream of becoming an Eagle Scout -- perhaps the only deaf person to achieve that rank in a hearing troop in the Baltimore Area Council. He has since served as an assistant scoutmaster in his troop. A few years ago, he traveled to Denmark to volunteer for seven weeks at a Boy Scout camp.

My son tries his best to keep the Scout oath and the Scout law. In doing so, to my knowledge he has never discriminated against anyone. He and I have had discussions about allowing admitted homosexuals to be in leadership positions in the Scouts. We share the position that a person's sexual orientation doesn't matter as much as that person's character and humanity.

Whenever this issue reaches the status of a newspaper headline, I can't help but compare the actions of two adult Eagle Scouts our family has known.

One was a colleague of my husband's. The other was the scoutmaster at the time my son was completing his requirements for Eagle Scout.

Justin worked with my husband and also volunteered in a program serving the needy. When my in-laws sold their home in Massachusetts so they could move to upstate New York and live next to my sister-in-law and her family, my husband wanted to drive there and retrieve some items his parents no longer wanted. Justin cheerfully agreed to drive to Massachusetts with him and help bring the items back to Maryland.

One autumn, Justin invited us (and others) to come to his home and gather apples from the large apple tree in his backyard. We were only too happy to oblige.

Whenever I was around Justin, I always felt comfortable. He was a caring person who lived the words of the Scout oath: To help other people at all times. And he modeled many of the tenets of the Scout law: he was trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, kind, courteous, cheerful, reverent, thrifty, brave, clean and obedient.

The individual who was the scoutmaster, while aspiring to those ideals, often fell short of achieving them. We learned that he talked about Scout members and their families behind their backs, was rude to some Scout parents and somehow thought he was "above" us in many ways.

I tried to attribute some of his faults to his youth. That was, until I phoned him, at another parent's suggestion, to request a copy of a list of dignitaries and a list of well-known people who were Eagle Scouts. I needed the list so I could obtain citations from them for my son's Eagle Court of Honor. When he answered and I gave my name, his curt response was, "What do
you want?" When I told him why I was calling, he rudely put me off, saying he hadn't agreed with my son's becoming an Eagle Scout and he definitely wasn't helping in any way with the Court of Honor. Stunned, I quickly hung up.

Another Scout parent later told me she had tried to explain to him that my son was not just deaf but that he had a learning disability. That required him to put in three times as much effort as someone else to master and complete requirements for badges and for each rank he earned. Thus, he was past his eighteenth birthday when he finally finished all of the requirements that are usually to be completed before a Scout becomes 18. The scoutmaster indignantly stood by the "letter of the law" and apparently resigned in a huff.

A Scout is morally straight. To me, that means the way Scouts act. Does the Scout demonstrate charity and hold to the principles of doing what's right and good in his relationship with other human beings?

There are a few differences between our friend, Justin, and the scoutmaster. The scoutmaster is still alive. Justin died several years ago of an AIDS-related illness.

Justin was gay; the scoutmaster isn't.

To this day, my vision of an Eagle Scout who is "morally straight" is that of someone like Justin -- serving others, never asking for anything in return, accepting others "as is" and conducting himself in a spiritual way.

My son would have been proud to have Justin as his scoutmaster.

Sandra Kelman, a free-lance writer and a Boy Scout citizenship merit-badge counselor, lives in Pikesville.

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