Managing Editor’s note: This is the first article in a new theme here at SOFREP. Each week, we will present a new Guest Author. Please enjoy! And please welcome them to the family.
Guest Author: Tyler Jones
With the recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America to open its doors to girls, yet another firestorm has erupted in the forums of social media. Commentators and influencers on either side of the political spectrum have agitated their respective bases with the typical left or right leaning comments about the future of gender in America. As I reflect on this news, I turn instead to my own life and its relationship to boyhood and the Boy Scouts.
Like many men growing up in America during the 107 years since the organization’s founding, I spent my formative years in first the Cub Scouts and later the Boy Scouts. My weeks and years were filled with den meetings and camps, where I learned everything from firearms safety to my first pieces of knowledge about sex. Of course, as it turned out, none of us had any idea what we were talking about. The Boy Scouts offer the stereotypical American boyhood full of rugged adventure, survival skills and a chance to grow in a tribe of young men and father figures. The Boy Scouts, and through them, my father, taught me how to shoot a rifle, build a fire and use a compass. These were all useful survival skills that also fostered a general self-sufficiency that every child needs. More intangibly, scouting is where I learned to navigate the social structures of manhood. I still feel the thrill of competition when I think of the days playing football in the frozen winter camps of Minnesota, pushing through cut lips and bruised ribs, jockeying for dominance against my best friends, our dads looking on from the fireside. It was a tough, but ultimately safe, environment that showed me the value of hard work and gave me my first lessons in working as a team.
As much time as there was with other boys, time alone with Dad was coveted above anything else in my world. Stories from the farm of his own boyhood and his military service quickly made him a giant in my eyes. Boy Scouts was a conduit for his parenting—both hard and soft. Dad was there only to be with me, his shoulders only there for me to cry on. It was only by his guidance that I survived the trials of bullying and failure that accompany growing up. Comforting as he could be, he never coddled me. I recall a moment of pain, confiding in him that I had been called a wuss by another boy. I’ll never forget his simple response, loaded with lesson and reality, given with a hand on my shoulder. “Well, are you one?”
My sister’s experience with scouting stands in contrast to mine. Girl Scouts is a fine organization, but simply offers something different from Boy Scouts—not only in terms of gender. She never fit in with that group of girls, and in hindsight would have been much better suited to what is a more traditionally a masculine experience. I’ll always remember how jealous and isolated she felt watching Dad and I run off on more adventures in scouting, or with friends met in our troop.
I don’t know if it was inevitable that I’d join the military because of my upbringing, but that is what happened. Seeking purpose, belonging, and a challenge, I enlisted in the Army in 2010. The next 4 years held levels of pain, pride and fulfillment that I had not known were possible. Lessons learned through scouting sustained and carried me through the rigors of training and deployments. If I owe anything to the Rangers, some of that must be owed to the Boy Scouts and the men and boys I shared that with as well. The bonds of brotherhood and strength of spirit and body I gained in the Rangers define who I am today. I owe all I am, all I have, to the Rangers—my friends, passions, dreams and family.
My family. That changes the way I see my childhood and the way I see my whole life. You see, I have a wife. A wonderful woman who fell in love with the man the Ranger Regiment made. And I have a daughter.
My daughter was an early walker. At just over a year, she is already running and climbing with the coordination of a much older child. In fact, if there is a single word I could use to describe her it would be “physical.” She is a continuous whirl of movement. Every moment is a new terror for her mother as she leaps from furniture and climbs cupboards, all with a crooked, “watch this” smile and a giggle that bubbles from her stomach. I could not be more excited for her to grow older and start to enjoy all the things I love. And I could not be more thankful that my little girl was born in this time and place. America in the 21st century is a wonderful time to be a young, intelligent and strong woman.
How do I reconcile the memories of my childhood, the stereotypical American boyhood, and the appreciation of what that tradition offers, with my desire to give my daughter the world she deserves?
I do not know how this will change the Boy Scouts. Of course, the experience will be very different from the father-son exclusivity that I knew. Part of me will mourn the death of the tradition that molded me. Is that an inevitable result of time? Should that tradition change? Being a man in this world is not what it used to be, and requires different values and expectations. I do know that scouting isn’t the military—its day-to-day operations aren’t subject to a central bureaucracy. My scoutmaster ran the show with all the other dads. His name was Rob; his sons were two of my best friends. They lived a half mile down the street and I spent many summers running around his wooded acreage. He taught me like I was another son, and Rob and my father together showed us all how to relate and speak with other men. We watched as they joked and debated, mesmerized by our own future. It was the people who defined my life, scouting was simply the vehicle.
I have to wonder how my sister feels. She recently moved to New York, where she knew no one, and began forging a life in the film industry. I hope to see her bravery and perseverance in my daughter someday. I don’t know what prompted it, but last we spoke she mentioned that she felt like she had missed out on a lot by not ever tagging along on my scout patrol’s annual trips to Superior National Forest.
Every parent has a vision of sharing their passions with their children, but my daughter may never participate in sports. She might not share in my love of nature and balk at the idea of sleeping under the open stars. If my vision becomes a reality, other places outside Boy Scouts offer similar experiences. Either way, the list of places that will refuse my daughter because of something out of her control is now just a little shorter. That makes this father smile.
Images provided by Tyler Jones.