I am a Cubmaster with the Boy Scouts of America. I especially like the title of master. It sounds a smidgen better than doctor. But, truth be told, I was really nervous when I started. Sure, I’m a pediatrician, but in my clinic the 8- to 11-year-old boys were seen individually, restrained either by their mothers or weakened by disease.
Now the kids gather in a pack. Have you considered how appropriate that word is for a bunch of boys? What hearing I have left over from screaming babies is quickly fading from these screaming, cheering Cubs.
However, this article is not about the woes but the wonders. It is about a sign with the Scout motto my dad made with my brother, Lew. The motto of the Cub Scouts is "Do Your Best."
The plaque was 1-by-4-by-24 or so inches. It was a plain ordinary pine board. The magic was the carving and trimming of the 10 letters. They were block letters with beveled edges. I still marvel thinking about them.
There were no power tools. My dad was not a handyman. I don’t remember any other works of wood he ever touched. The board, now stained, was finished with two ropes neatly tied to eyehooks. The motto hung in my brother’s room until mom grew too old, and we sold the house.
If you know my brother (or if you don’t, the joke in the family is he knows you), you can testify he has followed those three words in his life. It is good advice for everyone.
It is the Cub Scouts, their motto, programs and a dad helping his son. It is what the Scouting program is supposed to do: turn the hearts and hands of the fathers to the sons and the hearts and minds of the sons to the fathers.
Pinewood derbies, rain gutter regattas and den meetings are all about growing men. They are also means for fathers to become dads. Maybe it is why sometimes it is easy to feel a failure when your son comes up to you and says, “I have lost all my races except when I beat my baby brother.”
The failure is not in the winning or losing of the race, but in the lack of interest, time and engagement to make the cars or boats. It is not the number of tools in the garage or the number of decals. It is the number of minutes spent together.
My brother-in-law is a wonderful, hands-on kind of dad. His solution to the problem of the lack of speed was to make their cars fun. I don’t know if they ever won any time trials, but the model cow glued to the top of the car had a great time.
If a memory 55 years ago still resonates with me, imagine for a minute when there are no memories because there is no father. What is worse is not the death of a father, but to know they are alive but dead to the child. It is the father who is always at work or who is divorced from the mother and is in another city. Visualize what hurt there must be when the male adult is in the house but he is not emotionally present.
An example would be a mood disorder. Depression in men too often goes unrecognized and undertreated. That person can be physically walking around, but his feelings are still curled up in bed.
This is not to fault men with depression, or single moms who wish there were a father, or dads who would if they could. It does say that the other dads need to be aware of their brothers and help out.
When I would see male babies in the nursery, I would suggest that the fathers get started immediately on the pinewood cars. I would tell them to focus on the wheels.
Now as a Cubmaster, I say focus on the boy. It is not the plaque, the cheers or the cars; it is a sign of a dad doing his best.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at email@example.com.