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My father passed away last month. His death at the fine old age of 88 years old felt utterly natural, like the coming of winter after autumn, with all the special consolations and mysteries of a season closing.
As a Presbyterian pastor, I had already planned with both him and my mom what they wanted in their respective memorial service, including what hymns were to be sung, what Scripture verses would they like read, and prayers to be prayed. What I was not ready for was the opportunity to share some of my fondest memories with friends and other family members.
Reflecting upon some of my fondest memories, with tenderness I remembered my time as a Cub Scout and in Webelos. While my mom took care of the Scouts, my dad took on the responsibility of the Webelos.
My dad took great pride in teaching all the boys in the group the fine art of tying knots, one of the skills that all Webelos should master. For several weeks, he worked with a group of rather untalented knotters who did not know a slipknot from a hitching knot. Our first attempts were hysterical, and to this day I'm not sure how he kept his laughter to himself, besides the fact that he prided himself on being a gentleman in all things he did.
Yet over a period of weeks, with much practice, I learned them all, tying knot after knot with greater alacrity. My dad was proud of this group of knotters, feeling rather successful himself in taking such novices to a level of sublime mastery.
I recently shared these Cub Scout memories when I was on the board of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA. In a recent meeting with the local Boy Scout troop that the CHCYMCA was hosting in our Meadowmont facility, I recounted the importance of the Scouting program in my boyhood.
We were meeting because the all-inclusive policies of the CHCYMCA are at odds with the discriminatory practices of the Boy Scouts of America toward gays and lesbians. I shared with the group that I treasured the memory of my time with my friends in Cub Scouts and Webelos. I happily recounted how both parents waved at my troop when marching in a community parade, and looked upon me with pride when I held in my hand a carved balsa plane or racecar, even when these model toys ended up in last place.
What was painful in sharing this story with the Scouts and CHCYMCA Board members is that I would not be able to share those same fatherhood experiences with my son were he in the Scouts, because of the Boy Scout policy of keeping out young gay men and gay dads. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this policy of discrimination in 2000.
This practice of excluding gay boys and men from the Scouts and leadership in the organization meant that if my son chose to be part of the Boy Scouts, I would never be allowed to take the place my mom and dad did as Scout leaders because I am an out gay dad. I was saddened to learn that while straight parents - dads and moms alike - can be Scout leaders, I, along with lesbian moms, am not allowed to be in leadership roles.
I only draw succor in knowing that the Boy Scouts also discriminate against Mormons, atheists, and agnostics. Fearful that my son would see me as a second-class parent, with only straight parents as leaders, I never pushed my son to be either a Cub Scout or Boy Scout.
In the end, my son, his friends, and I would never have the opportunity to learn to tie knots together in the Scouts, though the CHCYMCA provided many more opportunities for us to bond. More importantly, this is more than about learning the practice of tying knots. It is about the opportunity of bonding together, father and son, parent and child, in a program that values all parents, regardless of one's gender, sex, race, socioeconomic class, ability or limitation, age, sexual orientation, and religion.