spent my childhood growing up in the streets of Paterson, New Jersey. My
parents both worked and the level of supervision would be considered neglect
compared to the outrageous standards of our overly protective society today.
Paterson was a wonderland for an eleven-year-old boy. There was an endless
inventory of abandoned buildings and numerous railroad tracks to explore. Stick
ball games were common. We even had a World Series where we played a team
entirely consisting of Turkish-Americans. Off into the distance on Garret
Mountain stood Lambert Castle former home of Catholina Lambert, an
English immigrant who made his fortune in the silk industry. The
neighborhood boys all made a promise to one day climb the mountain with the
goal of reaching the castle. We eventually did climb the mountain without ropes
or gear or adult instruction. We could have easily just followed the paved road
leading to the castle, but then what kind of lame adventure would that be?
around the corner from us was an actual full-grown cherry tree which grew
delicious organic cherries every June. This tree grew in an abandoned lot and
was never trimmed, so it grew to almost thirty feet. Most of the cherries at
the bottom would be gone within a few days during the ripening season. It was a
very large tree and the top cherries were left for the birds and whomever was
brave enough to climb twenty feet up. On a nice day, the top of the tree would
be crowded with eleven to fifteen year old boys eating cherries and
philosophizing about life. Of course there was the occasional girl who easily
blended into the crowd of boys.
had a very diverse population. I had friends who were Puerto Rican, German,
Italian and Arabic. One of my best friends at the time was Carlton Jackson who
was a very adventurous African-American kid. He decided one day that we were
going to follow the local abandoned tracks until dusk, and then we would turn back.
We considered this one of the more safe adventures. We knew we wouldn’t get
lost and if there was any trouble Carlton always carried a switchblade and knew
how to use it. We walked for four hours straight without food or drink nor a
care in the world. We ended up in Elmwood Park when a welcoming party greeted
us. Two middle-aged white men approached us and questioned our intentions. One
of them said, “Where you two from and what are you doing here?” We told them we
were from Paterson and just following the tracks until dark. With a threatening
tone, they demanded that we go back to Paterson and never come back to Elmwood
Park again. Carlton wanted to fight, but I convinced him it was better to head
back home, so we did.
could continue with more charming stories about my boyhood growing up in
Paterson. But the point of my article is to talk about the state of boyhood
today and offer a solution to what I think is the extinction of boyhood as I knew
it when I was a boy. Today, it seems that every step a boy makes is closely
monitored. Early on, with the slightest hint of danger, the parents are on duty
acting like trained firemen or policemen to quickly mitigate the risks
associated with boyhood. I don’t blame parents for caring. When a boy is under ten
I would question the parent’s competence if they weren’t so cautious. It’s when
their sons reach the age of eleven that everything changes except the parent’s
most boys who reach eleven, it’s an entirely different universe. At that age,
their bodies and minds start to change drastically. They start to become more
aware of their environment outside of their comfort zone. They want to explore
and seek out exciting adventures. A perfect documentation of this change is in
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. There are great
benefits to letting a boy participate in the exploration of his environment. It
opens up his mind. He learns to understand risk and consequences of good and
poor risk choices. Most importantly, he starts the process of independence.
This could be very painful for a parent, especially the overprotective kind.
But if the process of letting go is not allowed, we will have a nation of
overly coddled boys who grow up to be men on the outside but remain boys on the
my “adventures” in Paterson were wrought with danger and unnecessary risks. I
don’t advocate that boys should be allowed to just wonder the streets and hills
unsupervised with no direction or goals. For example, as we climbed to the top
of Lambert Castle, Angel Rodriquez slipped and nearly plunged fifty feet to his
guaranteed death. I have two sons and I was very concerned about how they were
going to grow up in the suburbs. I wanted them to engage in boy adventures but
avoid careless situations, which could lead to harm or injury. We started out
by following the most common path of enlisting them in sports.
a team, they would learn teamwork, discipline, self-worth, focus, hard work.
But something was still missing. The teams they joined seem to be aggressively
competitive. Winning was always the prime goal and fun was secondary, if
considered at all. We switched them to the less competitive leagues and
competition wasn’t a key focus anymore. They had fun; maybe too much fun.
Still, sports didn’t fully deliver. We felt they needed more diverse
experiences. Then a fantastic thing happened. My neighbor, Bill Chilson who is
a NYC fire chief stopped by one day and asked me if my sons were interested in
becoming boy scouts. He is the scoutmaster of Bronxville Troop One and at the
time his son was a scout member of the troop.
oldest son was eleven and I didn’t think it was even possible because he never
joined the cub scouts. I was thrilled to find out that they only had to be
eleven and no other prerequisites were necessary. My eldest joined first and
two years later my younger son entered. Currently, they are both members of
Troop One in the Village of Bronxville. I was a very active dad and I made sure
they went to every trip and every Monday night meeting. Although the other dads
and leaders didn’t necessarily share the same political views as I did, I
always felt like I was welcome. Among the Bronxville Troop One adults, there is
an environment of mutual respect for each other’s opinions and philosophies.
Don’t get me wrong, I can only speak for our troop. I’m certain not all troops
are like our troop. Not unlike any other established organization, you need to
make sure there is a decent fit between the group and the individual.
sons have been in boy scouts for the past five years. The decision to have them
join the scouts is one of the greatest decisions I’ve made as a father. Scouts
were exactly what I was looking for in an organization. In the beginning I was
afraid that Scouts were some sort of militaristic right wing religious
extremist cult, hell bent on their ideologies. I was grateful I had the sense
to realize my decision shouldn’t be based on my wild imagination.
organization promotes Scout Laws. A Scout is:
Which sane parent wouldn’t
want their sons to follow these laws?
Paterson, I had plenty of adventures, unlike those my sons are having, but the
laws were different. Don’t get caught; don’t trust adults, lie if you get
caught and so on. My sons have gone rock climbing, canoeing, camping, swimming.
They’ve been taught the safe and proper way of handling a firearm. My eldest
son went on a high adventure trip to Bermuda. He was on an actual wooden ship
with a few other scouts and a disgruntled captain who made them “swab the
deck.” They had a great time out in the open ocean, far away from any tourist
attractions. In the end there was even a real live mutiny against the captain. The
boys made their protests clear and the captain listened.
principles and adventures are not the limit of Boy Scouts. Our troop has the
privilege of having great adult leaders like Mr. Chilson, Mr. Schoenlank, and
Mr. Terp. All bring valuable practical skills to the meetings and outings. For
example, some of the many things they teach are: how to make a fire from scratch,
cooking, proper use of an ax, how to pitch a tent, how to survive outdoors,
essential first aid. More importantly,
they genuinely care about the emotional and intellectual development of the
scouts in their troop. They understand and have great patience with the boys.
They watch over them and make sure there is order but they don’t suffocate or
stifle their spirit.
scouts are required to earn twenty-one badges to attain the highest level of
scouting which is the rank of Eagle. They have over
to choose from and twelve are mandatory. They range from swimming to citizen of
the world. This is no small task. Very few scouts ever reach the Eagle level.
For some of the badges the commitment seems almost unattainable for a typical teen.
For example, one of the many requirements for the personal management badge
requires that the scout work for ninety days painstakingly recording their
finances in a spreadsheet. The personal fitness badge requires that you design
and implement a twelve-week exercise regiment and record your progress. Finally,
one of the public speaking badge requirements includes the scout to make an eight
to ten minute speech in front of a public audience. I was barely able to make a
private speech in front of my baby sister during my boyhood in Paterson.
the summer, the scout has an option to go to summer camp for only $350 a week.
These camps are equivalent to those expensive stay away camps, which can cost
thousands of dollars per week. The camps are not a free for all. The scout
typically goes up to earn badges and most of the day is well structured with
badge classes. But after badge classes are over, the boys are allowed to
explore the camp site and participate in fun activities like fishing or
isn’t just about the scout. The Boy Scout organization strongly promotes
community service. My sons have gone to soup kitchens and blood drives. They’ve
helped renovate historical school houses and cleared overgrown bushes from
pathways. In addition to the twenty-one badges to earn Eagle, the scout needs
to complete a sustainable community service project. My son is about to get his
Eagle badge and he is in the process of doing his service project. He is
recording the amount of Tuckahoe marble, which is currently embedded in the
homes of Tuckahoe homeowners. To preserve this marble he is going in front of
the Tuckahoe Village Board and asking them to add a questionnaire to all building
permits. If the homeowner is doing renovation the questionnaire will ask the
homeowners if they have any Tuckahoe marble as a result of the renovation. If
they did, the questionnaire asks if the homeowner would be willing to donate it
to the village.
Eagle candidate is not alone in completing the project. He is required to
enlist the entire troop. He acts as the project manager and leads the troop by
making all decisions in the implementation and completion of the project. In
short, the scout helps his community and learns leadership skills in the
process. Many Eagles later move on to become respected leaders of their
community. Some famous Eagle Scouts include; New York City Mayor Michael
Bloomberg, Steven Spielberg, Neil Armstrong, and Bill Bradley.
beauty of the Scouts is that they make all the activities age specific and
incredibly fun to do. There is tremendous support from leaders and active
parents. The boys become very close and tend to continue lifelong friendships.
Bronxville Troop One is a small troop, but we have at least one scout who has become
an Eagle every year since we joined five years ago. It’s one of the first
troops in the country and it’s described as follows: Troop 1 – the “parent of
all cabin troops” was founded in 1919. In 1929 the Troop was given permission
to wear the special Bucking Bronco patch with the motto “Bronxville’s Bucking
Broncos — The Troop That Can’t Be Ridden.” When the Kennedy family lived in
Bronxville, John F. Kennedy belonged to the Bronxville Troop cabin and he was
in Troop Two.
summary, when my sons were young, I was very concerned that they would not have
a chance to grow up just being boys and doing boy things as I had done growing
up in Paterson. Kismet interfered and I discovered an
which not only eliminated my fears but far exceeded my expectations.
there are a few controversies surrounding the Boy Scouts. They are an honorable
institution and they are trying to do the right thing. They will work through
their issues. The Boy Scouts are an integral part of American culture and
identity. Their contribution to society are undisputed. The National Eagle
Scout Association researched the total volunteer
hours of the Eagle service projects ever done and it came to a total
of more than 100 million hours of service. Each year, new Eagle Scouts add more
than three million more hours. Eagle
scouts completed about 9.5 million hours in 2011.
Troop One is having an open house on April 8, 2013 and everyone is welcome to
come and meet with a group of fantastic individuals.
Chilson is the current Scoutmaster.
Meetings are held on Monday nights at 7:30 p.m.,
at Scout Field, 1820 Midland Avenue, Bronxville, NY 10708. Telephone: (914)