Today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it will discontinue using programs of the Boy Scouts of America for boys older than 13. The BSA and the LDS Church have been on divergent paths for the last couple of years, so this decision was probably inevitable. Scouting has blessed my life in many ways, and I’m deeply saddened to see this occur.
But the three most important influences to help young men have always been faith, family and inspiring leaders — that doesn’t change, and in fact this decision simplifies and strengthens the emphasis on all three.
One of the most influential men in my life was my Webelos leader, Fred Liljegren. I missed my last chance to see him. I was in his neighborhood on a Monday night for a meeting and was anxious to get home. Fred had been battling a rare cancer for some time. I felt prompted to stop by his home but didn’t follow it. I regret that.
Fred had come a few weeks earlier to my house to drop off two woodcuts he had made: one of the monogram design Michelle and I put on our wedding invitation, and the other of my name made from the shadow of a person sitting at a piano. These are treasured reminders of our friendship, but it is I who should have acknowledged him, as he richly deserved.
No Scout leader had a greater effect on me than Fred did. Not checking my memory too precisely, I had assumed that effect came from my time in his Webelos den. Looking back more carefully, I realized that the two months in his den were too short for that.
In those two months, Fred worked with me actively enough that I filled the requirements for the Webelos badge and Arrow of Light, and earned most of the activity pins. (It was a marathon on his part, since neither I nor my parents knew enough about Cub Scouting to have concocted a similar game plan on such short notice.)
But that was only the start of my time working with him. The real time came as he invited me to be his den chief. I kept that role for about 18 months. I helped with den meetings, but he always seemed more interested in what I was doing than whatever I was doing for him. Fred kept watching and coaching me over the years. Multiple moves and my own interests meant that among my peers I had few friends, but I seldom felt that void because Fred and my dad were there.
So much of a boy’s imagination is full of cul-de-sacs, pleasant dead ends that he wants to explore and from which he learns in random sequence things that later guide his life. Going with a boy into those cul-de-sacs can be exasperating for adults; at least I sometimes find them so with my own sons. It can easily seem like a waste of time, tools and treasure. But Fred went into some of my cul-de-sacs with me. He didn’t just indulge my imagination, he stoked it. One of these instances I remember was his helping me build a wooden game. The game never worked out, and he probably knew that it wouldn’t, but that didn’t stop him from taking time in his garage to teach me what I needed on a band saw, a sander, some metal punches and some other small tools in order to try my idea. Fred saw this as time teaching rather than time lost.
Child learning, especially a boy’s physical learning, almost needs to be messy to work. Fred never lost his patience or his optimism as he lived with my messes. I know many boys had the same experience with Fred that I did, and it’s amazing to me that he managed all of that.
As I moved on in Scouting, Fred opened more doors than I realized. My Eagle project and relationship with many wonderful adult Scouters was entirely founded on Fred’s impeccable calling card. Never far behind the scenes was Fred’s wife, Linda. She always welcomed Fred’s Scouts when we walked into their garage. I understand the meaning and significance of spousal support much better now than I did then. Linda’s sharing of Fred with me and so many other Scouts is one of the greater gifts I’ve received from anyone outside my own family. It was a special privilege to have them both in attendance at luncheon the day Michelle and I were married.
Fred spoke at my Eagle Court of Honor. I love the picture that was taken while he spoke. You can see the same calm, connecting, open teaching personality that I saw every time I was around him. I’m grateful for my memories of him, and what they continue to teach me today.
As the church develops new programs for its young men, the tools it uses may change. But parents and leaders have the same opportunities to love and strengthen boys that we have always had. It’s up to us to see and seize those opportunities as Fred did for so many boys he served and blessed. Today’s announcement puts the ball squarely, and more simply, in our court.