Get to Know Your Cub's Parents - and have them help you!Bill Smith,
Kevin was in the first group of boys to join our Cub Pack in October 1963 when three neighbors and I started it in our back yard. My wife, Shirley, had told me that I could be Cubmaster as long as she didn’t have to do anything. When Kevin’s den mother up and quit, Shirley took over den 6 and inherited Kevin along with the others.
Some of the first things I noticed about Kevin were that he loved Cub Scouting and that his mother was always around to help with the den or with our monthly outdoors activities. His dad was noticeably absent - I recalled something on the application form about him working on a ship. It wasn’t a big deal; as long as we had one parent contributing, that was a huge plus.
A couple months later, I finally got to meet Kevin’s dad. We talked for a few minutes at the end of a Pack Meeting. He told me that he was appreciative of how much Kevin was getting out of Cub Scouting and he felt guilty that his job prevented him from being a part of the program. He described his job as being the navigation officer on board an oceanographic research ship.
At that time, Oceanography was one of those new, esoteric sciences that was mostly a mystery to the general public. Sort of like what many of us are presently unaware of what goes on at the CERN Laboratory in Switzerland. I nodded my head in dumb agreement with little real understanding as he described the project. His duties, as he described it, were to plot a course along a “survey line” and then plot another parallel course a few miles away. “A very boring job going back and forth across the ocean.”
The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) website describes Oceanography at this period of time. 1963 - The first operational multibeam sounding system was installed on the USNS Compass Island. This system, and other multibeam sounding systems that have evolved since, observe a number of soundings to the left and right of a ship's head as well as vertically allowing the development of a relatively accurate map of the seafloor as the ship proceeds on a survey line.
The next time that his ship was back in port at pack meeting time, he dropped a real bomb shell on us. He asked if any kids might be interested in a tour of the ship. He said that Kevin and siblings had been there several times and had pretty much lost interest in it.
Well, I knew that very few members of our pack had ever been aboard a real ocean-going ship so the pack committee and I jumped on this invitation. We used Kevin’s mom as our contact point, arranged a date for the tour, chartered a bus and were on the dock when the Navigation Officer came down the gangway to welcome us.
It was a great tour! We went from the engine room to the bridge, with all sorts of stops along the way. The crew was magnificent, describing the equipment, answering all the questions that kids have and then inviting us down to the galley for some ice cream. We had briefed the boys on proper etiquette aboard a ship and what to expect there and their conduct exceeded our expectations. The boys had great time, gave good will, and we were proud of them.
This visit was so successful and popular that it became an annual event. Lots of word-of-mouth went on in school and that helped recruiting. We heard that the ship's captain liked our visits because our pack was one of the few groups that didn’t try to steal anything not nailed down.
On our third visit, the crew had a special surprise for us. On their last trip, they had mapped the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. When we got to the sonar room, they brought out the echo maps they had made showing the two parallel mountain ranges in the ocean floor and the deep valley between where, the sonar operators explained, were under-water volcanoes. The boys were able to trace with their fingers along the ridges and gaps; they ate it all up. Some of the adults who were up on science were in awe and even those who weren’t so knowledgeable recognized that what we were seeing was important.
What we saw was, of course, the early discoveries that led to the theories of plate tectonics and seafloor spreading. This experience helped the Cub Scouts and older siblings who came along with their science education. Some years later one of our den leaders commented, “That was sort of like Galileo inviting our den over to his back yard to view the moons of Jupiter through his telescope.” When a former Cub Scout’s high school science class covered tectonic plates, he remembered: Yeah, we were there when they discovered that.
What was, perhaps, more important is what we learned about getting parents involved. Here was a father who mistakenly thought that he had little to contribute to his son’s Scouting. His boring job kept him away from home for long periods of time. He had practically no time to work with his son on his achievements or electives and certainly could not be a leader or contribute to the pack program. What really happened was that he gave Kevin’s pack one of its most valuable and exciting episodes. He was a hero; everyone knew who Kevin’s dad was.
We were lucky to find him and work with him. Without those couple of casual conversations it may never have happened. I would guess that we miss a lot of valuable talent and human resources when parents don’t see a clear path into helping make our packs go. It often takes a lot of communication, imagination and exploration on the part of both the leaders and the parents to discover just the best ways for a parent to contribute.
We too often just write off some parents as not worth the effort. And in that way we rob the son of seeing his parents as heroes. Kevin was, I’m sure, proud of his dad.