Chuck Eaton grew up in a single-parent home.
His mom enrolled him in Cub Scouting because “she wanted neighborhood dads to teach me things she didn’t know about,” he says. “How to change the oil, simple home repairs, how to camp, how to fish, probably even how to talk sports. She grew up in a time where those gender norms made it unlikely that she could teach me those skills.”
Eaton now leads the Boston-based Spirit of Adventure Council as Scout executive. He says his story represents one of the lesser-talked-about benefits of Scouting.
Scouting, he says, is parents working together to help raise each other’s kids.
Eaton offers a unique perspective on the life-changing value of the Boy Scouts of America, but his story itself isn’t unique. It’s repeated in packs, troops, teams, posts, ships and crews from coast to coast.
“I reflect on my relationship with my Scoutmaster and how he was, in many ways, my primary adult male role model,” Eaton says. “The other dads did, in fact, over the years teach me to drive, how to do basic plumbing, how to swing a hammer, how to make a business phone call, and, of course, how to camp, fish, canoe and rock climb.”
Now as a professional Scouter, Eaton visits troops and packs and sees how leaders and committee members work together to develop a support network for each other’s kids.
He sees parents exchanging recipes — both for success in the kitchen and for success in raising a child.
“It’s not uncommon for a parent of one child to have insight into another child’s needs,” he says. “It’s typically a casual conversation but incredibly impactful.”
Sometimes what’s uncovered is truly magical. A parent skilled in auto mechanics might have a son interested in theater. An parent who teaches drama might have a daughter who loves taking apart car engines. You can see Eaton’s point; Scouting builds life-changing connections.
When it comes to understanding a child’s developing character, Eaton says parents often are too close to the situation to see every pattern. That’s not bad parenting; it’s just a natural side effect of parental proximity.
“It takes a friend, who works with your son or sees him in the other den, to point out these incredibly important developmental characteristics,” he says.
These conversations pull parents closer together and build a support community.
“It’s my observation that this is how those standout leaders eventually develop a culture to create a standout troop that sustains strong leadership generation after generation,” he says.
A Scoutmaster knows best
A few years ago, Eaton was invited to a meeting of assistant Scoutmasters at a particularly strong troop.
The Scoutmaster was talking to six or seven assistants and went through the roster of the 50 boys in the troop.
Eaton was amazed as the Scoutmaster, without any notes, talked for three to five minutes about each boy.
Without sharing private details, they discussed the boy’s home situation, school performance, circle of friends and social characteristics. This information, garnered through years of caring leadership, enabled the assistants to forge an environment where each boy could succeed. Knowledge is power.
“The assistant Scoutmasters would discuss and develop a thought process for the unique boy’s prospective year in Scouting,” he says. “It was wonderfully impressive.”