Thursday, February 28, 2013

It's Easier to Say, "I Can't"

I am quite certain that health professionals would say that I have an eating disorder. In this November 2011 post I discussed how my low carb diet was going. I am still doing the low carb thing, but I'm thinking about doing another round of the Rosedale diet, which I have found remarkably effective in managing cholesterol; although, not nearly as satisfying as my low carb regimen.

This interchange recently took place between my youngest son and me:

Him: "Dad, are you always on some kind of diet?"

Me: "Well, everyone that eats is always on some kind of diet." (being evasive)

Him: "I know. I meant are you always on some kind of ... uh, you know ... medical diet?"

Me: "You are asking whether I am always doing some kind of restrictive diet for health purposes?"

Him: "Yeah, that's it."

Me: "Yeah, I'm pretty much always on some kind of healthy diet."

Him: "Oh." (sounding rather non-plussed)

I have been fighting the battle of the bulge since I was 16 years old. I dropped 60 lbs a couple of decades ago and have pretty much managed to keep it off since then. Although I was never obese as a kid, I was somewhat chubby from the time I exited the womb. This feature was the preferred vehicle for much of the childhood ridicule that came my way. 

For all the paeans to the wonders of being child-like, children can be phenomenally brutal to their peers. I probably dished out as least as much as I got, but only the pain of being on the receiving end remains deeply etched in my psyche.

My wife reminds me on occasion that my obsession with maintaining a healthy weight is at least in part a response to the ghosts of childhood insults that were hurled by immature kids that have long since grown into mature, caring, responsible adults. (The petty part of me would add to that last sentence, "... that often are fatter than me nowadays.")

OK, so I've got some issues left over from childhood. Who doesn't?

The reason my son sounded joyless about my response is that dietary discipline simply doesn't sound like it's any fun. Here's a news flash: IT ISN'T! I have tried a number of different diets over the years. The ones that have actually been effective have all shared several features:
  • A: They are restrictive.
  • B: They require serious self-discipline.
  • C: Item A above means that unless you are into spending hours daily doing food preparation or can afford a personal chef, these diets tend to devolve into fairly narrow meal options, which means dietary monotony.
  • D: A + B + C = No Fun
Most diets are promoted as being pleasurable and offering a wide variety of dining options. The reality is that unless you are a foodie, pleasure and diversity are opposites of what you will find in any diet that really works.

I recently saw an article about a lady that was a hot starlet back when I was a teenager. She had subsequently added significant heft to her corpus but had recently slimmed down. She was quoted as saying that comfort foods are grand, as long as you only take a bite or two.

Maybe that works for her, but it doesn't work for me. It's far easier for me to simply tell myself that a given food is completely out of bounds. Unlike some, if I give myself permission to eat some delightful treat, I simply can't stop at a couple of bites. It's like giving a recovering alcoholic a bottle of whiskey and telling him to stop after one shot. Better not to touch the stuff at all. That's why I often tell myself and others, "Sorry, I can't."

But sometimes I tell myself, "I can." Yeah, I occasionally take dietary vacations. I don't go crazy with this. It is relatively rare and usually only lasts one or two meals. I may overeat a little on these occasions, but not a lot. It's pretty measured. I don't devolve into uncontrollable eating that is the marker of binge eating.

While diet experts warn against emotional eating, the fact is that everything we eat involves our emotions, often on a very deep level. It's inescapable. People aren't joking when they say things like, "I love donuts" or "I hate spinach" when talking about food. It is my opinion that even for those that opt for dietary austerity, eating should occasionally be a joyful experience (although it may cost some minor indigestion afterward).

When I do take a dietary vacation, I like to do so only in the company of my closest family members. This definitely smacks of covering sins and attempting to satisfy vain desires (D&C 121:37). I can dietarily vacation in public, as long as I'm anonymous. I don't like to be seen by neighbors, friends, and associates eating the less healthy fare that others regularly eat. Psychologists would say that this kind of secrecy is unhealthy and indicates a disorder. They're probably right.

Thinking back to my conversation with my son, I have to wonder what I am teaching my children by my example. No wonder my son views my dietary discipline with distaste. I wouldn't mind if my children learned the kind of self-discipline I have developed. But frankly, I wouldn't wish on them the same level of food frustration that I regularly deal with.

The fact is that I want to eat what I enjoy eating, but I don't want the consequences of eating what I enjoy eating. Most people would probably say the same thing. The difference is that I actually do something about it. And, no, it really isn't much fun. But I do like the health benefits. One of life's harsh truths is that you can't eat your cake and not wear it too.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tired of Winter

Before heading up to our workout room in the wee hours this morning, I peered through the blinds and noticed snow accumulating on the driveway and walks yet again. I sighed. By the time I was leaving for work about an inch of the white stuff had accumulated.

Let me state for the official record that I am tired of winter. Yeah, I know. I have often told others complaining about winter that their choice of where they live sure is odd, given that northern Utah tends to regularly experience real winters. That "greatest snow on earth" slogan isn't all marketing fluff.

We had a few snowstorms in November this season. But that snow had pretty much melted away by the time mid December rolled around. And then—cold. Cold and haze due to incessant inversion. Our kids kept wishing for a white Christmas. Alas, no new snowfall graced our area in time for the blessed yuletide.

But snow fell the day after Christmas, giving us a brief respite from the inversion and unseasonably frigid temperatures. (The mean temperature this winter has been quite a bit colder than is "normal.") We haven't seen much of our lawn since December 26. We have had fairly long spells of inversion where the snow didn't melt much, interspersed with occasional snowstorms that required more rounds of snow removal.

The snow removal took its toll on me this year. I can tell that I am aging. After breaking up resilient sheets of two-inch thick ice that painted all surfaces following an unusual ice storm, my left hip began hurting. The pain increased over the next several days until it was excruciating. (I even took ibuprofen, which I rarely do.)

I have great respect for what a good chiropractor can do with respect to muscular-skeletal problems. But I frankly hate the standard chiropractic business model that sucks you into 20 visits when one or two would suffice. At least, if the chiropractor was any good at his trade. Besides, I have learned enough about how my own joints work to make certain adjustments on my own.

Having effected the adjustment that relieved the pressure on the affected nerve, I needed to give the nerve time to heal. But the regular storm pattern over recent weeks has made that difficult, as I have had to repeatedly do snow removal. Finally, however, my back and hip are approaching normalcy, no thanks to the shoveling and snow blowing. Still, I have had to stay away from the ski slopes.

Despite all of the snow removal and driving in slippery conditions (and paying for an auto repair thanks to those conditions), water managers tell us that we have below average water in the mountains and that we are likely headed into a second consecutive drought year. Now, that just doesn't seem fair to me. We have snow and ice with little sunshine for weeks on end, we keep doing snow removal, and yet we're in a drought. (They tell us that the long inversion periods kept storms away and that when storms did come they dumped their moisture in the valleys before floating unladen over the mountains, so that there isn't much snow up there.)

The media seems to take great delight in rubbing our faces in the fact that we're headed into a drought. There is a whole class of professional hand-wringers that spend a great portion of each year whining about northern Utah's water conditions. There's often too little water. Sometimes there's too much. Or it's melting too fast. Etc. There's always something to keep the worrywart/whining class busy.

Saturday night a wheel and related mechanical parts were damaged on one of our cars when one of the drivers in our household hit a patch of solid ice and slid into a curb going about 10 mph. You'd be surprised how much it costs to repair something like that. Not enough to make an insurance claim, but an unexpected hit to the family budget anyway.

The storm had passed and the skies were clear when Sunday morning dawned. For the first time during this winter that I could remember we gazed out on deep blue sky and dazzling morning sunlight reflecting off the fresh snow. We usually have many days like this during an average winter, but the inversion haze kept it from happening much this season. As I looked out at the mountains and across the valley, my consternation of the previous evening melted away. I remembered some of the things that I love about northern Utah winters.

The snow clouds of early this morning vanished by mid morning and glorious sunlight again graced our valley, making the mountains look beautiful. I'm still tired of this winter. It has kind of worn me down. But there are things that I adore about northern Utah winters. We won't be moving anytime soon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Missionary Library Then and Now

Just before I left to serve as a missionary I was given a boxed set of paperback books that included James E. Talmage's masterpieces Jesus The Christ and The Articles of Faith, LeGrand Richards' fundamental work A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, and the LDS Church's Gospel Principles manual.

I read through Elder Richards' book easily enough. Talmage's books, although magnificent, were written in the grammar of a true scholar at a time when the average person's vocabulary was much larger and included words like pulchritude, abrogation, and annunciation. (See John Branyan's comical take on modern vs. historical vocabulary and grammar.) While I learned much in reading Talmage's works, the chore was a tough slog for my callow, simply educated brain.

Also included in the boxed set was a slender fifth book. To this day I still don't understand how or why this book was included in the set. Perhaps one of the authors was related to a general authority. The book read more like the findings of a doctorate thesis or a university research project. It was all about how a child's placement in the family permanently sets the child's personality. The authors prescribed methods for interacting with others based on their birth order among their siblings. While birth order no doubt affects each person, I still think the book smacked of pop culture mumbo jumbo and had little relevance for a missionary.

Another book I received was Spencer W. Kimball's The Miracle of Forgiveness. This was much easier for me to read than the books by Talmage or even Richards. Mind you, I studied all of these books while I also studiously delved into the scriptures and resources for learning Norwegian.

In the MTC we were also given a book titled Tools for Missionaries. It was commonly referred to by those in my mission as "Tull for Misjonærer." The Norwegian word "tull" does not mean "tools;" it means "nonsense" (at least in politically correct English).

It wasn't that the book contained no useful information. It did, however, seem heavily slanted toward missionaries serving in Latin American cultures. That probably made sense, since that is where the church was experiencing high growth. But many of the suggestions in the book were wholly unsuited to northern Europe, rendering many parts of the book irrelevant to us. (I still dutifully studied the book.)

I regularly read these various books while riding buses, streetcars, or trains, in addition to reading them in my apartment. If I had been a better missionary I probably would have looked for contacting opportunities while using mass transit instead of hiding behind my books.

Being somewhat of an introvert, I frankly hated cold contacting people in public. I had little problem talking to people if they initiated the discussion. I could (and often did) knock on doors all day long. I think this didn't bother me much because gaining admittance was rare enough to render it less threatening.

I spent a significant portion of my mission working in the mission office in various positions. Administration seemed to come naturally to me, so my skills were well used. Although we did traditional missionary work in the evenings, the hours I spent daily working in the office minimized the need to engage in salesmanship tactics, something I still avoid. (I very much appreciate Orson Scott Card's recent article on introverts in an extrovert church.)

My missionary son today uses Preach My Gospel, correlated manuals, and the scriptures for his main reference materials. In my opinion this compendium represents a vast improvement over the resources I used back in my day. The extrascriptural elements are written in straightforward language. They are generally relevant to missionary work and are flexible enough to be individually and situationally relevant.

Works like those by Talmage that I studied as a missionary can be wonderful supplements for those that wish to stretch their linguistic as well as their scriptural understanding. Each of us needs a better comprehension of what and whom we worship. But I am glad that today's core missionary library focuses on simplicity. The universe is a complex place. But many solid truths are rooted in simplicity.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Rewards of Relationship Rituals

A friend of mine that is a respected business owner and church leader occasionally relates a story of which he is not proud. When he was still fairly newly married, he and his wife attended a large family gathering. At the gathering he told a joke at his wife's expense. His grandfather looked at him and very publicly dressed him down for disrespecting his spouse.

"She is your sweetheart and bride," my friend's grandfather said. "You are to treat her with the utmost respect at all times." Grandpa demanded that the young groom apologize to his wife. My friend admits that his grandfather had done a fine job of modeling the behavior he was advocating and is grateful to have learned this lesson early in his marriage. He and his wife today provide a fine example for their own expanding brood of grandchildren.

I am not fond of pranks or jokes made at the expense of others. Ever since I was young it has always hurt inside when I have seen someone else hurt through this kind of thing. My wife might correct me, but I do not believe that I have ever turned a joke on her.

My Mom had only sons. She taught us about cooking and domestic chores, but Mom had no daughters to dress up. As she had my brothers before me, Mom carefully educated me about dating rituals and how to properly respect women when the time came.

Although I didn't often see Dad open the car door for Mom, doing so has become a ritual for my wife and me. It follows the pattern Mom taught me. With few exceptions, I open the car door for my wife when we are traveling in the same vehicle. I open doors to buildings and rooms for her.

I don't do this because my wife is incapable of opening the doors herself; I do it to show my respect and love for her. It's not a matter of necessity. It's a matter of enhancing our relationship. Although it would sometimes be easier for my wife just to open the doors herself, she usually graciously allows me to do so. We find it a mutually joyful ritual.

Growing up in a houseful of boys, I didn't develop many tender touching skills. Boys often show their affection by punching, wrestling, and tussling. Tenderness didn't come into the picture much. Although it still doesn't come completely naturally to me, my wonderful wife often draws me into tender touching rituals. Despite our many years of marriage, we often hold hands or engage in other minor displays of affection.

I would be lying if I said that I never got frustrated with my wife. While I still have a long way to go in learning not to be critical, I try very hard not to badmouth my wife to others. It seems to me that those that do so tend to have rocky marriages. I'm not sure whether the complaints precede the relationship problems or vice versa; or maybe it's just a self defeating cycle. But certainly removing the griping can go a long way toward preventing or repairing problems.

The longer I am married, the more I am convinced that Mom was right about the little things. Seemingly minor positive relationship rituals make a major difference. Although it may appear that these things come naturally to some couples, these exercises require continual thoughtful effort. But the reward is sweet.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Happy Birthday, Van

Last weekend we had a birthday party for Van, who reached the ripe old age of 20 years. We celebrated with a decorated cake topped with candles. We took pictures and enjoyed ice cream. But Van, who didn't have any treats and didn't blow out the candles, didn't have anything to say about the occasion.

I still recall Van's advent into our family. 20 years ago we picked up Van brand spanking new from a Ford dealership; the only vehicle we have ever bought that was built to our specifications. (It is also the last brand new vehicle we have bought, to date.)

The opportunity to acquire a sleek new 1993 Mercury Villager at an affordable price came to us thanks to the Ford Z-Plan—an employee discount incentive available through my wife's grandfather, who had retired from working in a Ford factory.

Weeks earlier when we presented the dealer with the Z-Plan paperwork, he immediately dumped all of the games that car dealerships usually play. He cut right to the chase, showed us exactly how much the vehicle and options we wanted cost, and got us on our way. He explained that he received a set percentage of the vehicle invoice returned to him in vouchers for parts. Since he was prohibited from making any extra on the sale, the sooner he could finish with us and get to another customer, the sooner he could make more money.

Having for a number of years driven a van that was built on a light truck frame, I was impressed the Van's luxury sedan-like ride and handling. In those days, Mercury Villagers were the alter ego of the Nissan Quest. They were built in the same factory using a Maxima chassis and engine. They had only cosmetic differences. The package we bought came with this ur-cool digital dashboard, that I still really like.

The only real complaint we had about Van was that its Maxima engine was designed for a sedan, rather than a van, which was built with 600 lbs more material and could haul 400 lbs more in people and gear, plus trailering. So Van lacked power when climbing hills. Still, we got a towing package and occasionally used Van to pull light loads.

During the ensuing 20 years, Van has seen a long parade of children, scouts, road trips, spilled drinks, crumbs, vomit, mud, occasional fender benders, teens learning to drive, and trips to the auto mechanic. When the trips to the auto shop became frequent and severe enough that Van's reliability was in question, we purchased a newer SUV. Van was relegated to being the vehicle driven by the teenagers. (Who call our light brown minivan "The Turdmobile" and constantly complain that the vehicle is unsafe; although, it recently passed safety inspection.)

It has been several years since we have trusted Van enough to take it more than towing distance from home. Van has mostly been used for trips to and from school and around town. We haven't bothered to repair most of the dents sustained by our teenagers. The heater and the A/C only sort of work. One power seat belt barely functions. Passengers must climb under the other one, which doesn't move at all. Anytime a power window is opened it seems questionable whether it will manage to close again. The sound of air whistling through window and door seals gets pretty loud if you get going more than 40 mph. The brakes work, although, they feel kind of iffy when the pedal is pressed.

Despite Van's age related drawbacks, we keep it around—mainly because we can't currently afford to replace it. Each family member still has many fond memories of Van. Each of our children except the first rode home from the hospital in Van two days after birth. We have shared many family trips in Van and I have taken Van on countless scouting trips.

But it is questionable how long we will be able to keep Van. The kids actually do have a point about the vehicle's safety. It's a far cry from what it once was. Van's reliability has also deteriorated noticeably in the past two years. The ownership of aging vehicles is suited to people that are mechanically inclined—a trait I did not inherit from my MacGyver-like Dad. When the day comes that Van leaves our family, I will be happy. And a little sad.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Scouting: "We're Doing It Wrong"

Dave Rich was a talented and accomplished man who served as the volunteer president of our Boy Scout council a few years ago and subsequently volunteered at higher levels in the scouting organization. An amazingly energetic man, he dedicated his life to helping and serving others until overtaken by disease. In his later years he insatiably consumed  and analyzed volumes of books and resources about all things related to youth and devised methods for helping youth become happy and productive members of society.

Although he was a highly decorated and staunch supporter of the Boy Scouts, Dave was also a thoughtful critic of the organization. He held bachelor, master, and doctorate degrees, but he felt that the BSA had moved too far into the brainy end of things, particularly when it came to scouting advancement requirements.

On more than one occasion I watched and listened as Dave discussed a raft of books and research showing that many of the problems modern youth experience can be successfully addressed by getting youth in contact with real nature more often. He noted that our scout council boasted nine camp facilities set in some of the most marvelous outdoor settings in the country. Residents of our council also have ready access to millions of acres of back country trails and expanses, some of which are accessible minutes from our homes.

All of these resources provide ample opportunity to frequently get youth out into nature. Yet Dave said he was dismayed by how we used these resources. We take boys to wonderful rustic scout camps and set them down in classroom settings to teach them merit badges that could just as easily be taught in an urban building. The boys lose out on the benefit of actually interacting with nature and discovering how it really works.

Too many of the requirements for the merit badges required for the Eagle Scout rank have nothing to do with outdoors or adventure—the elements most missing for many modern youth—and everything to do with more of the same classroom and homework regimens that already consume much of their time with generally lackluster results. Even the adventure and outdoors based requirements are often administered in a left brain fashion, unfortunately drawing attention away from the surrounding natural world.

Dave had specific criticisms for the way the scouting program works in Utah. He noted that we have become very good at getting youth to advance. Youth progress through scouting requirements, ranks, and merit badges at a much faster clip in Utah than anywhere else in the world. Many are very proud of this fact.

The problem, Dave noted, is that scouting is not primarily about ranks and awards; it is about getting youth to learn and internalize the scouting method. Scouting is about helping youth become scouts—infusing the moral and character aims taught by scouting into the essence of their very being. Scouts can achieve ranks and awards without ever internalizing these ideals if the adult volunteers fail to firmly keep these ideals the main focus of the program.

On one occasion after discussing poor application of nature in working with youth and failure to adequately teach the scouting method, Dave bluntly said, "What I am saying is that we're doing it wrong." We have everything we need to do it right, but we are too often focused on the wrong things. Internalization of scouting ideals can occur as a result of pursuing advancement, but Dave felt that it works better the other way around—when advancement is simply a symptom of the pursuit of scouting ideals.

To implement Dave Rich's vision of how scouting should work, some changes would need to occur at the national level. Some merit badges would need to be restructured and the badges required for the Eagle rank would need to be changed up. Unfortunately I don't really see this happening. Each requirement in each merit badge has a constituency that supports that requirement. The left brain designers of these requirements aren't about to lie down and let the woodsy folks ride roughshod over their beloved designs.

Local leaders can do much to get youth into nature more and to re-emphasize the scouting method. It is true, however, that they will face pressure from parents to do more advancement, because that is what Utah culture dictates. It's what parents see the kids of their friends and relatives doing. LDS Scouting in Utah following Cub Scouts is like a blitz through ages 11, 12, and 13 to get as much advancement as possible, followed by a rite of passage to age 14 when the boy never again dons a scout uniform or even thinks of himself as a member of the BSA.

All of this marshals against more outdoors oriented implementation of the scouting method. Frankly, it's a lot easier to plop the youth down in a church building classroom for an hour on a Wednesday night or to let them toss a basketball around than it is to take them on a hike to a rocky vista or a quiet pond, or to do what it takes to let them actually lead their units

It takes a lot of work and dedication to put adventure and real youth leadership into a unit's scouting program. I tried to do this during the years that I served as scoutmaster. Although I often fell short I did feel like I saw some successes. Some of those successes only showed up with the passage of time.

A few years ago I saw a man in his early 30s that looked familiar. When he turned and smiled at me I recognized him as one of my senior patrol leaders from my first year as scoutmaster. I didn't remember him as a particularly good scout or senior patrol leader. But he came over, gave me hug and thanked me for teaching him scouting principles that he said had deeply impacted his life.

We can do scouting right, and in doing so, we can help youth develop high moral character as well as a proper appreciation for nature. But for most scouting units in Utah, that means making important changes, many of which would require an even higher degree of dedication than the average scout leader now demonstrates. When Dave Rich passed away we lost one of the few champions for making these kinds of positive changes.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

No Gay Scoutmasters for Now; What's Next?

Last week I wrote a post positing whether Boy Scout units sponsored by the LDS Church would soon be able to have gay scout leaders. I asked the question in light of last week's news that the 77-member BSA executive board would consider dropping the BSA's long held ban on homosexual members at its meeting this week.

The Associated Press now reports that the executive board has backed away from making the decision itself. Rather, the board will prepare a proposal to be voted on at the national council meeting in May. The national council has some 1,400 voting members, including "volunteers who are elected National Officers and Executive Board members, regional presidents, the local council representatives, members at large, and honorary members."

Frankly, the proposal to change the current policy is going to be a hard sell for this broad group. The best chance of changing the policy anytime soon would have been at the executive board meeting, many of whose members operate in social circles where gay rights are accepted and championed. A rapidly organized grass roots movement to get the board to postpone its vote appears to have been effective.

While there will be strong support for changing the current policy among some members of the national council, the size of the voting group ensures that voters will more closely reflect the ideals of the base membership of the BSA. Some councils in more liberal enclaves currently do little to enforce the ban on homosexual members and would like the ban dropped. Other councils in more conservative areas where membership tends to be stronger see maintaining the ban as a matter of principle.

In an organization as large as the BSA, it seems best to allow the greatest input possible on a change of this nature, which many feel would fundamentally alter the organization. So a vote by the national council would seem more appropriate than a vote by the executive board, which makes up only about 5½ percent of the national council membership.

It is difficult for me to see how a proposal to change the current policy could pass a vote of the national council at present. Over the next three months voting members will undoubtedly be lobbied heavily by motivated people from both sides of the issue. But I would be surprised if the national council ended up voting in favor of the change this year.

As I noted in my previous post, the proposal would move decisions about membership from the national level to the local unit level, or more accurately, to the sponsoring organizations. The national BSA organization would discontinue its ban on homosexual members, but it would allow local units to maintain the ban.

This proposal is a compromise that has inherent weaknesses. As the AP notes, neither side felt that the proposal was acceptable. Gay rights activists are unwilling to countenance any ban on homosexual members at any level of the BSA, seeing it as akin to permitting racial discrimination. Traditionalists are unwilling to accept any weakening of the current national policy, seeing it as disloyalty to a moral imperative and forecasting mass defections of rank-and-file members if the policy is changed.

Opponents of dropping the national organization's ban feel that kicking the ban down to the local level is a cop out on centrally vital principles. Dropping the ban after standing so firm for so long would obviously invite pressure to compromise on other foundational principles that do not comport with secularist ideals.

Supporters of the compromise policy suggest that it would allow enough diversity among local units that parents could find a unit suited their ideals for their sons to attend. That argument appears to be insufficiently persuasive to appeal to many.

Blogger Jeff Westover thinks that it would be best for the BSA to stand firm on its principles and for those that disagree with those principles to establish their own competing organizations instead of attempting to overtake existing organizations. "Throw it out into the free marketplace," he writes. "Give people a choice. That would be the only fair way to see how society really feels about this issue."

I like this idea, but I doubt it would in any way satisfy gay activists. The most effective way to accomplish their agenda is to take down organizations that they believe stop them from achieving full social acceptance. Building your own organization is more work, takes much longer, and is unlikely to attract anywhere near the numbers of members that the BSA has.

Maintaining the BSA's ban on homosexual members is already having real financial consequences, as some corporate sponsors have withheld donations. It takes money to run the business side of the BSA. As long as the ban remains in place you can expect gay activists to lobby BSA institutional sponsors to quit donating. Increasing numbers of donors will no doubt oblige as the ban becomes increasingly controversial.

This will provide a good test for supporters of the ban. Will they be able to find ways to make up for lost contributions? If not, the BSA will either necessarily reduce its business footprint or else face financial default.

In the meantime, BSA membership continues its long-term decline. It is difficult for me to believe that dropping the ban would stop this decline, as some activists have suggested, since broader social factors that affect all civic organizations are at play: more technology that allows youth to socially advance without engagement in civic groups, far more options vying for the the discretionary time of youth, declining birth rates, etc.

It is also difficult to know what impact dropping the ban would have on BSA membership. It is possible that ban supporters are correct in forecasting mass defections. Only large institutional sponsors could say, and some of these are staying mum. There are likely enough experienced and dedicated scouters to form competing organizations.

The experience of the American Heritage Girls provides an interesting case study. Religious moms disgusted with the secularization of the Girl Scouts of the USA formed the AHG in 1995, using a lot of old Girl Scout program materials and adding in a healthy dose of evangelical Christian principles. While the organization has grown and has units in 48 states, its total membership is less than 1 percent of that of the GSUSA.

Perhaps the battle about the BSA ban on homosexual members—which many on both sides see as merely a surrogate for a much broader battle over social values—could ultimately create enough of a schism among BSA members that some large institutional sponsors might split off and form their own scouting movement that could immediately have hundreds of thousands of members, but none of the BSA's physical facilities and staff.

Right now it looks like the BSA is in a difficult position, sandwiched between social and financial pressure on one side and the principles of sponsoring organizations and rank-and-file members on the other side. Any move the BSA makes—even making no move at all—could end up leaving it crushed.

Friends of mine have suggested that it would be better for the BSA to die financially while standing on its principles than to sacrifice its principles to sustain financial funding. Those forecasting large membership defections suggest that appeasing donors enough to win the desired funding would end up being a Pyrrhic victory anyway.

Maybe these alternatives are too dire and reality will be far more benign. But that doesn't mean that it will necessarily be pleasant. The BSA might just slowly and quietly dissolve as moral decay advances. In his post, Jeff Westover foresees the day when we will nostalgically look back at scouting the same way we look longingly back at simpler times when men wore hats, people sat in the parlor, and front yards sported white picket fences.

Monday, February 04, 2013

What's a Parent to do When a Child Struggles?

At age 28 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis following the onset of a fairly serious episode. (I am grateful that it didn't take years to reach this diagnosis, as is often the case with MS.) As difficult as it was for my wife and me to handle the reality of my condition, I felt at the time that it seemed to be even more difficult for my parents, especially my dad.

I am now getting a taste of what my parents experienced back then as I watch my own kids grapple with problems. The past couple of years have brought some serious challenges as one son has experienced a number of behavioral issues. As I explained in this post, our son has now been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and we are working through the process of understanding his condition and how best to help him. Thankfully, there is help available. But this process has taken, is taking, and will take its toll on our family for a long time to come.

In November I wrote about two of my sons leaving to serve as full-time LDS missionaries. One of these young men has grappled with a mystifying chronic pain condition for about five years, but he is serving valiantly.

My other missionary son embarked on his mission after his chronic dizziness problems cleared up enough for doctors, church leaders, and the missionary department to feel that he could handle the rigors of missionary life. Alas, it was not to be. After beginning his service, our son experienced debilitating episodes of dizziness and nausea.

Our son's earlier dizziness problems had been thought to be directly related to a longstanding ear and throat problem. However, a specialist in this field certified that those problems had cleared up. Feeling that the issue appeared to be of a neurological nature, he advised that our son come home to address the matter with neurology specialists.

The succeeding weeks have brought many medical tests and meetings with various doctors, the first of whom basically told us he was uninterested in our son's case. A more competent doctor arrived at a diagnosis of a permanent neurological anomaly that causes many negative physical manifestations.

We have been told that there is no satisfactory medical treatment for our son's condition. Therapists can work to help him 'rewire' his brain, but this takes time. And it's not necessarily a linear process. Until our son achieves some level of stability he finds himself unable to be very productive. He can't work, serve a mission, or go to school. He feels physically and mentally awful most days.

Even before a child is born, parents tend to start taking responsibility for resolving problems related to the child. This continues in various forms throughout childhood, adolescence, and even into adulthood. Sometimes a parent can intervene to solve a problem. Sometimes parents hold back because they feel that a problem will resolve itself in time. But it is particularly difficult for a parent when they feel powerless to do much in the face of a child's challenge.

I suppose that pretty much all parents that remain involved in the lives of their children eventually watch their children face challenges that the parent is incapable of resolving. Some boo-boos will never go away, no matter how many band-aids and kisses are applied. This realization requires an adjustment to the parent's standard operational pattern. That can be hard, especially when the parent yearns to do more.

This needed parental adjustment usually can't happen in rapid fashion. We have no way, for example, to develop much of a long-term plan for either of our sons dealing with disabilities. We simply don't know what tomorrow, or next year, or the next decade will bring. We are constantly trying to figure out what we need to do and how much assistance is appropriate. How do you know for sure when your efforts are going to end up being inadequate or when they go so far as to create detrimental dependency?

The fact is that we signed up for this when we decided to have children. Despite the challenges, I don't regret even the tiniest bit having any of our children in our family. I love each one dearly. I fully anticipate a bright future for our family, regardless of the challenges our children face.