Monday, November 17, 2008

Role Models

One of the questions I ask prospective residents when I interview them is, "who are your non-medical role models?" Just to get them talking, nothing at all to do with their potential as an anaesthesiologist.

I have recently asked myself, who were my role models?

I can think of a few, my parents, a few teachers and....

My old scout master.

Scouting was a huge part of my childhood and adolescence. I was in Cubs, Scouts and Venturers from the time I was 8 until I graduated from high school. The most formative years were however from 11-14 when I was in scouts.

Our scout master liked to be called by his first name. In the 1960s having an adult who let non-adults call him anything other than Mr. was unusual. His first name was Dave and I will call him that for the rest of this blog.

Dave was born in England and had moved to Canada with his parents as a young adult. He was still not married and lived with his parents. Dave ran the scout troop. Other adults and few older teenagers helped out from time to time but it was Dave's show.

We had our meetings every Thursday evening. These were incredibly well organized evenings chock full of several interesting activities all planned by Dave. Every Saturday morning he came to the scout hall for those of us who wanted to pass tests or earn badges. Every couple of months we had a hike on a Saturday or Sunday. We also had weekend camps about three times a year and in the summer we had a 9 day camp in the mountains.

Dave was a real hiking and camping enthusiast. He was big into light weight camping where you packed in all your gear. The idea was to be as comfortable as possible while still carrying in almost everything. We often had over 30 people per camp so every camp was a major military operation supervised by Dave.

Periodically we had "wide games" which were huge operations based on variations of "capture the flag" or a treasure hunt. These were also elaborately organized and some of them must have taken days to set up.

Dave's effect on the troop was such that our troop had over 40 scouts at a time when Scout troops all over the area were folding.

Dave also helped out perioidically with the Venturers, was involved in the local hiking club and was involved as a Big Brother.

Dave was soft spoken, when not in scout uniform (which he wore with short pants and knee socks) he was always well dressed. There was a story that he broke up with a rare girlfriend because she wore jeans to his parents house. He drove a Rover. He was an enthusiastic landscape photographer and had an SLR camera which weren't very common in the 1960s (and was the first thing I purchased when I finally had money). If you had a problem, he was always willing to talk things out and could be very philosophical.

As I said he was a huge influence on my life. I wish I could say that this was the start of a life-long commitment to camping, hiking and mountaineering; sadly while I enjoy looking at mountains, I don't really like climbing and I enjoy my bed too much.

I went up to Venturers at 15 (I stayed an extra year in Scouts, I liked it so much). About a year later, Dave who worked for the government was transferred to another town. He got right into the local Scouting movement and the next summer his new troop had a joint summer camp with his old troop.

I last saw him when I was 20. I was coming home for a break from my summer work and was on the ferry home. He was also visiting his parents. We sat together and talked for the whole trip. It was like two old friends talking together. I have never seen him since.

I went to medical school, kicked around in various places in Canada and I was living in Eastern Canada when I heard that he had been charged and pleaded guilty to sexually abusing one of his scouts. He spent some time in prison. I was out of the province so I missed any media coverage and I have lost contact with just about all of my scouting buddies. I have talked it over with my older brothers who preceded my in Scouts. One says there is no way he was guilty; the other says, of course he was guilty. My father believes he pleaded guilty in order to prevent the child who accused him from having to testify and be cross-examined. I have a hard time believing anybody would willingly go to jail as pedophile.

Now looking back, maybe it should have been obvious. We have a quiet soft spoken man who lives with his parents, is heavily involved in Scouting and Big Brothers, doesn't have a girlfriend, and likes to take pictures. Perfect profile of a pedophile? This was the 1960s; there were lots of men like him and they were largely respected in the community. When I was writing this blog, I googled him and all I could find a was an award for distinguished service to scouting in 1969.

All I can say is he never touched me (maybe I was lucky) and I never ever heard anything untoward about him from any of my friends although being diddled by your scoutmaster isn't something teenagers brag about. One time in Venturers we were hiking up in the mountains and we came across him camping with his Little Brother. In 1973 we didn't think that was unusual.

About 5 years ago our scout troop had a reunion. It was on a weekend and while I wasn't working, it would have meant flying there so I didn't go. I just thought it would be a whole lot of people I had nothing in common with anymore trying to make conversation. The whole uneasiness about Dave played a role. One of my brothers attended and said it was a lot of fun and that Dave was there.

About a month later, I got a letter from Dave. He said that he was now retired and living with his wife(!) on one of the Gulf Islands. I meant to write hime back to tell him what a good role model he had been for me but the letter disappeared into a black hole on my desk and I never did write the letter. I lost his address too.

I attended a workshop on hypnosis last spring and we talked about forgiveness. The speaker said it is possible to forgive somebody without condoning what they did. I cannot condone anybody who uses a position of authority to hurt somebody, especially a child. I can forgive him however for what he did to that child and for the doubts he has raised about my whole Scouting experience.

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