Sadly, my Dad wasn’t this way. My family was fragile and broken in many ways. I was born in Salt Lake City. The heart of the LDS Church. I grew up in the Salt Lake Valley and had a fairly good childhood. But not everything or everyone was a positive influence in my life. Although I felt I was born of goodly parents I had one parent, my father, who made different choices other than what may have been best for his family, especially his children. Instead of focusing his time and attention to worthy causes like being a loving husband and father, he choose to waste away his life with tobacco, liquor, drugs, gambling and video games. As the oldest child and son of a father like this, I had to make important choices at a very young age—whether to emulate or to resist.
Pillar 5 of the Six Pillars of Being Prepared states, “Be prepared to be good husbands and fathers by following the examples of men such as our Scout leaders, the bishopric, our prophets and the Savior.”
I had a sister younger than me by four years and a brother younger than me by eleven years. As my father wasted his life away, my mother worked her heart and soul out to make sure that we still had food on the table and a roof over our heads. She had various places of employment, but did all she could to stay home and care for us. She did her best to be there, but with a little baby that needed to be taken care of, someone had to step up when she was at work. My father was no help, mom was working, so it was up to me to do my best to take care of him.
I was twelve at the time and was just getting used to going to deacon’s quorum. I was baptized at 8 years old, but was not really active in the Church until my teenage years. The poor example of my father and understanding of how stressed out my mother was began to take a toll on me. Although I was not a mischief maker, I was not the perfect boy. I was torn between the worlds of Scouting and the Church and a home that was often afire with fights and the smoking wreckage of the aftermath. None of us children were ever badly burned in the carnage, but we were singed enough that we had to grow tougher.
As I was taking care of my baby brother, I continually got pushed into growing up too soon. The stress of house and school and church responsibilities made it difficult for me to find balance in my life. I never got into any serious trouble, but began to hang out with some friends that were not the best influence on me; but they accepted me and gave me the attention I did not get at home.
At 15 years old, one of the worst things that can happen to a young man happened to me. My father committed suicide. It was devastating. I had very few friends and family to turn to. I needed someone to care about and love me and keep me on the right path. I had someone. It was my Varsity coach. I had many Scout leaders who only did what they could to get by and make sure that we boys weren’t getting into trouble. But my Varsity coach loved us as his sons. He would keep track of us as if we were the most valuable gems.
The year that my father died, we had been preparing for a 50-miler trip at Philmont Scout Ranch. It was during this trip that I came to understand the importance of perseverance, love, and doing hard things. Scouting replaced what I didn’t have in life. Scouting replaced my dad. My Varsity coach loved me and helped me know that I was important. He helped me connect to my Savior and was a wonderful example of what a father should be. He used Scouting to keep me engaged and active in the Church. He used Scouting to build my confidence and show me that life was more than just a slew of disappointments and let downs. Here was a man who cared. Here was a man that had a testimony of Jesus Christ. Here was a man that shared his gifts, time, and talents in building up the Kingdom of God. We are that Kingdom. As a result of this man and many others along the way, I was able to get my Eagle Scout at the age of 17.
As I graduated high school and continued to serve in my quorum, I decided to serve a mission and set the example for my siblings, and now step-siblings after my mother remarried. I served an honorable mission in Brazil and then went to BYU to get an education. There was a plan for me. I knew it as there were so many things in my life that I felt that the Lord through Scouting, the Church, through great leaders was able to mold me into what I am today. As I began to attend BYU, my path of studies was Civil Engineering. I loved math, science, and physics. It seemed right. As time progressed, I was called in my home ward to become an Assistant Scoutmaster.
Serving in that capacity, I took some of the Scouts to a merit badge pow-wow at BYU. While there I decided to take a training, and on the wall of the room was a poster that said something to the effect of “Have you considered a career in Scouting?” This intrigued me. As a member of the LDS Church, I always just assumed that Scouting was the program. I didn’t realize it was a full-blown nonprofit with professionals that lead and guide volunteers to make the best program possible. I investigated and found that you could be a professional Scouter. Well long story short, I changed my major to the Scouting education major and never looked back. Scouting had changed my life, so I felt I could give back. Today I serve and work as a professional Scouter for the Utah National Parks Council.
Because of the loving examples of great men, a mother who sacrificed, and so many other great examples, I have followed the path that the Lord laid out for me. I am a worthy holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood, married in the temple to my beautiful wife and I have been blessed with 3 beautiful daughters. Scouting worked for me. It pushed me. It provided a way for me to learn and grow.
I, without a doubt, believe that Scouting is a divine program that helps to accomplish the work and glory of God, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children, specifically the young men in not only his Church but of the entire world. Scouting is a tool that can help that happen! I had a great example of what not to do as a father from my dad, but because I have had great men that have shown me great examples I have been able to make better choices. Today I have a wonderfully blessed life and get to return back to Scouting all that I have received and more. Scouting showed me what it meant to be honorable. Scouting showed me what it meant to help others. Scouting showed me what it was like to be a man of God.
Author: Derrick Larsen, CNP | District Director, Utah National Parks Council