Home > Society > A Boy Scout Named Jeffrey

A Boy Scout Named Jeffrey

Back in the day when I was in the Boy Scouts I knew a boy named Jeffrey*. Calling Jeff a friend would be a lie. To begin with, he was a couple of years younger than me, so he was in with a different age group of kids. At that age, you’re pretty sensitive to those things. There was more than that, though. Jeff was weird. He had the strangest sense of humor (and this is coming from me). He had a knack for saying just about the most inappropriate thing for any given situation. He was whiny, and not just in the way that all 12 year old suburban boys are whiny when you get them out into the woods for the first time. I mean he was whiny. He was more than a bit of a wimp, too. I mean, he was physically weak, but for a long time it went way beyond that – he wouldn’t even try at very much.

It wasn’t just the other boys who found him difficult, either. The Scoutmasters had trouble as well. In the summer of 1993 we went on a week long canoeing trip. The minimum age for the trip was set at 15. I found out later that 15 was picked specifically by the Scoutmasters so that they could keep him out of the trip without explicitly singling him out. On the one hand, that seems a bit mean. On the other hand, they handled it pretty well by making sure that they weren’t obviously singling him out. And he really was that difficult.

The following year, 1994, our troop took a 10 day backpacking trip at Philmont Scout Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico. They couldn’t get away with altering the age limit this time, so Jeffrey signed up to go. Everybody groaned and prepared for the worst.

Philmont is one of the most incredible places on earth, but it isn’t easy. Our trek was 75 miles of backpacking over 10 days – and not on easy terrain, either. Base camp at Philmont is at 6000 feet, and everything else is up from there. The highest point we hit on our trek was over 10,000 feet. One to three thousand feet or more of elevation change a day was pretty typical. Our troop started preparing for the trip a year ahead of time, starting with small day hikes, building to weekend backpacking treks, and more. Some of us who weren’t in the greatest of shape started doing more on our own. I started running, for example, eventually getting up to three miles a day.

I will give Jeffrey credit – a lot of credit. He knew that he was the weakest link in our group, but he desperately wanted to go. I mean, he really, really badly wanted it. He was too out of shape to handle running, but he started hiking every day with a pack that got steadily heavier. He went through his gear over and over again, getting it as light as he could. By the time we left he had the second lightest pack in the group.

More importantly, when we finally got on the trail at Philmont, I can’t remember him ever complaining. Not even once. Everybody else had their moments. You pretty much always do on the trail – that’s half the fun. Not Jeff. He wanted to be there, every minute of it. Even when it was hard, even when he was huffing for breath, even when he was the last person in the group and he was trailing everybody by a fair amount, I can’t remember a single complaint. In fact, I don’t even remember him talking much on that trip. He so desperately didn’t want to be the guy who pissed everybody off on that trip that he just shut the hell up.

That trip was life changing for all of us, but I don’t think that any of us got as much out of it as Jeffrey did. We all gained a lot of respect for him. We didn’t exactly stop teasing him after that – he could still be damned annoying – but the tone changed. He was annoying, but he was our annoying guy after that. He’d earned his right to be one of the group, and the teasing became a lot more good natured.

I found out some years later that Philmont was almost a metaphor for his entire time in the Boy Scouts. Jeffrey’s father was a fat lazy fuck who hated the outdoors. Hated isn’t even the right word. He was too phobic of the outdoors to even mow his lawn. On the weekends he’d go lie in his hammock on the porch all day and ignore his kids. He never lifted a finger to help Jeff in the Scouts. Jeffrey’s mom put him in the program to try and help make a man out of him, and later on Jeffrey wanted to be there, even though we picked on him mercilessly.

I haven’t seen Jeffrey in at least 15 years, probably more – and I never will again.

Last night Hermione and I had dinner with an old high school friend of mine and her husband. We were swapping current events stories about mutual old friends and I learned that Jeffrey hanged himself in 2009. Evidently he’d been battling depression and schizophrenia. He was 29 years old.

Jeffrey was probably one of the most Omega people I have ever met. I don’t know if he ever even had a girlfriend in his tragic life. I don’t know if our treatment of him in the Boy Scouts contributed to his suicide. I don’t know if there’s anything I could have done to help him. If he was honestly battling schizophrenia, the answer to both questions is probably “no.” Nevertheless, the way I treated him will haunt me for the rest of my life. He was annoying as shit, but I never would have wished this on him. I can’t help but feel that at the very least we all failed Jeffrey.

I also can’t help but think that Jeffrey is not alone. Suicide is the 2nd highest cause of death among American young adults aged 25 to 34. The overwhelming majority of those suicides are young men – many soldiers who have a rough time readjusting to civilian life. This is a preventable tragedy that doesn’t get anywhere near enough public attention. I don’t know what the solutions are, but even before I found out about Jeffrey I felt like we as a culture aren’t even trying hard enough. I know, I know – in this corner of the manosphere I’m preaching to the choir. Still, I can’t help but feel this tragedy especially deeply.

Resquiescat in Pacem, Jeffrey. Rest in Peace. For whatever sins I committed against you in life, I am truly and deeply sorry.

* This is the first time on this blog that I’ve actually used somebody’s real name. He deserves no less from me.

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Categories: Society
  1. July 2, 2012 at 8:31 am

    That was an incredibly poignant and profound post. All the moreso as I prepare for a week-sh long BSA trip, starting this evening. It’s not Philmont — our troop is a little young for that yet — but it’s going to be a lot of hard work. I plan on reading this tonight around the campfire to emphasize to the boys how even small things they do now may have repercussions that last a lifetime.

    But I’m also going to mention the transformative nature of the Scouting experience. Jeffery’s story very well could have ended better, but it could have ended worse, too. He could have dropped out and never had that Philmont experience that, in a very real way, helped take him out of childhood and admitted him to the company of men. Through his ordeal and his training he managed a triumph, and that takes the kind of perseverance and dedication that you and your fellow Scouts quite rightly rewarded with your respect. As you said, he earned it — and you paid him in the only coin a man ever desires. Yes, you could have teased him less and done more to make him feel “included”, but would you have been doing him a favor?

    I’m not arguing in favor of bullying, not at all. But there is a certain social expectation and standard of behavior that is necessary to be considered a man. If you do not hold your fellows accountable for their behavior, and that includes their annoying behavior, then you do not give them standards to live up to or challenges to overcome. Things may have been hard on Jeffery in Scouting, but despite his difficulties he found something there that was valuable enough to him to inspire a transformation. You and your friends who held him at arm’s length gave him something to aspire to, and something meaningful to be earned.

    It isn’t always easy to recognize and appreciate when we are agents of change in someone else’s life. Those aren’t always positive experiences. But that doesn’t make them unimportant or worthless, either. If it brings you any peace, understand that the bar you and your troop set for Jeffery was just high enough to allow him the ability to reach it . . . and when he did, he got the payoff. He belonged. He earned his place. And there’s no telling how many times that fact came to his rescue or provided him comfort in his darkest hours.

    Thank you for sharing this, L. This was extremely moving.

  2. July 4, 2012 at 5:20 am

    Damn man, tough story.

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