Sons and fathers

One of my favorite family photographs is not a picture of me. It is a photo of my younger brother Donald and our dad.

Donald grew up to become Don in the business world, but he is always Donald to me.

The Donald in this picture is four-years-old. Dad is also young—much younger than I am now. Father and son are standing on the parade ground at Camp Chief Logan, a Boy Scout camp in Chapmanville, WV. 

In the far background, across a wood-planked walking bridge, is a small parking area. It takes some focus, but I can see a few cars that date the photo to the 1960s.

For those who have never attended boy scout camp, the parade ground served as the morning gathering place for troops. There, they presented their colorful patrol flags, took-in the day’s announcements, and said a prayer—all before heading to the dining hall for breakfast.

Each troop made its own flag. Boys scavenged in the woods for the perfect stick, tall and sturdy. On the ends of those sticks, they hung rectangular cloths, a little larger than a bandana.

On the fabric, they drew makeshift images of their patrol mascots, maybe bears or sharks or bobcats. 

In the photo, Donald is decked out in a horizontal-striped Buster Brown shirt and knee length shorts—clothes that I’m sure first belonged to our older brother John. 

Around my brother’s neck hangs an adult-sized lanyard. He stands at attention, clutching the flagstick tight against his chest. Nobody, big or small, is going to wrestle that flag away from him.

Our dad stands next to his young son. He, too, grips the wooden stick—just above Donald’s head and just below the white rectangle of fabric.

The boy’s eyes look straight ahead, his left arm taut against his ribcage. My brother’s chest is puffed out, inflated with pride.

It matters not that he is too young to be an official Boy Scout. The boy is proud to be one of the “men” in the parade circle. Most of all, he is honored to stand tall beside his father (even though his curly blonde head barely reaches Dad’s waist).

Our dad? He smiles down on his son, enjoying what he sees. He, too, is proud—proud to be a father.

I’m not certain who took this photo of my dad and brother. My mother believes the photographer was a volunteer Scouter and friend of my dad.

It matters not. 

Whoever trained his lens upon the two of them captured the unique and special bond between a father and a son—in one quick snap.

Donald’s swollen chest reflects how all three of my brothers felt about our dad. The sons of my father could not have asked for a better man and parent-role model. Even they would tell you that.

They took pride in our dad’s work as a professional in Scouting. Not only was Dad their parent, but he was their boss in the most literal sense. 

The boys grew up working summers on his camp staff. For my brothers, being the sons of the man in charge meant pulling the jobs nobody else wanted. 

Their responsibilities often included scouring kitchens and cleaning latrines. They didn’t complain. They gave their best efforts. They never, as in ever, wanted to disappoint Dad. 

The sons raised by my father grew up to be dads in their father’s image—kind, generous, fun-loving, and God-fearing. The one daughter raised by my father grew up to marry a man with those same qualities.

I am not pictured in the photo of my brother and my father, but my heart is fully present in the moment.

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