I heard that a young teenage boy had gotten in trouble at school the other day, and his name hit home to me. This was not his first offense, for he has been in trouble off and on for a few years. The reason his name hit home is that, years ago, Stephen was one of my cub scouts.
When he first turned ten years of age and was old enough to join our group, he never came. At first he made excuses, but they seemed empty, so I eventually talked to his parents. They didn’t seem to care if he came or not, except to have him out of their hair.
His mother was busy running Stephen’s sister everywhere, to ballet, to voice lessons, to piano lessons, or to any other myriad of things. Stephen went home on the bus each afternoon, and was alone three to four hours every day. Because of my work, I wasn’t able to hold the meetings right after school, so the boys couldn’t bus to my house. His mother indicated that the problem was that she was so busy that she didn’t know how she could get him to the Cub Scout meeting.
I told her that wasn’t a problem. I picked up a lot of the boys on my way home from work. Once I explained that to Stephen, he happily said he would come. Over the next year I learned a lot about him. He was, in many ways, a forgotten child. His dad was too busy to have much time for their family, and his mother only wanted a daughter.
I watched as his sister was doted on and received anything she wanted, while his wants and needs were simply ignored. A group of us neighbors talked about what we could do to help this struggling, lonesome young boy. Where he was home alone each evening, everyone started watching out for him. One lady in particular, Denise, invited him to come to her house after school with her own sons, and to stay there until his parents came to pick him up. If he wasn’t at his own home when I came to get him for cub scouts, I would know to look for him at hers.
He seemed to look forward to cub meeting each week. We built bird houses, raked leaves for older people, learned cub scout mottos, made pinewood derby cars, went to museums, and many other things. My wife always had treats for the boys when we were done.
Since Stephen had no one home to go to, we let him hang around our house after the other boys went home until his parents came to get him. When it was the nights of the pack meetings, either I picked him up, or one of the other parents did, but his own parents were usually conspicuously absent.
The time arrived that we started working on the citizenship pin. We visited the office of the local mayor, talked to a school board member, and learned some of the responsibilities of being a citizen.
As a final conclusion, each boy had to write a paper about their hero. It was not to be some fictitious person or some movie star, but someone they truly knew and admired for what they did and how they lived.
The week they brought them back, we had some fun activities and played some games. After the boys had all gone home, I sat down to read their hero papers. Every boy, with the exception of Stephen, had written about their father or mother. But Stephen’s hero was Denise.
I read as he described why. “…Because she cares about me. And every day she listens to me when I come over after school, and she doesn’t tell me to go away and leave her alone. She treats me like I’m important, and not like I annoy her. And she makes the best bread and cookies…”
When I shared this with Denise, she seemed surprised. “I didn’t really do that much.”
Not long after Stephen was too old for cub scouts, he and his family moved away. He no longer had a place to go after school. He found less than desirable friends that would accept him, and soon he was in lots of trouble.
I ran into his mother one day, and we talked about him. “I always knew he’d end up in trouble,” she told me. “He was always that way.”
Not always, I thought to myself. But she looked puzzled when I said, “Maybe all he really needed was a hero.”
(Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at da***@da*********.com; or visit his website )