25 years ago our troop held our first annual father and son weekend. We started the weekend as a way to invite dads that were not otherwise involved to join us for a weekend and see what goes on in Scouts. It has evolved into a tradition that our Scouts and families look forward to every year.
When and Where
For the past eight or ten years we’ve held the weekend at a neighboring council’s camp (chiefly because they have enough lodging space and a winterized dining hall) every February. February works well because there seems to be little competition from other events in midwinter. It’s one of our few cabin camping trips and dads are happy to have a bunk in a heated building at the end of the day.
We started out calling this the ‘Father & Son’ weekend and the name stuck. We welcome moms, uncles and grandparents too – as well as Scouts who don’t have a family member accompanying them. I worry that the title of the weekend may cause problems for some of our Scouts so we are careful to explain that the name is a mane – not a limitation.
We also invite Webelos dens (first and second year) to join us for the weekend; it has become a key recruitment tool for our troop. Webelos dens function for the weekend as any of our other patrols do; their parents accompany them throughout the weekend.
We are able to rent a winterized dining hall and kitchen so we do four of the five meals during the weekend dining-hall style. Patrols do prepare their lunches on Saturdays. We are fortunate to have a group of about five adults who, despite the fact that their sons aged out of Scouting long ago, love nothing more than to come and man the kitchen for the weekend. Their Saturday dinners on this weekend are legendary.
The central program feature of the weekend is an inter-patrol competition called the Flat Hat Cup. Scouts compete in their patrols, Webelos compete as dens (with their parents accompanying them), and adults who accompany our Scouts are formed into ‘dad patrols’ for the weekend.
The singularly most memorable, venerated and fun part of the weekend is watching what happens when the dad patrols start competing against their sons – what a hoot! Dads get pretty serious about this. Veteran dads show up ready to compete!
Scouts and their guests arrive and check-in (we have dinner waiting). At [7:30] everyone gathers around the fireplace in the dining hall to begin warming up for the next day’s Flat Hat Cup competition. Dad patrol assignments are announced, they gather for a few minutes to elect a patrol leader, decide on a patrol name (there’s been some real doozies!) and a patrol yell.
The senior patrol leader and his fellow youth leaders present several competitive events for the patrols and they get to test their mettle against each other for an hour or so. These youth leaders are the ‘staff’ for the weekend. They showcase their leadership to the visiting Webelos dens and have several Assistant Scoutmasters and myself to help out where needed to run stations on Saturday.
The last event of the evening is a presentation on our annual high adventure trip, a snack and everyone is off to bed.
After breakfast there’s a few hours of free time to explore the camp and prepare for the afternoon’s events.
At [11:30] the patrols gather (they’ve been told to bring gear for the events in the afternoon) and the Flat Hat Cup competition begins.
Each patrol is issued a food package and they are off to prepare their own lunch. They must build a fire (extra points for stating it without a match or lighter), cook their meal and submit a sample for judging. Over time this has evolved into quite a show. Tablecloths, candelabra, silverware; it’s all in the presentation you know.
After lunch the next few hours are spent challenging about ten different stations throughout the camp. Most are Scout skills (knots, orienteering, first aid, setting up tents, etc.) and some are for fun (blind William Tell is a favorite). There’s also a crazy-large scavenger hunt (up to 100 items!) that has blown itself out of all proportion over the years.
The Flat Hat Cup closes around [4:00] PM. We assemble at [5:30] for a brief retreat ceremony. By this time our guests have arrived; we invite moms and siblings to Saturday dinner and the evening’s festivities. We typically have about 90-100 people total for Saturday dinner.
Once everyone is seated we have speeches for our Senior Patrol Leader election and the Scouts vote by paper ballot before dinner is served. After dinner we have an OA election before we dismiss everyone to stretch their legs. We transform the dining hall from the dinner setup to prepare for a campfire.
The evening’s program begins with recognition of our adult leaders by presenting them with service pins. This is followed by an O.A. call out ceremony. Next comes the campfire (each patrol does a song and a skit: including our Webelos and dad patrols) and we break for a snack.
What follows has been in the works for the past couple of months. Committee members have been scouring the landscape for donations of merchandise, gift certificates and the like form regional businesses and families have been prompted to bring items that will be of interest to Scouts (camping gear, food, soda, etc.) and we conclude the evening by auctioning all of these items to the highest bidder. The proceeds of the auction go to offset the cost of the weekend and support the troop’s activities throughout the year. I am amazed at the amount of money we earn this way.
We all assemble for breakfast. As people arrive at the dining hall they are given their Father & Son weekend tee-shirt (there’s a new design every year). After breakfast the Flat Hat Cup results are announced. Each of the ten or twelve events is scored and we award the top three places for each by presenting a ribbon to the patrol (we get these custom printed inexpensively). We have a separate category for Webelos so there are lots and lots of ribbons and every patrol gets something. The overall winners of the competition are announced (invariably at least two of the to places go to dad patrols, sometimes all three). We end the weekend by introducing our newly elected Senior Patrol Leader and a tired but happy bunch of Scouts and their folks head home.