With nine years of Girl Scout troop leadership under his belt, David Pesavento doesn’t worry about being the odd man out.
Although women have traditionally led Girl Scout troops since the organization was founded 104 years ago, Pesavento said he feels at home teaching his girls archery, color guarding, cycling and indoor surfing – skills not traditionally passed down through the Girl Scouts. He may be a dad, he said, but he can still share his passions with his daughters and their friends.
“I was raised by strong women and I tend to be more comfortable around strong women,” said the 38-year-old state civil engineer. “I have a passion for raising women to be comfortable, confident and able to take care of themselves.”
Pesavento is part of a small but growing number of fathers stepping in to fill leadership roles traditionally held by women in the Scouts. Girl Scouts Heart of Central California spokeswoman Stephanie Riley said the number of male troop leaders has grown over the past decade, although men still make up less than 2 percent of adult volunteers. She didn’t have specific figures for men leading Girl Scout troops.
The Scouts have launched a national effort to recognize male volunteers, distributing shirts and patches with the logo “Man Enough to be a Girl Scout.” The Scouts also are encouraging more seniors, gays and lesbians and people without children to participate.
“The theme was developed within the last couple of years in response to the growing number of male volunteers – dads, grandfathers, friends, older brothers and other male role models who devote their time and energy to girls,” Riley said.
At Girl Scout meetings, it’s not uncommon for Pesavento to be the only man in a room full of 50 women. “We have name tags, so years ago I quit writing my name and just put ‘dude,’ ” he said, laughing.
Ricky Eaddy stepped up after failing to find Girl Scout troops for his 10-year-old daughter Jessalyn in their Elk Grove neighborhood. Now entering his sixth year of troop leadership, Eaddy said he loves helping his troop come together and learn how to take care of themselves.
“It’s fulfilling for me because when I was in school, I wanted to be a teacher,” Eaddy said. “This helps fulfill that thing that’s missing.”
One lesson he said he passes on to the six girls in his troop is how to push back against both bullies and gender stereotypes.
“I don’t want them to think that they’re stuck in any lane because they’re a girl,” Eaddy said.
For the troop members, having their dads take more responsibility can be a mixed experience.
Pesavento’s three daughters admitted that the troop sometimes felt like they were being assigned chores back home.
Reluctant to offer their opinions about their dad, the girls at first sat back and timidly looked at one another, waiting for someone to speak.
Finally, 14-year-old Ali spoke up. “He’s like, mean,” she mumbled.
“Mean? How am I mean?” Pesavento asked.
“Sometimes, with him there, if I want to get a soda he’ll be like ‘No, get water.’ So it’s just stuff like that,” Ali said.
Wei Hsieh is new to the dad troop-leading squad, having been assigned his own troop last September. He said he became inspired to take part when his 11-year-old daughter Danica asked why her Eagle Scout brother Bryan, 15, was given more activities than her.
“She felt like she was very restricted and because she has an outgoing personality, I decided to form my own troop to provide for girls that want to experience the outdoors,” Hsieh said.
Though most other troop parents are supportive, opposition can flare up during recruitment and cookie-selling.
Pesavento said he experienced that while recruiting for the troop by phone in the Antelope area. Most people were uneasy and asked why a man would want to be in the Girl Scouts, he said.
“In some circumstances I rely on other leaders or people to help talk to parents and ease concerns,” he said. “In other cases, they think something’s wrong and I just let that be.”
Eaddy said he can only hope that his commitment to the Girl Scouts – and his daughters – speaks for itself.
“There are times when we’ve been out and I have my Girl Scout vest on and some people stare,” Eaddy said. “I don’t let it bother me. ... I have my vest on, we’re selling cookies and we’re just doing it.”
Jenice Tupolo: 916-321-1673, @JayTupolo