Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys

John Elmer

(note: This is an expanded version of an article that appeared in Issue 56 of the Prison Focus newsletter)

Book Report
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys
By Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson


This book report is dedicated to a special lady who did not let circumstances dampen her passion for helping those less fortunate, that may have been living in the dark, unable to find the light that could show them the way out of their very own prison. To those that knew her, we referred to her as Mrs. Dalglish.

She helped me enormously on my personal journey of introspection, and she did so regardless of my background differing from hers. She eventually guided me to the revelation that my emotions are my greatest asset, and that I am to practice their expression responsibly. I was also taught by her that it is healthy for a man to be vulnerable, with an Insight of, this is what makes me human.

I was so honored to be able to express to her through my newfound emotional vocabulary, before she moved, of my need to tell her how grateful I am to her for her care. It is hugely important to me that she knew that I value her as another human being. She helped to validate my life, it's direction, my growth, and more importantly, my spirit. This larger-than-life lady acknowledged my affirmation as would any person people have an emotional vocabulary - with tears. She was my mental health clinician for 2 years. You could see that she looked loved what she did for others. She will be missed greatly.

I was introduced to this particular book, Raising Cane, by way of a reference made in another book that I had previously read. Thankfully Mrs. Dalglish is an empathetic person, for she agreed to grant my request for a computer download excerpt of this book. When I was finally given the opportunity to read the entire book a couple of years later, it did not take long for me to connect the books content with the enthusiasm Mrs. Dalglish exhibited when I asked her about the excerpt. She knew of the insights I would gain just from the excerpt itself. This speaks volumes to the magnitude and wealth of knowledge contained between the covers of this book.

Part of this insight is that, it is healthy for a man, or a boy, to express himself emotionally, and that being capable of knowing my emotions empowers me to understand the relevance and significance within the purpose of my emotions, and that an emotional vocabulary is crucial for proper expression of my emotions or interpreting those of others. It is also vital that is to be understood that emotions can either serve as a guide for navigating aspects of life, or as the merciless Master if allowed to go unrestrained and rule the domain of thought - otherwise known as thinking with my emotions.

At times I wish Mrs. Dalglish could have witnessed my epiphany via the information that I have gleaned, but then again, she already knew the outcome, as their wisdom gave her the insight to be a futurist. This is what one of many qualities this woman possessed and gave to the world.

Fortunately for me, I had previously begin to learn of my deficiencies in emotional literacy before I was introduced to this book by a friend. This surely assisted me to better absorb the enormous wealth of insights the doctors share, such as, the value of necessity of an emotional vocabulary or just how crucial this will vocabulary is in the foundational building blocks of emotional expression. So extensive and educational is the information in this book, it is recommended to the uniformed reader to consider reading the book more than once. So powerful is the knowledge contained therein that I personally believe this book could be used well into an individual's Twilight years, as growth is to be perceptual, if only to inspire the future human.

As a by-product of the powerful effect of this book, I was induced with a genuine enthusiasm to delve further into the book daily, embracing a passion of mine, a humanistic need to share what I am learning with anyone that will listen. This provides me with the opportunity to give back, like so many before me have.

Sincerity commands me to admit that at first it was a little difficult reading through what appeared to be the dictation of boring therapy sessions that the authors have accumulated throughout the 40 years their sessions with the boys represent, but, as I persevered and read deeper into these sessions, I begin to ascertain the purpose for the inclusion of these sessions as a means for the reader to actually connect with the miseducation a boys, their personal struggles with expression and pain in the absence of an….

Emotional vocabulary, and the value of active and correct listening required, minus the distortions or biases, in order to properly engage a boy on his level so that he will feel validated and understood and be able to participate in the healthy expression of himself. I know this would have helped me when I was a boy sine it does a lot for me today. What I once thought was boring, I now applaud the authors for their insight of including the actual therapy sessions, which are obvious to me now as the foundation of their work on the miseducation of boys. These sessions also provided crucial insights to how boys interpret themselves, others, and the world around them, showing me just how damaging are the effects of their miseducation. This gave me a new-found appreciation for the gravity of their ignorance and their lack of a personal need for their own emotional vocabulary, based on my own experiences in this regard, and an understanding of these mysterious things that are actually their emotions and those of others.

As a result of fully feeling the boys’ pain and relating with them via my very own recollections of my struggles that were borne out of my miseducation and psychological hurt, my heart goes out to anyone that suffers with this. My empathy is genuine. The hurtful memories that were revisited during this process were tough to experience – again. Hence the requirement for courage in order to get to the other side of this pain and eventually embrace my need to forgive, grow, and move on.

It is incredible to either experience or witness how the magnitude of a difficulty can appear insurmountable when void of a solution, but how miniscule with the appearance of a solution. The miseducation of boys begs the question of how difficult it is to practice active listening and meaningful communication. The evidence within this book suggests that it is extremely difficult for some parents, and some are just to lazy to practice these simple principles or be consistent with their application. This negates the possibility for a boy to be receptive to or comprehend the lesson of sanctioned discipline and boundary practice and recognition. This failure eventually plants the seed of them eventually incorporating harsh and erratic discipline that is never respected and triggers the boy to engage in avoidance behaviors instead of embracing his desire to learn and please. Avoidance behaviors usually transform into anger and resentment and ultimately fracturing any bond that may have existed before. A gradual decay then ensues, and repair becomes more and more difficult with the passage of time. How much can a boy suffer with before reaching the point of no return? Because each boy is unique, there is no universal way to gage this line in the sand, so to speak.

The topic of harsh and erratic discipline was another topic that is tough to revisit. Since I could relate, I continued on. This particular part of the book triggered an unpleasant memory to resurface. To be honest, I almost expected this because of the depth of the book. Even though I was semi-prepared, who desires to be reminded of a hurt, especially when it is inflicted by a parent or someone close?

Begrudgingly, I remember one particular incident when I was twelve or thirteen, when I had done something wrong that required me to be whipped with a belt by my dad in order to correct this wrong and my understanding of it. My dad made me bend over and grab my ankles during any whipping. This was no different, and if I removed a hand before he was done, another be added to the count. When he was done with this issue, I turned to leave the room and he suddenly stopped me, then angrily asked me if “that hurt.” I stated, “no, not really” – not understanding the enticement of my words. He then said, “ok, the next time you screw up, you’ll get this fist.”

Unfortunately, my dad kept his promise to exert his brand of power and control. This miseducation gave me black eyes more than once or twice and became such a constant that I eventually lost count and ran away from home. As the authors stated, how can a boy be condemned for making wrong turns when he is continually directed to them via the lessons of the harsh or erratic discipline? How can anyone see value in this maladaptive treatment as a viable option for teaching a young, underdeveloped mind of a young boy the value of a teachable lesson? Mistakes are how humans learn. Power and control were what my dad valued since he was unable to be empathetic, allowing laziness to be his master in the miseducation of his son.

The prison environment that I now reside in at times makes it rather difficult to practice an emotional vocabulary due to the majority of the residents in ability to understand the language of an emotional intelligence because they cannot make sense of what they have never been expected to or taught and were never encouraged to express unless it was physical, aggressive, and meant to hurt. Because I can now be empathetic, I am saddened to see these men still expressing themselves just as they did as a boy. The tragedy is, they are truly unaware that they are doing so.

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