‘Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys’

By Dan Kindlon, PhD and Michael Thompson, PhD

I recently read the book Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (NY: Ballantine Books, 1999, 2000) by Dan Kindlon, PhD and Michael Thompson, PhD. Even though most of what they shared I have either learned over the years (sometimes the hard way!) through raising my/our own 2 boys or through courses taken in graduate school, I felt their information was vital and could be useful in relation to issues that many of our families deal with (i.e. grief issues if a sibling dies from an FOD, anger at having to take special formulas or meds, not being able to participate in certain activities due to seizures etc) especially when dealing with boys/men. Not that these same issues don’t affect girls/women, but this particular book focuses on the inner life of boys and how we can nurture these inner workings and promote emotional growth instead of complicating it or contributing to a shutdown of emotions.

This book addresses the emotional needs of boys from the beginning of their life through boy/manhood. No matter how old or physically large a man is he often carries with him in varying degrees and intensities what he learned (and didn’t learn) in childhood from the messages he received (and perceived) from parents, teachers, coaches, peers and society as a whole. The authors share their experiences in talking with boys and men and their thoughts and insights on the price we ALL pay when those needs aren’t met and expressed in constructive ways. In societies/cultures that don’t actively promote healthy expression of feelings by males, professionals from many areas (medical, mental health, law enforcement etc) are seeing increases in substance abuse, violence, academic underachievement, suicide and accidents.

The findings in this book can help FOD Families in many ways, but it’s really a book that fits into LIFE in general. The emotional life of boys is much more expansive than just dealing with an FOD or FOD-related loss/grief issues. ALL aspects of life are touched by emotions ~ HOPEFULLY by understanding what boys need to be emotionally healthy and then by teaching/modeling constructive expression, we can raise more ’emotionally literate’ children that grow into emotionally literate adults.

Unfortunately, we have what the authors call a ‘culture of cruelty’ in our own society that pigeon-holes boys into narrow roles and ways to behave or express emotions or masculinity and if you don’t fit that role (i.e. macho, physically strong, boys don’t cry etc) then you are considered less than male (and to many that means ‘sissy’) and often treated that way by other boys, men, and much of society.

We ALL need to be aware of the messages we send our boys, directly and indirectly, so they can feel good about themselves and have a healthy sense of self and not feel that they have to hide from others just because they don’t ‘fit in’ with what some call masculine. Masculinity (as well as femininity) comes in many ‘shapes and sizes’ and who is to say who has it and who doesn’t have it!

Some say that different media (i.e. TV, music, movies, videogames etc) don’t influence how boys (or anyone) feel, think, or behave, but from what these authors share about their experiences in working with troubled boys, that opinion, in MY opinion, is strongly put in doubt! The angry, belligerent, sexist, homophobic etc messages often heard and seen in today’s world stifle and discourage emotional growth and definitely don’t promote it ~ for ANYONE! Boxing a boy into a certain ‘role’ or way of being can cause more harm than good. Feeling isolated from their own selves as well as society, is what most likely exacerbates problems within families, communities, societies and the world.

Our challenge is to enhance our boys’ inner selves and lives ~ not to contribute to the toxic mentality that propels and perpetuates that ‘culture of cruelty’ upon our children.

Reading this book will most definitely give you as parents a greater awareness of how you can be that catalyst in your own sons’ lives, as well as any boy you come in contact with, so they will grow into the men they are meant to be.

Deb Lee Gould, MEd 
Director, FOD Family Support Group 
March 2001