December Interrruped to Bring You a Book Review

Alright. I am interrupting Tales of December to demand you read a book. I’m pushy, I know. Especially after I demanded back in Fall that you read “What Is The What”, by Dave Eggers. But, it’s a great book. A book primarily about a child who was given lobotomy in the 60’s, but, ultimately, it’s a book about triumphing over abuse.

I was driving to work one day when I heard the now famous NPR radio program about Howard Dully. At the urging of his stepmother, he was given a trans orbital lobotomy by Dr. Walter Freeman. The goal of the operation given to Dully, and thousands of others, was to relieve a whole slew of symptoms ranging from depression to violent tendencies, schizophrenia and migraines. In Howard Dully’s case, it was unnecessary. He was a perfectly normal boy. The only thing “wrong” with Howard Dully was that he was being forced to live in a highly dysfunctional home. The emotional instability he suffered was not caused by chemical deficiencies or physical deformation of his brain, but by the combined rage and neglect of his unstable stepmother and his indifferent father. He suffered so much from their abuse that, at times, he thought that living in institutions and stranger’s homes seemed preferable to living at home. He was made to feel unwanted, unloved, and “different” his whole life.

I don’t want to eclipse the fact that this poor guy had a ego-maniacal doctor knock him unconscious with electroshock and then push two ice picks through this eye sockets to scratch at the connective tissue in his brain… there were a few people mentioned in the book who agreed that lobotomies were better relegated to the “most failed, most barbaric medical treatment ever devised” category. But, there is a much bigger thing, I think to take away from this book, and that’s the gift Howard Dully gives us with his story.

He shows us how vitally important it is to feel loved by our parents, and how, without that love in the beginning of our lives, we are nearly always destined to a life of self destruction, violence, hopelessness and directionlessness. Obviously, this all fate can be triumphed over, as Mr. Dully so humbly, thoughtfully, and eloquently has shown us. But it took Mr. Dully nearly his whole life to reconcile with himself. It takes many people the world over that same lifetime. In the meantime, they are set to a course of self-destructive behaviors (including drugs and crime) which, very obviously has a ripple affect on society. One person is raised without love and attention, and the whole society suffers. I just feel like the connection between psychopathic killers and their indifferent mothers, drug dealers and their absent father figures, gang members and their overcompensation for clannishness caused by a lack of real family cohesion… speaks volumes and volumes about the importance of wanted-ness in a child’s life. I’m not a psychologist, but I don’t actually think I need a few letters behind my name to point out that, if you asked every person locked up in jail right now, every desperate person living on the edge, how stable his or her childhood was, I bet you’d get the same answer over and over again. Some would say we can’t intervene in the life of every person (or can we? Just ask Geoffrey Canada. He’ll tell you otherwise. I tend to agree with him…), but surely we can dedicate more resources, in this country and others, to ensuring we aren’t raising the next generation of murderers, rapists, criminals, etc., right?

What I have to think is that, given the time this all happened (the 50’s-60’s) “talking about your feelings” was just not the psycho therapeutic approach it is today. Dully talks a lot about the pride his father possessed. It was this pride, and the inability to ask anyone for real help with his son, (and his inability to talk about anything “negative” because negative thoughts were “useless” to him) that caused Howard to be shuffled around from institution to institution his whole life. Howard Dully’s step mom, especially, seemed to have a personal vendetta against her stepson. He was the target for all her unexpressed rage, her dissatisfaction with the world. She didn’t seem to have an outlet for the hurt and pain caused by her own walk-out mom, her alcoholic dad, and, later, her alcoholic first husband. Dully brilliantly wraps up his book by acknowledging this cycle of neglect and abuse. He, even after all he’d been through, was able to see that his step mom suffered a lack of love in her own life, that this was her motivation in treating him the way she did, and that she deserved compassion just the same as he did. His father too, though he couldn’t bring himself to say the words “I love you” to his own son during his interview (arguably the most powerful radio interview you’ll ever hear) was still loved unconditionally by Howard Dully. THIS is my reason for loving this book so much. The author knows, now, how a procedure like a lobotomy can be allowed to happen. And he knows now, too, how to prevent one from ever happening again.