David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

Poor Boy

Wait a minute? He did what? He killed her? With a knife? Because she went on a date or didn’t want to marry him or preferred this Grayson guy?

And now the abusive murderer is going to hang and we’re supposed to feel sorry for him? “Poor boy”? He’s called “poor boy” to elicit sympathy? There’s an entire song about him? A song about this psycho fiend who kills a woman with a knife? Really? What is going on here? How is this even possible? The Kingston Trio wasn’t creative enough to write a lyric about Vlad the Impaler? The boys couldn’t come up with a catchy rhyme for Stalin?

I met her on the mountain

Thought she’d be my wife

I met her on the mountain

Then we hired a licensed counselor, talked it out, determined we weren’t met to be together long term, she had feelings for Grayson so, thinking that her happiness was more important than mine, we parted as friends thankful for the time we had spent together.

Okay so my version doesn’t rhyme perfectly and, I’m just going to put this out there, may very well have a few extra syllables, but the original glorifies domestic violence and was the number one tune in the Billboard Hot 100 mid-November 1958. And the song is about a guy who kills his wife. With a knife. In three verses.

Listening to this song as a child—I was born a couple dozen months before its release—I didn’t give it much thought. The British Invasion was right around the corner. The Summer of Love and Woodstock would also happen before I got out of junior high. But I feel strongly that the kids a few years older than I were thinking, “He shouldn’t oughta have killed her. ‘Course she did mess around with that Grayson fella.”

I like to think we’ve come a long way from a culture in which woman were considered property. If a girl didn’t favor you, killing her with a knife was an option. Being caught and sentenced to death by hanging had a certain romantic allure. I wonder what the next six decades will bring as our collective understanding of the equality of the genders evolves. I wonder in 2022 how our understanding of best practices of child rearing will change.

I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to hit their kids. The evidence is simple and straight forward. Smacking your kids teaches your kids to be smackers themselves. I gotta wonder if maybe Tom Dooley’s parents didn’t teach him that viciousness and passion were intertwined. I don’t talk to parents who admit to hitting their children, but I do see myriad insensitivity on the part of the adults. “This will hurt me more than it does you” has been replaced with time outs and punishments of all kinds from ignoring your kids to “consequences” and enough carrots and sticks to choke a horse.

Of course kids misbehave. Of course we wish they would do as we say and give us some peace. And yes, chores are important. But I have always thought that by the time parents are choosing the appropriate punishment something has already gone wrong somewhere. No child ever woke up in the morning thinking, “what can I do today to annoy my parents and make life miserable for all of us?” Kids typically–invariably–are doing the best they can.

I think of my failure-to-launch young adults isolated in their basements smoking pot and playing video games ten hours a day. Would any of these young men choose zapping zombies to interacting with people of the female persuasion? I doubt it. If they had the skill to say, “would you like to see a movie on Saturday?” they would prefer real companionship to virtual.

Attempted suicide is often described as a cry for help. Why would a kid disobey if they instead had the opportunity of hiking with their parents? Why would a kid fuss if their needs were being met? I think kids act out not because they want attention but because they want connection. Kids are so frequently told to sit still and learn that which is neither new nor interesting. No wonder parents and teachers are always talking about behavior management, punishments and rewards, incentives and all manner of manipulations. A little honest conversation might be the answer to all kinds of disruptions to family life. And I’d certainly rather have kids help me with the dishes and laundry because we have a shared purpose and enjoy doing stuff together rather than because I have threatened them.

I’m guessing in another sixty years we are going to look back on how we raised our kids and feel as much revulsion as we do thinking about Tom Dooley stabbing his ex-girlfriend.



Copyright © David Altshuler 1980 – 2022    |    Miami, FL • Charlotte, NC     |    (305) 978-8917    |    [email protected]