Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Cats in the Cradle

I grew up in a house of song. My parents would sing to me and my brothers. We sang at family reunions. We sang at church. We sang in the shower, and yes, we even sang on car trips.

When it comes to the most memorable songs from my childhood though, they are all sung in my dad's voice.

Songs from his youth at summer camp. Songs by classic rockers and singer-songwriters. Songs straight from the hymnals. And of course, among those songs was Harry Chapin's classic "Cats in the Cradle". It's a song that I cherished as a kid, because what good father's son doesn't want to "be like him"?

In it, he sings of his child being born and growing while he wasn't around. He tells of how busy and overloaded he was at his child's 10th birthday. He sings about that same son returning from college, practically a man. And finally, he reminisces over his son having a family of his own. And all along the way, the kid is looking up to him, taking his cues and patterning his life after the example that is set for him.

On it's surface, the song is a tale of a child idolizing his dad. Listen with the ears of a dad though, and it's a tale of missed opportunities and overwhelming responsibilities. In other words: adulthood. And as I watch my kids grow I try to remember just how short a time I have them.

Still when they ask me to play baseball or soccer or Barbies with them, it is hard when you need a new roof, or the dishes are piled up, or your office has you working extra hours not to say "not today, I've got a lot to do." Those are the times I feel like I'm dropping the ball. Those are the days I connect with the song and worry about that being the impression I leave for the kids to want to emulate.


From my days as a kid listening to my parents sing, Kate and I are now the parents singing to our kids. Of course, songs like "Cats in the Cradle" and "30,000 Lbs of Bananas" by Harry Chapin, and Jim Croce's "You Don't Mess Around With Jim," plus many songs by the Beatles and Phil Collins slip through my lips to their ears. And they eat it up.

Recently, Nat asked me to sing the 30K lbs song, "especially the 'of bananas' in the low low voice!" So, I slipped into the role of a truck driver losing control of his rig loaded down with pasty fruit and we each took our swings at trying to hit Big John Wallace's low banana note. Laughing at the notion of a road smeared with a truck-full of bananas, we moved naturally into Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle." I sang the verses while Nat hung on every syllable, then tried to sing along to the chorus.

When we wrapped up, she hit me with a big one.

"That will be you one day soon, Dad," she said.

That will be me.


She'll be turning 10 in just over a week, and it is not lost on me that the kid in the song turns ten as the dad tells him he doesn't have time to teach him how to throw. Nat however, had looked past the 10th birthday. She was already on to the college/cars/family verses.

"You'll be giving me the car keys soon dad! And I'll be going to college..."

I had to cut her off there, as I wasn't ready for all that just yet.


For now, I want to enjoy singing with her, and playing ball with her, and teaching her about the world around her. I want to remember to be involved, and I want her to hold on to the idea of being like me because I am involved so that one day I can call her up and hear how involved she is with her own family.

Then I'll know I've done all right.

1 comment:

  1. ...we'll get together then, son...