Inside looking out: ‘The Cat’s in the Cradle’
Editor’s note: Lyrics quoted are from the song, The Cat’s in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin.
The other day I saw a post on Facebook that read, “Let’s give a shout out to all the fathers who work long weeks and overtimes to provide for their families.”
I grew up in a time when mothers stayed home and raised the kids and fathers went to work and provided the sole income to pay all the bills. On the weekends, my father did the manly chores outside the house and during the nights, he watched TV. As a boy of 11, I was not proud of him just because he worked all week. I wanted my time with my father, which I never did get, especially after he got very sick. When I complained to my mom that he was never there, for me, I got the standard reply that every kid heard from his mother back then.
“He put a roof over your head, clothes on your body, and food in your mouth. Show some gratitude and appreciation.”
Perhaps I didn’t give him enough credit, but the child who still lives inside me selfishly would rather have had a dad than a father who had more of a relationship with the people at his job than he did with me.
A father who works long hours should be commended for his willingness to accept that responsibility, but there is a significant trade-off. You have to wonder why a man would want to have children if he thinks he needs to work more than 40 hours a week just to pay for their upkeep and then have no time to be a dad with them.
Another little-known reason, and a sad one at that, why a man works so much is because he doesn’t like being home. He’d rather stay on the job than spend time with his wife or he finds more peace of mind where he works than being around his kids. I have known fathers who are like this and they have told me their places of work are their happy escapes from having to be with their families.
I had met a man a while back who hated the song “The Cat’s in the Cradle,” and when I asked him why, he said because it perfectly described why he had failed to be dad to his son.
My son turned 10 just the other day. He said thanks for the ball, Dad. Come on let’s play. … I said, not today. I got a lot to do.
“My son is 26 years old and I don’t know him much better than I know you,” this man said to me. “I worked six, seven days a week. Had to make the money to pay for the fancy lifestyle, you know.”
“When you coming home, Dad?”
“I don’t know when. But we’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then.”
“We didn’t have any good times together,” the man said. “Oh, I showed up in the middle or near the end of some of his baseball games, but he never knew I was there because I couldn’t tell if I could get off work to go see him play.”
When he came home from college … Son, I’m proud of you. Can we sit for a while?
“I missed his younger years,” the man said. “And when he got old enough to drive and go to college, forget it. “When he was home, he wanted little to do with his father. I was this strange man who passed him in the hall on the way to the bathroom.”
I’ve long since retired. My son’s moved away. I called him up just the other day. I said I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.
The man gently grabbed my arm. “We have no memories of being together. There’s nothing between me and him unless you count all the money I spent for whatever he needed or wanted. He lives in New York now and we wish each other a merry Christmas and we talk on our birthdays and that’s about it.”
“You have any grandkids?” I asked him.
“Nope. That’s where that damn song stops with me,” he said referring to the son in the song who couldn’t see his father because the kids were sick.
“My son and his wife don’t want to have kids and somehow, I feel responsible for that, never being a father to him.”
As I got up to leave, the man looked at me and said, “You know what’s funny about all this?”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“What man lying on his deathbed when asked if he has any regrets in his life is going to say, “I should have worked more hours than I did.”
So, let’s give that shout out to hardworking fathers, but let’s give another shout out to those dads who pass on working the extra hours so they can spend quality time with their kids.
P.S.: Imagine an age number you would like to be permanently and forever. What would it be? Would you like to be 21 all the time or maybe 40? If you email me your answer, please include your first name, the town you live in, and reasons for your “perfect and permanent” age. I will include your name and your response in a future column about this topic. Thank you!
Rich Strack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.