“My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed”
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him”
Cat’s In The Cradle- Harry Chapin
I think that I was around 12 or so the first time I remember hearing this song. Â It came out in ’74 so it is entirely possible that I was younger when I first heard it. Â I suppose that it doesn’t matter when I first heard it, but rather when the lyrics started to stick with me. Since I was a kid I suppose that I probably thought of it in context of wanting to be like my own father. I know for certain that the first time I remember feeling anything in response was when we all left for our respective universities.
Or should I say when everyone else left. I was supposed to spend my freshman year in Israel but had to pull out at the last moment and wound up stuck in L.A. At the time that song hit me because I felt very old and a bit unsettled with the changes in my life. I didn’t realize that years later on the eve of my son’s birth I would listen to it again and wonder if it was prophetic.
Now I listen to it with a bittersweet smile on my face, that excerpt above being particularly significant. My son is ten and he still loves to spend time with me, as I do with him. But I find myself struggling to make it all work because I work constantly. It is not by choice but by need. It is a 7 day grind that won’t always be like this, but there are no days where I am not working on something. Â I spend countless hours online working on the various projects that help to pay the bills. I drink enormous amounts of coffee and stay up to ungodly hours so that I can get just a little bit more done.
And in between it all I try to fit in time with everyone else. Not to mention daily trips to the gym and if I am lucky basketball twice a week. The gym visits take place during school hours and are generally no more than 30 minutes. Basketball is at night and not something that I can just walk away from. It is part of how I maintain some semblance of sanity. I can’t keep this pace up without that.
So I look for other moments in time that I can give to the children. Some of those come from my volunteering at the school. I find ways to get there during the day and for a short time I help out. It is not a perfect solution, no panacea for the time I don’t have. But they get to see me there and they understand that I am there because I think education is important.
But lately I have noticed some behavioral changes at school. This ten year-old son of mine is shying away from public displays of affection. He is becoming more self conscious of this and wants to maintain his ability to be cool. Now I have to mask the affection with giant bear hugs that make it look a bit like I am messing with him. At home there is no difference as he is happy to hug and be hugged.
I understand this. I remember being like him and wanting to find a way to be cool. I remember when I started to pull away a bit from my parents. It is normal, natural and most of the time ok with me. Look I would be lying if I said that sometimes it is not hard. It is a reminder that the future is coming on fast and furiously. When he is with a group of friends conversation stops when parents approach.
It is kind of funny to me because their conversations are about Legos, Star Wars, sports and other benign topics. But it is a sign that there is a division, a line that we can’t cross. I am a father, not one of the boys anymore- at least not where they are concerned. Not such a big deal or unexpected, but I didn’t think that time would move this quickly.
We only get to keep them at home for so long. Guess I better work harder at finding more time to spend with them because we’ll blink and they’ll be in college.