Cat’s In the Cradle

It’s no secret that I didn’t have the best relationship with my dad. The history is long, complicated, and as of September 2006, over. He died of cancer in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He left me and my brother behind, along with his wife and my sister. By the time the end rolled around, we had patched things up and mended our bridges … but things were never quite the same as before.

Long before we made our concerted efforts to stay in contact, I had become aware of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” song. I don’t remember what I thought of the song the first time I heard it because I was in high school, and “the bomb” hadn’t dropped at that point. However, I do remember the effects of hearing that song for the first time after the bomb had gone off … and it wasn’t pretty. At all. In fact, it still gives me chills just thinking about it.

If you’re not familiar with the song, I … hmm. I would recommend listening to it, but at the same time, I would *strongly* caution that you brace yourself for an emotional storm that you may not be prepared to weather. They lyrics are potent, and they will over-run you if you are caught unaware. Even Harry Chapin said that this song scares him to death.

I have an incredibly up-and-down love/hate relationship with this song. I hate the fact that it reduces me to a puddle of tears just listening to the opening guitar plucking. I also hate the fact that I’m scared shit-less of failing in my responsibilities as a parent. Do I spend enough time with my kids? Am I “that dad”? I’d like to think that the answer is a resounding “NO.” I try to spend time with them. I love sitting with them and watching them do their insanely crazy little things that they do. I love watching them watch something like a documentary (e.g. Planet Earth, Life, etc) because they totally soak it in. I love being with my kids. I don’t think that I put them off very often, and when I do, it’s because I have something that I’m working on. Most of the time. Yah, sometimes I need some quiet, alone time. Every parent does. My wife especially does cuz she’s with them all day. But for the most part, I work very hard to NOT BE the father in the song.

However, I also love this song for the very reason that it *does* drive me to break the cycle. I want to be a better dad than what I had growing up because of this song. Yet, back to the hate-part of the relationship, I hate feeling like I need a motivation to want to be with my kids. I DON’T need that motivation, yet … I find myself coming back to these lyrics whenever I feel like I’m not spending enough time with them. Do you know what I mean? Cuz if you do, you’re probably two steps ahead of me.

So there it is: the love/hate relationship.

Now … to be fair, I think one of the reasons that I become so emotional over Harry Chapin’s version is because it’s so hauntingly melodic. The music itself is like a dagger piercing the heart with every pained word. The Ugly Kid Joe version of this song doesn’t have the same effect on me. However, I often find myself drawn to their version for a number of reasons. For one, their sound is nearly perfect for it. Grungy, dirty, distorted guitar riffs; heavy, weighted sounds; Whit Crane’s grueling, gutteral, gritty vocals that bring out the agony and pain that the song so vividly portrays … I could listen to that version a lot easier than Mr. Chapin’s comparative crooning.

So why discuss this song? Where is this coming from?

Oddly, it was quote in a church sermon I heard today. Not just a snippet or a stanza …it was the whole song. And as the guy speaking kept quoting, I found myself having a harder and harder time fighting back the tears. By the time he got to the last part of the song, I couldn’t see straight. My eyes were stinging, my body was shaking from trying to hold back the sobs. My 5 year old daughter noticed my distress, and without saying a word, she just crawled up on my lap and whispered, “Don’t worry, daddy. It will be okay!”, at which point I just flat-out lost it. I gave her the biggest hug, and let it all flow out. My poor kids … they have no idea how messed up their daddy is when it comes to actually being a parent. It scares me to death to think that I’m going to screw this up and let them down somehow. I know the effect it can have on a kid, and I cannot have my girls go through that.

If any of you out there have kids, or if any of you are that kid in the song, break the cycle. Be the one to step up and say, “We’re better than this.” You have precisely one life. Nothing can be gained by not mending fences, or at least trying to mend them. Be you the parent or the child … it’s never too late to attempt to fix the past and say that, from this moment forward, the past is just that–the past. Move past the hate and resentment and push through to the forgiveness and love. Just do it.

© 2024 A Theme