“I’m sorry, but I’m backed up with work tonight, and I can’t get away for dinner. I hope you understand.”
The words were heartfelt, honest and delivered with great care. They were, however, spoken by my son, breaking a dinner date with my wife and me.
Harry Chapin eventually comes home to roost for all of us.
I pressed the red button on the glass phone screen, ending the call. My son’s voice painfully evaporated from the room. My wife, listening beside me, leaned in.
“Cat’s in the Cradle,” my wife said. “How does it feel?”
This week, my wife and I spent a few days near Denver, the city my son moved to several weeks ago. Already long living away from home, his pillow at night now rested five times farther away. We miss him greatly.
“Yes, that does feel odd,” I said. “But it’s OK, too. I’m proud of him.”
My wife and I came closer, recognizing the next day, we’d be back in Texas.
“We’ll be back,” I said. “It’s going to be OK.”
Truthfully, the words were probably more for me, knowing she and our children were on the other end of this situation hundreds of times from me over the years.
Harry Chapin’s song “Cat’s in the Cradle” is about a new father and chronicles the son’s journey wanting his father’s attention, only to find himself competing for his father’s time. Eventually, the son, who looks up to his father, says to himself he wants to grow up to be just like his dad. Later in the song, the tables turn, the father asking for time with his son only to hear the familiar words coming back his way — and recognizing his son is now him.
Chapin’s lyrics prove painful and timeless. His words don’t ask us to imagine, but rather remember moments stored in a box labeled regrets. And for me, the scab of this moment is easily picked.
I clearly remember this moment for me. My son asked me whether we could hit some golf balls together. I played golf at the time, and he played at playing golf. I now recognize his asking was more of an ask for my time than to hit balls into a field aimlessly. Unfortunately, I declined, opting to get ahead on some now long-forgotten and thus meaningless item for work.
He graduated high school, moved off to college and then off into the bustle of the world. The moments I thought at the time were endless began to disappear in front of my eyes, but it was too late.
Again, the moment passed, but the memory remained like a ghost, haunting me each time I reached out to him. The experience also makes listening to Chapin’s song unbearable to me today, hitting too close to home. Even typing these words bring an ache to my chest, an involuntary welling in my eyes.
My wife and I tried to play the moment off, humming a few bars from Chapin’s song. But inside of us both, we cried a bit, knowing our son had indeed grown up like me.