There are love songs and angry songs, tunes of excitement and wonder, of anguish and misery, of loss and grief. Depending on what you’re in the mood for, there’s a song for it. But rarely, you come across a number which is frightening. Each word rings of horror, of truth and consequence, of your actions or the lack thereof.
American singer Harry Chapin wrote one such song, titled, “Cats in the cradle.” And each time that song comes up, it sends shivers down my spine.
‘My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say ‘I’m gonna be like you Dad
You know I’m gonna be like you’
The focus of the song, as may be apparent from the stanza above, is about the relationship between father and son, the former being too busy to be around as the child is born and learns to talk and walk. Many years after the song was released, Chapin admitted ‘Frankly, this song scares me to death’.
Me too. Each night, I fall asleep with a nagging fear that I, his father, am unable to give him the time that he needs. Being an only child doesn’t help, because he needs me and his mother even more. But we are both working people — with-full time jobs. How do we sort of balance it out?
‘My son turned ten just the other day
He said ‘Thanks for 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
Oh, the horror. How many times has my child, a football fanatic, asked me to kick around a football in the garden, only for me to say the exact same thing. And when his disappointment gets too much to bear, and I end up in the garden with him, the constant interruptions, mostly from work, on the phone, make sure it’s a stop start stop situation.
It’s better than nothing I tell myself: better than nothing.
When I was on the cusp of becoming a father — I had one thing in mind: to give my child an upbringing better than what I had been given. And to be fair, I am probably failing on a daily basis. But the vicious cycle of slavery that middle level professionals like myself are stuck in, there is no way out. The work never ends. It’s a series of deadlines one after the other. Phone calls and emails. Text messages and excel sheets. And just so that we can focus on ‘our work’, we toss the nearest digital device to the child, and look away, not knowing what poison he is consuming. And how it’s hampering his mental growth.
‘When he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
Son I’m proud of you, could you sit for a while
He shook his head and said with a smile
What I’d really like Dad is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please’
My son will go to college in about a decade. Will I have, by then, instilled in him the knowledge and courage to brave it on his own? What about his general knowledge? Have I quizzed him enough to know something about everything? Or have I left it all on the school? What about sports? Can he throw a ball proper? Ride a bicycle?
There is just no defence.
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Every few months, me and my son are alone, for a few days. He calls it ‘our hangout time’. We play a lot of video games, eat junk food and ice cream, and generally fool about. After the ‘hangout’ is over, he can’t stop talking about it for days. It means that much to him.
There’s a famous social experiment where adults were asked who would they like to have dinner with, if they could choose anyone. Someone said Oprah Winfrey, another the Dalai Lama, etc, etc. But when they asked children, their answers were unanimous: With dad and mum.
The writing is on the wall. We don’t give our children enough time. There are too many distractions. The hours are too long. We are too selfish.
Take time to make time, before it’s too late.
‘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’
He said. ‘I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu
But its sure nice talking to you Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you’
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’s grown up just like me
My boy was just like me’