Thanks for nothing, Harry Chapin!
I come from a musical family.
Mother mixed cake batter to the beat of “Mony Mony” and Father blew a mean coach’s whistle. Me, I played air guitar -- classical air guitar. Segovia, Mertz, stuff only serious air guitarists will touch.
In that tradition, I introduced Jeremy to his melodic heritage. At four, we sang Bob Marley songs while shaping dreadlocks out of Play-Doh; at nine, we were “Kung Fu Fighting” in Taekwondo class.
With music in the house, we had joy, we had fun.
Then Harry Chapin had to go and ruin it!
You see, up until then it was common for us to communicate in lyrics. For instance, if I asked Jeremy could he top last week’s Little League performance, he might reply, “B-b-b-baby you ain’t seen n-n-nothing yet.” It never got old, even when his teacher phoned to explain the boy’s autobiographical essay was unacceptable because it began, “I was born in the wagon of a travelin' show…” (Nuns. They have no sense of humor.)
Jeremy’s clever use of lyrics and impeccable timing almost always made me laugh, except the night he invoked Chapin.
Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” recounts the times a young boy asks his father to spend time with him but is rebuffed. It ends with dad lamenting the irony that when he phones, it is the son, consumed with work and children of his own, who has no time.
As a teen, I had regarded it as a sappy song that never really resonated. But a few months ago I “got it.”
It had been one of those frantic days at the office -- rushing between meetings, taking the car to the shop over lunch, errands on the way home, a quick dinner, then, finally, the one thing I really enjoyed, a rare night out with my buddies.
It almost happened, too, but halfway out the door Jeremy caught me.
“Wanna do something?”
Yeesh! I thought to myself … long day … I had planned this for weeks …
“I have to go out,” I told him, “can we do something another time?”
It sounded wrong and I felt bad. I had never been too busy to do something with my son.
“That’s OK,” Jeremy said as he turned and walked down the hall, purposefully slow, clearly demoralized and exquisitely underplaying a murmur, “… and the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon … ”
Well, what could I do? I set down the Godfather boxed-set and the Sam Adams, hung my head and closed the door.
I knew what he was doing. He knew what he was doing. It was a classic guilt trip, magnificently executed, and it flashed me back. I saw my own dad in the doorway set down his bowling ball and forsake a night with the guys, just to take me to the mall to meet my friends.
I smiled at my Jeremy’s manipulation.
He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.