“A child arrived just the other day, came to the world in the usual way,” so says the first few chords of “Cats in the Cradle”, the 1974 Number 1 Hit song by Harry Chapin. Since that time, the song has been performed by such notables as Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce and many more.
The lyrics tell a story about a father who has planes to catch and bills to pay and a son who learns to walk while the father is away earning a living for his family. The son wants his father’s time and attention and longs to be like his dad, but the father’s commitments do not even allow time to play catch with his children.
Throughout the son’s childhood, the well intentioned father tells of a time in the future when they will get together and promises, “You know we’ll have a good time then, son. You know we’ll have a good time then.” That time never comes. The father retires and asks for time with his son. Tragically, the adult son has matured without a close paternal relationship and does not see the need for one at that point in his life.
The son is now a father who has no time for anything except his own job. The folk song concludes with the father’s realization that his never ending pursuit of financial success has not only cost him a relationship with his son, but that his son is following in his footsteps, repeating a vicious cycle of neglect.
It has been said that Chapin’s song has put more fathers ill at ease than any other song in music history. Perhaps the haunting allure of the song is the familiar, yet frightening reality of a lesson learned too late. Agonizingly, parents realize sooner or later, that our children need time and attention much more than they need financial security and in this fast paced world, fathers are not the only parents who have precious little time for their children.
Abdicated parental involvement is no where more evident than in our educational system. No system of education can function when parents relinquish the reins of raising their children by saying: “You make sure my child eats, you make sure that my child can read, you make sure that my child gets enough exercise, you make sure that my child does not bully anyone. You take care of them.”
A 1995 paper by Henderson and Berla, reported that, the most accurate predictor of a student’s achievement is not income or social status. Instead, if a family can accomplish just two of three listed criteria, children of low income families will achieve at or above the levels expected of middle class children. Those three criteria are: (1) Create a home environment that encourages learning; (2) Express high (but not unrealistic) expectations for their children’s achievement and future careers; and (3) Become involved in their children’s education at school and in the community.”
Sounds simple, huh. Unfortunately, it is easier to buy a child a ball than to teach them how to play with it.
Oklahoma’s schools are filled with thousands of caring, compassionate teachers who are underpaid, whose pensions are under attack and who log hours and hours of unpaid time making our children better and thereby improving society. Thank goodness they love what they do. Thank goodness they love our children so much that they make sure our children eat and get enough exercise. They even try to make sure that our children do not bully.
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer are financially able to enjoy the vocation they so love and many walk away from their chosen career instead of facing a lifelong lack of respect or appreciation.
Well, the cat’s in the cradle, and the silver spoon, Little Boy Blue, and the Man in the Moon. When you coming home, Dad? I don’t know when. You know I’m going to be like you, Dad. You know I’m going to be like you.
Let’s stop the cycle. Get involved in the life of your children. They will appreciate the boundaries that you set.