Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cat's In the Cradle

With the passing of my dad, I went back in my mind to the song "Cat's In The Cradle" by Harry Chapin. I've said before that even as a child, this song haunted me. For such a deep song, a ten year old can comprehend the meaning or at least know the feelings in the song. The words are so powerful and resonate in the deepest parts of a man's soul. We are haunted by our dads and their presence and absense is felt at our core. God designed it to be this way as He is our Heavenly Father. There's so much that we get from our fathers but the task for them is always too great for a human. That is part of the Fall. Shame and fear has entered the world and with that, stress, anxiety, worry, uncertainty and distance.

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"

All kids see their dad as Superman

The song opens with something beautiful, hopeful and personal: the birth of a son. Although powerful and life altering, it's something that happens several times each and every day. So a child's birth is both common and profound. In the true tome of life, the event is also bittersweet as there are still responsibilities of paying bills, taking care of the house and putting food on the table. The singer is already wrapped up enough in all of those things that he misses his son's first steps. This begs the question of how many important events we as dads miss because of our obligations. The sad truth is that we never get the balancing act quite right. Worse is that most of us sincerely want to get it all "right" and others are always there to shame us for either not climbing the corportate ladder or for being an absent father. Crazy! The last line is the connecting point in the song and more importantly where sons connect with their dads. When we're little, dad is Superman. Of course we want to be like him.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin' home dad?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

The first two lines of the chorus are children's games, toys and nursery rhymes. What's powerful is within them is that bittersweet relationship between a father and the son. Cat's in the cradle is a children's string game and silver spoons are gifts given down through the generations as a sign of wealth. I see the cat (the father) tied up trying to provide the silver spoon (providing a good life and even legacy) for his son. The sad part is that as in the game, you'll end up in a tangled mess eventually while silver spoons will tarnish over time. In the middle of the chorus is the loving plead of the son for his dad to be home. A dad can be away on a business trip or in the office for the day. Still, sons will wait for dad to come home. All sons' desire is to receive that all important affirmation from the man they adore. Little boy blue is the smiling boy who is blue inside ("will surely cry"); the man in the moon is one who smiles looking down from a distance. A blue boy and a distant man smiling down - the connection or disconnection between the father and the son. Sadly, this is the world in its fallen state. A desired but fractured connection between father and son. We as sons deeply desire and need the attention and affirmation of our dads. With the demands of the world upon us, dads have bills to pay, obligations to meet and so little time to really connect with our sons.

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, "Thanks for the 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"
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin' home dad?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

The second verse is ten years later and the activity is catch. Oh, how I look back fondly of times playing catch with my dad. I think the final scene in "Field Of Dreams" where Kevin Costner gets to play catch and reconnect (and restore the relationship) with his dad. I have no idea why catch can be such a connection, but it does. I've had women puzzle over it as it's somethings they just don't get. Perhaps we aren't supposed to "get it". In the song, the dad can provide the ball but can't provide the time. I see my dad and myself using that excuse of  "a lot to do" to not have the time to play catch. Here's the bittersweet part: the boy's smile doesn't dim but even then it's not him turning to his dad but now some unnamed friend gets to hear that "I'm going to be like him." The disconnect between father and son is slowly happening.

Well, he came home from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
"Son, I'm proud of you, can 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?"

The song fasts forward another 10 years and his son is now in college. What strikes me is that after his son has left home only then the dad realizes how proud he is of his son and that now he wants to tell him. Yes, the dad has figured out what the most important thing to say to his son is but unfortunately his son has now moved on. Whether it's a girl or his college buddies, dad the provider has fulfilled his role so well that the son sees him as the guy with the car keys and the means to form relationships with his peers. It's tragic but self fulfilling. We as dads have been conditioned to work hard, teach your kids to have manners, provide well, do church activities, and then somewhere we miss out on the most important things: quality time, saying what means most and showing masculine love. 
I always laugh a little at the last line of this verse. The son is so anxious, "See you later, oh yeah, can I have the car keys please?" Trying to get moving (away from dad) and still trying to be respectful and say "please". He's much more focused on others instead of dad. Note also that the son isn't saying that he wants to be like dad anymore. Good and bad, the son doesn't idolize his father in the same way.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

The chorus has now shifted to the dad asking for time with the son. Now the father is hopeful that "then" will happen and looking forward to that "good time". At this point in my life, I do long for that time with my daughters who have moved on into adulthood. I'm singing along with the dad in this regard.

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 kids have the flu
But it's 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'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

This part of the song almost always chokes me up. The father has "made it". He's worked hard, provided for his family, got his gold watch and now can live the supposed "good" life. What does he seek out? Time with his son. It's almost tragic how he asks, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind." He's actually pleading with his son for time. Again, rejection follows. The son has all of the headaches the dad had in the first verse. They are all of the "right" things that dads are supposed to be responsible for but it crowds out the important thing: time with each other. Of course this is the painful irony of the song: the boy who longed to be like his dad did become just like him but not the Superman he envisioned, but the over stressed too busy for quality time working stiff his dad was. It's such a simple message but so powerful. The father and son sound like the truly respect and love each other but other priorities crush out the most important times that both of them desperately and deeply desire (and need). I find it interesting that even as a kid listening to this song that I got the message. I just didn't know how deeply powerful the message is. My dad and I could easily be the ones in this song. Not only that, Fox and I could be the ones in this song. I know that I have emotional gaps from missing out on quality time with my dad which haunts me (Was he proud of me? Did he consider me a man? Did he truly love me?) and I wonder how much I don't provide the same for my son.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

I have this song ready to play on my MP3 player since it's more meaningful now to me that I've gained a son, found out I'm going to be a grandfather and lost my dad, all in the span of six months. I think of how important dads really are. They provide identity, masculine love, and safety which are far beyond paying the bills, providing a roof over their heads and putting food on the table. Sadly so few in today's society really get that straight. Even worse the church puts a high premium on church involvement to pile on more "stuff" that separates dads from their kids. So this beautiful song is a cautionary tale of what we're all forced to contend with. So tonight after Fox's basketball game, I'm going to tell him I love him and that I'm proud of him. Perhaps we'll catch a movie or shop for some new basketball shoes. No matter how it goes, in my mind "We'll have a good time then."

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Proverbs 20:7

The righteous lead blameless lives;
    blessed are their children after them.

"Feeling like a dusty road inside me
Waiting for a drink of autumn rain
But inspite of all I am I can still turn and smile
When I reach the promised land I'll be stronger for the trial
Love's gonna rescue me"

I used to listen to this song when I went to the hospital to visit my mom while she battled cancer. It's by a friend named Bob Hudson. It really expresses that feeling when you are dealing with the dire circumstances of life. You feel lifeless inside; somehow you feel like you're going through the motions of living when in fact you're dealing with something deeply difficult. Watching my mom suffer was one of those times. It's almost as if God in His mercy allows us to dry up inside so that we can cope with such deep hurt. Along with that we so desperately desire relief - that drink of refreshing rain that can heal the hurt. I'm recalling all of this as I deal with the passing of my father. If you've read any of this blog you know that fatherhood, and manhood are recurring themes I touch on. So now I face the reality of mourning my dad. There's almost too much to deal with to express it all nor will I process it so easily. Grief and mourning is that way. We all do it in a personal way. I find myself more in a reflective mindset remembering my childhood and how my dad was in and out of my life. He was my coach, teacher, the hard working provider, mentor, displinarian and companion but also he was the yeller, the belittler and distant. I hold no animosity towards any of the latter. My dad was very much human as we all are.

The details of his passing are this: he suffered a hemorrhage stroke about three months ago. After surgery and rehabilitation, he was moved to an assisted living situation with the expectation of a decent and even full recovery. The past three weeks he started to grow weak and tired. The thought was that he still had fluid on the brain. Last Sunday, I spoke with my brother on plans for after his surgery. Those plans were not to be. That night he passed away peacefully expiring in his sleep. I think of how much my mom suffered and I feel that God was indeed very merciful to take my dad with minmal pain and very much like the man I knew. The next day came two strange feelings. The first came in the question, "Did I really hear that right?" I think shock has that effect on us. It's almost dream like when surprising and shocking news comes our way. The second was this emptiness knowing that this was the first day in my life that I have no earthly parents. From the day we're born, we have parents but for me after 48 years, that is not the case anymore.

Dealing with the details of putting his affairs in order has also reminded me of the differences between my generation and his. He was born into the Great Depression and his teen years were during World War II. His mother passed away when he was a teenager. I always wondered how the affected him. Like most Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) he was the dutiful son who went to school, got a job, started a family, provided for that family and retired to play golf and travel. He was a hard working man. All of these qualities come from the mix of Japanese culture and the American culture of his era. Duty, honor and sacrifice are noble words that would describe him and so many others from this generation.

The closest my dad got to telling me he was proud of me and confirmed that I was a man

I would be remiss to say that as a human he had both great qualities and left gaps in my life as a father. As kids he never hugged us, told us he loved us, or that he was proud of us. He was demanding in a good way but also lacked the ability to encourage us and inspire us. I really don't hold any of this against him. I just know that I am no better than him as a father. It also gives me the great desire to know my Heavenly Father who fills those gaps in.

Conversely, I praise God that deep down, I know he loved me. I know that we had great times together. He's the man who taught me to throw a curve ball, hit a driver, shoot a jump shot, do long division, drive a stick shift and brush my teeth. It's so amazing that if you ask any man what the remember about their father it usually is something they did with him or something he taught them. One unique thing he taught me was how to solder. Even today at work when I smell solder, it bring me back to my dad's garage. Those are warm memories where I felt his strength and bond. We also got to travel to Japan together. That visit included seeing his father's house. He also was able to meet his cousin for the first time. He has told me that that time was very special to him. For me that meant a lot. It's a memory we got to share and is something I can carry with me the rest of my life.

"Searching for a road that isn't as lonely
Looking for a friend to ease the pain
I go back to where this started to find out what went wrong
No miracle cures for the broken heart and only time and shoulders to lean on
Love's gonna rescue me"

Many have asked how I'm doing through this part. In spite of everything, I feel peace. I really believe it's because I've had so many praying for me. Also, I have the best friends anyone could ever imagine who are there for me. The process to mourn does take time, but also comes out in different ways. I also have to admit that I have to be in "business mode" helping with settling my dad's affairs. That's a distraction that I used to use to avoid the pain. This time, I'm going to write, take walks and sit quietly by myself. God seems to work best in me when I do that. I know I'm going to miss him. I wish we had more time and that we could really truly talk about the important stuff. I'm sad that he was only a few months away from meeting his first great-grandchild. Mourning seems to be a lot about regret and "what ifs".

"But in spite of all I am I can still turn and smile
When I reach the promised land I'll be stronger for the trial
Love's gonna rescue me"

I also am thankful that my last words to my dad were "I love you." Such simple words, but are packed with power. I seriously didn't think that it would be the last time I saw him, but it is one of those moments where I said the right thing at the right time.

I know deep down that this is not the end of my time with dad. When God does reunite me with him, I look forward to then talking about some of the deep stuff that was too hard to talk through. I want to deeply thank him for being a great dad, grandfather and a great man. God is so great when it comes to second chances and I know that I will have that with my dad. In that, Christ is always about restoring relationships and more deeply our hearts. His love does rescue us. It is deeply painful and hugely uplifting. So my hope is that when I hear myself parroting his words as I coach basketball, or when I smell melting solder, I can turn and smile.