As I was driving home from work today, I noticed the man in the car next to me singing. Sometimes people sing in their cars, especially while driving rush hour traffic. It is a good way to dissipate the frustration that trying to make your way through dense traffic generates.
Then I noticed the car seat and the baby (approximately six months old). Periodically he would turn his face slightly to the right and it was obvious he was singing to his child. I immediately thought how lucky that child is to have a father who is able to engage him with such direct intimacy.
I grew up in the post WWII generation (Baby Boomers) and even if my father had not been of German extraction, most post-war fathers would not be driving down the road singing to their babies. My father and I had very little direct emotional contact growing up, other than the corrective kind (he preferred the leather belt). In the fifties, children were seen, not heard, and playing was going out (away from the adults). In high school, I played varsity basketball (all county) and my family (and father) came to one game, and I didn’t know they were there until I got home. Surprisingly, even though both my father and I ran track, he never came to a meet, even though in my senior year I had a chance to take the state high hurdles championship. Finally, I was over fifty years old before I ever heard my father say he loved me. My wife had a similar emotional disconnect from her father.
I pray that relationship, casually noticed in passing traffic, survives the coming years and the trials and tribulations of life and growing up. But, one thing that child has that I did not, he has started out with his father already intimately engaged with his life. That is a great blessing.
Back in 1974, on his Verities and Balderdash album, Harry Chapin released the song Cat’s In The Cradle, in which a father makes excuses about never connecting with his son.
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 talking ‘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.”
And 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,
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
At the end of the song it closes with this sad refrain.
Well I’ve long since retired, my sons 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 jobs a hassle and the kids have the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you Dad,
It’s been sure nice talking to you.
And as he hung up the phone it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me, my boy, was just like me.
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little Boy Blue and The Man In The Moon.
When ya comin’ home son?
I don’t know when, we’ll get together then, Dad,
we’re gonna have a good time then.
When my daughter was born, I vowed not to let her go through life with the same disconnect I had experienced. She is now approaching thirty, and whenever she has had a problem, a hurt, a need, I have been there. To this day, she still comes by for assurance and a hug when things get a bit too much.
If I could give fathers one word of advice above all others, it would to allow themselves to connect with their children at an emotional level from the very beginning, then to make every effort to maintain that connection throughout their life. There is something fundamental about being loved that way.
Father’s love your children, even as God has loved and sacrificed for you. Grace and peace.