“Cat’s in the Cradle”

by Bill Brenner on May 4, 2015

The Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle” has been running through my head a lot. I’ve been taking my work to my father’s hospice room, which is a reversal of roles. It used to be that I hung out while my father worked.

Mood music:

My childhood doesn’t fit the song 100 percent. Truth is I was around my dad a lot. But we may as well been in separate places, because he was always on the phone with customers and employees. He loved us kids and did everything he could for us, but that meant the business was always with us–at the dinner table, on vacations, and so on.

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,
Said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I’m gonna be like him.”

There was a time when I resented it, but I don’t anymore. It was a different world when I was a boy. Many careers today can be carried out wherever there’s Internet access. I can work from home and get to my children’s school events. I can run them to their appointments. I can be home with them on snow days and still get all my work done.

It also means I can get work done from my father’s bedside, though there are a lot of interruptions.

For Dad, running a business meant he had to be there much of the time. If the building alarm went off in the middle of the night, he had to go check things out. If it was the weekend, he usually had to go work at shoe shows, much as I work security conferences today. As I entered my teens, he had to travel a lot more.

In recent years he’s been like the father in the song who, after retirement, wants to spend more time with his boy, who is by then an adult, busy with work and kids of his own.

I’ve long since retired, and 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 kid’s got the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad.
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

The difference is that Dad’s been sick for a while now, trapped in a failing body. I haven’t spent as much time with him as I would have liked because there are work hassles and kids to shuttle from one activity to the next.

I wonder if Dad’s ever had a moment like the dad in the song:

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

Maybe I’ll ask him before his time is up.

The elder Bill Brenner, with Gerry and Michael
My father and older brother visiting my grandfather in rehab. In recent years, my father has been the one in rehab and, now, hospice care.

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