The other day while I was listening to the radio, Harry Chapin’s song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” came on. Growing up on Long Island, I was a huge fan of the singer-songwriter who lived just two towns away, and hearing his music always hits home personally because a group of co-workers and I were supposed to see him in concert the very day he was killed in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway in the summer of 1981.
Chapin sings, “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 suddenly the song, which goes on to tell the story of a man reflecting on how his son grew up while he was focused on work, struck an even deeper chord.
My son celebrates his sixth birthday this weekend. When he was born, I thought he was the greatest Father’s Day gift I could have received. We celebrate his birthday and Father’s Day together every year. He plays T-Ball, takes karate, loves to swim, help his mom cook and pretends he is a space shuttle astronaut.
As with the father in Chapin’s song, my long hours working two jobs have taken a toll on the time I get to spend with him. He is asleep when I leave early each morning and my kiss on his cheek and whispered “I love you” in his ear usually results in his small hand pushing me away as he rolls over and snuggles his favorite stuffed tiger. But sometimes he whispers back, “I love you, daddy.”
When I was growing up, my father spent equally long hours getting his medical practice up and running, and although he saw to it that our family was never in need of anything, he was always working long days with little spare time to attend our activities like Little League games.
Don’t get me wrong, we had many wonderful days together. I remember him pulling my brother, sister and me back up snow-covered hills on our sleds at the Bethpage Golf Course, and have fond memories of visits to the Nassau County fire training center to watch firefighters drill, something that influenced me to become a volunteer firefighter myself.
Our annual fishing trip out of the Captree Boat Basin was a time I cherished as we spent the entire day together fishing for fluke or bluefish even though he spent a big part of the day untangling our lines and re-baiting our hooks.
But busy he was and I learned to ride my bicycle without training wheels with the help of a neighborhood teenager. The unassisted triple-play I turned in Little League was the topic of conversation over dinner. I still really wish he had been there to see that.
My dad has since become the ultimate Grampa. He loves my son and spoils him as most grandparents do with their grandchildren. He shares his childhood passion of model trains with my son and when they play together, I can almost imagine my dad as a 6-year-old. Their bond is special and I admit, I’m a little envious.
As the song goes on, the father realizes that time has flown by and his son has grown up, had kids of his own, and is preoccupied with work and can’t seem to find any time to spend together. As I mentioned, it really struck a chord.
I went to his final T-Ball game of the season the other day and photographed him as he got his first trophy. The look on his face is something I will always remember (it’s posted with the story), and I am glad I was there to actually see it and not just hear about it at dinner.
We all have “planes to catch and bills to pay,” and finding the time to spend with our children can be hard for many of us. But we only get one chance at living out what will become fond memories. These experiences are something I want to share with him and have him remember sharing them with me.
I tell him often that because of him, every day is Father’s Day. When I say that, I get that genuine smile that I don’t get to see enough and will try harder to see much more often. We have a lifetime to create memories together, but today, he’s going to learn to ride his bicycle without training wheels.