Who doesn’t tear up at Harry Chapin’s original version of the song “Cat’s in the Cradle?”
“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.’”
Growing up, I distinctly remember watching my mom wash her hair in the sink. I wondered why the heck she didn’t just take a shower. Now, with an eight and a half year old, I know. No time. I remember, amidst the boards and community organizations I participated in a decade ago, wondering why there were no younger people. I asked a few friends to participate and they said no, without a qualm. They were parents.
“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.’”
Now I wash my hair in the sink, and sometimes can’t remember when I showered last. Yet I, and all the other parents, hold it together. Stained sweatshirts. No makeup. If we get wherever we are supposed to be on time, it’s victory enough, and all of us fellow parents know it. If everyone is fed a somewhat balanced meal, or fed ice cream and cheetos if necessary, it’s a win. If permission slips are signed, everyone has appropriate clothes on and we have gas in the car, on top of working and keeping our homes from imploding, we have done good. We try valiantly to maintain the mirage of a “normal childhood” for our kids in a time much different than we were raised in, and we often, amazingly, succeed.
“Well, he came 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?’”
We have important work to do. Hoping they are happy and confident. Encouraging school and sports participation. Visiting places to expand horizons. Keeping traditions. Teaching. No elbows on the table and no feet on the backs of chairs in the theater. Picking up your trash. How to react to others, be they spiders, snakes, dogs and cats, bullies and friends, old people or authority figures. Working hard and not quitting.
“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”
With both my parents now gone, it’s oddly easier to reflect on how they grew my life. Not rosy, by any means, and I often downright hated it. But our paths could have been so different, were it not for them and their sacrifices. People talk derisively about “kids these days,” throwing around words like entitled or spoiled. Our roles as parents are to grow the next generation. Our hair might look funny and our clothes might clearly be covered in dog fur. Perhaps we sadly find the food at Chuck E Cheese amazingly good. But we are raising the generation that will lead movements, lead organizations, lead companies and countries. The generation that will solve problems in amazing ways. The generation that will build the communities of the future.
“And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon. Little boy blue and the man on the moon.
When you comin’ home, Dad, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then.”
Belated Happy Mothers’ Day! Early Happy Fathers’ Day! To all parents: go you!
Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita.