A Time For UsBy Michael Temple
|Photo by Dreamstime
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."
Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”
The lyrics of this song about the busyness of life and of misplaced priorities have jangled around in my brain for quite some time now. I can’t pretend to understand the depth of emotional grief that went through the man who wrote it, but its potent melody has brought tears to my eyes more than once as my wife and I face the “empty nest” chapter of our lives. Our last child is soon to be 18, and when I think of him moving out of the house someday soon, I feel that closed-in sensation of an inevitable page that is soon to be turned.
I’d like to say that I have done my very best to be all that I could have been as a father but that wouldn’t be true. There was a time in my life when my career consumed me and my incessant need to be a “people pleaser” took me away from our children more than it should have. I still feel deep pangs of regret when I think of how I could have done more…but didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong; I really love my family, but there were times when I should have been there for them…and wasn’t. There were moments when my kids really needed me but I was too busy helping other people with their issues to even notice.
My selfish pursuit of always pleasing others began to change about nine years ago when my son asked me a question in his soft way. “Dad, could we go down to the park and toss the baseball back and forth?” My usual knee-jerk reaction of “I can’t right now buddy” was beginning to escape my lips when the lyrics from this haunting song began to reverberate in my mind.
As I looked down into his questioning eyes, the truth of my self-seeking preoccupation with “fixing” other people hit me harder than I cared to admit. My greatest work was standing right in front of me in torn jeans and a dirty shirt. I had missed so many opportunities of spending time with my family because I wanted other people to think well of me. It had to change!
These days, I say “yes” to almost any request that my children bring to me that might involve me spending time with them. I’m not perfect, but I am doing better. I’m not “Super-dad,” but my children are worth every effort that I can give, to make sure that they know how much they mean to me. Someday they will carry on without me. I want to make certain that I leave a legacy of love.