The Cat's in the Cradle

The Cat's in the Cradle

I was cleaning out my desk at work, and I came across a newspaper clipping that I distinctly remember saving because the story was a heartbreaking one and that the situation could easily have been prevented.

A father of five children had written a letter to Ann Landers stating that he wishes he'd never had kids. He writes: Dear Ann Landers. I just read the letter from the "Man in Chicago" who said he didn't want kids. I wish I had made that decision 55 years ago. My wife and I raised five children, and we now have 14 grandchildren and five great grandchildren. I held down two 40-hour-a-week jobs to put my children through school and never once looking for help from the Government. Now my only income is Social Security. We lost an 11-room home, ranch and business because of my wife's doctor bills. She is a bedridden invalid, and I'm sure part of her disability is due to overwork raising those kids.

Today, my children are all professionals with high-paying jobs. They are scattered far and wide. Do we ever hear from them? No. Not even a Christmas card or a birthday card, although we never fail to remember them on both holidays.

I am still breathing and able to care for my wife, thank the Lord, but we could both be dead for years and none of our children would even know it. Just sign me Ignored and Forgotten in Auburn, Washington.

Here is Ann Lander's response to the man's letter: Dear Ignored and Forgotten. Your letter is heartbreaking, but I suspect there is more to the story. If any of your five children sees this column, perhaps they can provide the missing links.

Obviously, there are missing links. There are two points to consider as to what went wrong with this family. First, the statement the father had made concerning holding down two 40-hour-a-week jobs to put his children through school. What happens when a father holds down two 40-hour jobs? Is there time left to spend with the children? Of course not. What happens when a father doesn't spend time with his children? He doesn't know them, and his children do not know him either. There was no time for this father to train and discipline his children, no time to nurture, cultivate and sweeten his relationship with them. There was no bonding whatsoever between him and his children. For all practical purposes, they were all strangers in their own home.

This reminds me of a song I heard long ago by Harry Chapin entitled, The Cat's in the Cradle.

The Cat's in the Cradle

A 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."

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."

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."

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 he said with a smile,
"What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later. Can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

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

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

~ ~ ~

This song is awfully sad, isn't it? More sad is the fact that the situation described is probably more common in families today than we realize. The following counsels are for fathers who find themselves caught up with their work and business activities that there is no time left for their families.

   "Fathers should spend time with their children. The average father wastes many golden opportunities to attract and bind his children to him. Upon returning home from his business, he should find it a pleasant change to spend some time with his children.

   "Fathers should unbend from their false dignity, deny themselves some slight self-gratification in time and leisure, in order to mingle with the children, sympathizing with them in their little troubles, binding them to their hearts by the strong bonds of love, and establishing such an influence over their expanding minds that their counsel will be regarded as sacred.

   "Fathers, spend as much time as possible with your children. Seek to become acquainted with their various dispositions, that you may know how to train them in harmony with the word of God. Never should a word of discouragement pass your lips. Do not bring darkness into the home. Be pleasant, kind, and affectionate toward your children, but not foolishly indulgent. Let them bear their little disappointments, as every one must. Do not encourage them to come to you with their petty complaints of one another. Teach them to bear with one another and to seek to maintain each other's confidence and respect." --Happiness Homemade, page 71.

Children, especially young boys, look to their fathers as role models. They want to grow up to be just like them. Here's a poem that should bring to the minds of fathers the important role they play in the lives of their children:

There are little eyes upon you,
and they're watching night and day;
There are little ears that quickly
take in every word you say.

There are little hands all eager
to do everything you do.
And a little boy who's dreaming
of the day he'll be like you.

You're the little fellow's idol...
you're the wisest of the wise.
In his little mind, about you
no suspicions ever rise.

He believes in you devoutly,
holds that all you say and do
He will say and do in your way,
when he is grown up like you.

There's a wide-eyed little fellow
who believes you're always right,
And his ears are always open,
and he watches day and night.

You are setting an example
every day in all you do.
For the little boy who's waiting
to grow up to be like you.

--Author Unknown

The other point to consider concerns the statement the father had made about having an 11-room home and that his wife was partly an invalid due to overwork raising the kids. The first thing that comes to my mind about an 11-room home is maintenance--keeping it tidy and orderly. He did not mention hired help, and he was holding two 40-hour jobs, so I assumed that the poor mother did all the cleaning of the house, plus cooking, doing laundry, shopping, etc. She was an invalid not because of raising the kids, which should be a privilege and a joy, but because of overwork cleaning and managing a mansion. Makes you wonder: Could they not have settled for a four or five bedroom house?

The following counsels are appropriate:

   "The strength of the mother should be tenderly cherished. Instead of spending her precious strength in exhausting labor, her care and burdens should be lessened. Often the husband and father is unacquainted with the physical laws which the well-being of his family requires him to understand. Absorbed in the struggle for a livelihood, or bent on acquiring wealth and pressed with cares and perplexities, he allows to rest upon the wife and mother burdens that overtax her strength at the most critical period and cause feebleness and disease." Ministry of Healing, page 373-374.

   "Many a husband and father might learn a helpful lesson from the carefulness of the faithful shepherd Jacob, when urged to undertake a rapid and difficult journey, made answer: 'The children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die...I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure.' Gen. 33:13,14.

   "Let the husband aid his wife by his sympathy and unfailing affection. If he wishes to keep her fresh and gladsome, so that she will be as sunshine in the home, let him help her bear her burdens. His kindness and loving courtesy will be to her a precious encouragement, and the happiness he imparts will bring joy and peace to his own heart..." --Happiness Homemade, page 69.

If the father who wrote to Ann Landers had been acquainted with the above counsels and heeded them, his experiences would have been greatly different, wouldn't it? He would have nurtured and cultivated his relationship with his wife and children. He would have bound them to his heart by the strong bonds of love that should last through the years.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"Let's go to the park, son; let's not delay.
Get your ball, bat and gloves, let's go.
We'll have a good time, son, today!"

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