All my life I have heard about the special bond between a mother and a daughter, not to the exclusion or detriment of sons, but it’s just “different” with women. OK, I get it. I always have, although with me, it’s fathers and sons. I have two boys, go figure.
These days, my boys are “out of the house”, and in a way, out of my life. They are still there, they just don’t need me as much as they once did when they were little, and I was much bigger, at least in their smaller eyes.
Today, I hope they see me as who I am trying harder every day to be; full of purpose, promise, and passion. But I am also the one who has brought significant change in their lives, the one who made life decisions that impacted them in ways I didn’t imagine… as naïve as that may be.
One Talking, One Not
Harry Chapin put words to music in 1974, I was twelve at the time, and getting ready to start my year-long training for my bar-mitzvah, my ascension to “manhood” as a soon-to-be teenage Jew. Cats In the Cradle says a lot, especially when you are searching, like me, for the right words to say.
For my boys:
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.
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 son, you know we’ll have a good time then”.
I made a lot of those decisions with my older son, I was young, climbing the corporate ladder, and worried that there were things I had to do, even if it meant missing first steps, or first words, or the first time he was able to explain Euclidean geometry. OK, I made that last one up.
I vowed that I wouldn’t repeat the decisions I had made with my older son with any other kids we might have later. As I got older, I realized the importance of things that money couldn’t buy, and how those moments meant to me, and my family. Another job title, a few thousand more dollars, or a cooler office just couldn’t make up for what I felt I was losing. And worse yet, the things I lost could not be replaced. Sure there could be substitute memories and stories, but once a second is gone… it’s gone for good.
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”.
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon. Little boy blue and the man on the moon. When you comin’ home son? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son, you know we’ll have a good time then”.
I don’t remember of doing a lot of things with my dad when I was 10, he worked a lot, at his advertising company, the small neighborhood newspaper he published (and I got to deliver!), and the community theater that took a lot of his time. However, I do remember going to a bunch of Cincinnati Reds games, first at Old Crosley Field and then Riverfront Stadium. Rose, Morgan, Bench, Perez, Concepcion, Griffey Sr., Foster, and of course, Sparky Anderson, the Hook.
I idolized my father. I think most sons do at this time. Was he home as much as I would have liked? Probably not, but he was there when I needed him to be. Just as I tried to be with both of my boys.
I was about ten when I found out my dad was fallible, he made mistakes, some as big as his stature. Perhaps I was growing up too, seeing situations through slightly older eyes. It doesn’t matter what the situation was or how it got resolved, but I saw a different side of my father, one that I wished I would have seen years earlier.
When my younger son was 10, my older son was thinking about driving. Life went by so damned fast; I barely had time to look around to see where I was, let alone wonder where everything went. I tried to balance work and life responsibilities, I probably did better than most, but not nearly as well as I would have liked. Time is the one thing you can’t get back.
Well, he came home 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?”
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man on the moon. When you comin’ home son? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son. You know we’ll have a good time then.
I remember the first time my older son, Josh came back from Denison, the small college in Ohio he attended. Max said “Josh looks taller”, and he was right. The way he carried himself, the way he looked a little less like the little boy I once held and more like the man he was becoming. Heart-wrenching. Beautiful.
Around this same time, my mom passed suddenly, and the care of my father fell to me and my older brother. Things that I wished I could do with my younger son became secondary to things that I had to do, things that I realize now I was blessed to be able to do for and with my dad. As I tell people who are living in that “squeeze generation”, you don’t take away from your folks or your kids, you take away from yourself.
More than anyone, Max got the worst of it. Home became more of a place to sleep and less of a place to stay. Angry words weren’t exchanged, but precious few words were. Anger, resentment, frustration, guilt, hurt… all there, none dealt with appropriately. And so as is often the case, people drifted apart. Words became more difficult to speak, feelings more difficult to explain¸ pain more difficult to let go of. Life Changed. And my sons got caught in the middle.
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
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man on the moon, When you comin’ home son? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son, you know we’ll have a good time then.
And so here I am. Getting ready for an intensive five-day self-awareness and development program that will undoubtedly kick my ass the way my first foray into this process did. You may remember my blogs about being “Barry’s Little Brother”, if not, search for it and you’ll understand.
So today, as I get ready for another major step forward for me in this new life I am creating, I am humbled, sad, and proud. Humbled because God has taught me a lot these last six years, much that I was unwilling to listen to, even after repeated attempts to crack my thick skull… and my thicker heart. But change continues to occur, not just every Sunday at New Joy, but every moment of my life. As a dear friend of mine said this morning… “It is good to see you let go.”
I am sad, because as the title of this blog suggests, one of my boys isn’t speaking to me. I have caused him much pain, and although not speaking to him hurts me like nothing in this life has ever hurt me (even the death of my parents), I understand he has to find his own way, his own path, and hopefully, with God’s help, his way back to me.
And I’m proud of my boys, more than any one father should be. My older son, getting his Masters (and perhaps PhD) at Northwestern, living a vibrant life, helping our people and our planet. I love you Joshua Michael. And my younger son, growing up faster than he should, living a life yet unimagined, seeing the world’s possibility laid before him. So many opportunities, so many dreams yet to be discovered, so many hopes yet to be uncovered. So much life, and yes, so much hurt. To my Maxie-bear… I love you with all my heart.
And I’m proud of me, no longer afraid to put myself at the front of my own line.
I’ve been writing this blog for three weeks, I’ve cried more than I write. Today, my friend from high school, Gail posted the following on Facebook. I couldn’t have written a better close. Thank you to my dear friend for letting me re-post this:
My promise to my kids ~ I am not your friend. I am your parent. I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare & hunt you down like a bloodhound when needed because I LOVE YOU! When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult. You will NEVER… find someone who LOVES, PRAYS, CARES & WORRIES about you more than I DO!
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, they’d grown up just like me… my boys were just like me…