The Gift of Time

The preacher at my church read a few lines from Harry Chapin’s classic, “Cat’s in the Cradle” in his Father’s Day sermon last weekend. Below are the lyrics he read:

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, yeh,

I 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 ya comin’ home Dad?”

“I don’t know when, we’ll get together then, son,

Ya know we’ll have a good time then”.

Well 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 the kids have the flu,

But it’s sure nice talking to you Dad,

It’s been sure nice talking to you.”

And as he hung up the phone it occurred to me,

He’d grown up just like, my boy, was just like me.

It’s a familiar and poignant tune, one that I’ve listened to many times in my life. As he was reading them, I couldn’t help reflecting on my relationship with my own father who is pictured below:

I know this face. It

The older I get, the more I begin to appreciate A) the difficulty of fatherhood and B) the job my old man did raising my brother and I. Sure… there’s no such thing as a perfect dad, but we all do the best we can, and as I was thinking this morning about the many things my dad got right, the one thing that really stuck out was the time he spent with us.

My dad was an automotive appraiser for most of his thirties and forties. He started as an employee of an insurance appraisal company and eventually purchased the business from the owner when he got into trouble with the IRS for failing to pay his taxes. Even before he owned the company, my dad often took us to work with him during the day in the summer time. We’d go with him to his office in the morning, where he picked up his assignments for the day. After that, we’d head back out to the car for a day of driving all over this great state to wherever the most recent Oklahoma hail storm had struck. While I never knew quite where we’d end up each day, I did know that there was sure to be some place good for lunch, lots of sports talk radio, classic rock, and several rounds of our favorite car game… name that artist. I know I probably fussed about it some as a boy, but looking back now, many of my favorite memories of my dad came as result of spending time with him at work.

Then, as soon as we got home from working with dad, we all changed clothes and headed out to baseball practice — either mine or my brother’s and sometimes both. In the sweltering Oklahoma summer heat, after a day of working with his boys in tow, my dad still found the energy to be either the head-coach or assistant coach on almost every little league baseball team my brother and I ever played on.

I never experienced anything like this:

Well my son turned 10 just the other day,

He said “Thanks for the ball Dad, come let’s play.

Can ya teach me to throw?” I said

“Not today, I got a lot to do.” He said “That’s ok”.

And then, he walked away but his smile never dimmed,

He said “I’m gonna be like him, yeh,

Ya know I’m gonna be like him”.

During the school year, my pops often made my lunch and drove me to school in the mornings. Even when he didn’t drive me to school, he was always the last one to leave the house in the morning so that someone was always there when I left. In the evenings, we’d go to basketball practice with him two or three nights a week (he coached both of our little league basketball teams, as well).

Here he is probably explaining to us the finer points of the 1-3-1 offense.

I know I’ve only provided just a few examples, but I really could go on and on. Even so, the amount of time my dad spent with my brother and I growing up never seemed all that strange to me back then. But now that I’m a dad myself, I realize how much it all took on his part. I try to spend a lot of time with Isabella in the evenings when I get home from work, but when I walk in the door, I’m tired. All I want to do is plop down on the couch or recliner and kick my feet up for a bit. I rarely do that unless she just so happens to be willing to chill with me in the recliner, which for my little wild child requires a great feat of concentration and discipline. But even when she wants me to be active, I’m still not running up and down a basketball court doing shuttle drills with her and all of her friends. The most I usually have to do is lay down on the floor next to her while she crawls around and chews on her toys.

As I raise my daughter, there are things I will do different than my dad just like there are things he probably did different from his dad. Then again, I’m raising a girl. He raised boys. OK… there are probably LOTS of things I’ll do differently.

I worry a lot about raising Isabella right. Fatherhood is tough and she’s going to need so much from me as she grows and matures into a young woman. Sometimes (hopefully more often than not) I’ll be able to be the dad she needs, but I also know that sometimes I’ll fail too.

However, despite all the things I’ll probably do wrong as her dad, if I can spend even half as much time with her as my dad spent with me, I know deep down that she’ll turn out alright.

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”

My dad (who like the dad in the song, is also retired) will be moving home from Germany in less than a month so technically he’s the one who moved away, but once he’s back, I hope he calls me up on a regular basis just to say, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”

And though there will be times when my job is a hassle and my kids do have the flu, my response to my dad will always be, “My new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu, but I’ll always have time for you, Dad I’ll always have time for you.”

Then again, I’m not really one for singing on the phone to my dad and songs tend to over dramatize real life. My real response will probably be, “Well come on over then. You know where we live. And bring some NyQuil!”

Thank you dad for giving me the gift of time. It’s a gift I plan to keep on giving back to my own children and to you for the rest of our lives.