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Devlyn Brooks, Published September 26 2011

Parenting Perspectives: When sons demand my time, a song reminds me why

"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 …”

Whenever I’m feeling pinched for time and the kids are begging for me to do something, I start humming the words to Henry Chapin’s song “Cat’s in the Cradle” to fight the urge of answering that little clock that’s ticking inside my head.

The early ’70s folk hit tells the tale about a rushed father regretting not making more of an effort to spend time with his son when he was growing up.

And it seems that with both boys entering the age of activities, I find myself humming the song a lot lately.

Like most parents pulled in different directions thanks to the demands of work, household chores and frantically running children from one event to another, my internal clock regularly tells me that we don’t have time for this.

Ball in the yard? Who has time for that? … A game of Madden football? Later, son … later. Take you disc golfing? Now? Really?

And that’s when ol’ Henry starts creeping into my mind …

“My son turned 10 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”

That’s why you might have recently caught the puzzling site of the Bug and I standing outside the house after church in near darkness tossing the football around. There I was in my shirt and tie and he in his school clothes, standing no more than 10 feet apart trying to milk what light the porch was giving off so that we could enjoy a few last minutes of the evening.

Minutes earlier when he asked, my first reaction was to rush him into the house so that we could get the night’s bath taken, and that’s when ol’ Henry struck again.

“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 Henry was also to blame when I recently found myself making an 11:30 p.m. McFlurry run to McDonald’s on a recent Saturday.

That was the oldest son Garrett’s request, and before I allowed my inner far-too-serious-get-to-bed voice to take over, we were in the car and cruising the streets, talking about everything and nothing at once, just a couple of guys munching on some soft-serve and talking about life.

“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 dad

You know we’ll have a good time then”

That’s not to say we don’t get stuff done when we need to. I have far too much Midwestern, Lutheran, Scandinavian guilt for that to happen. Work takes priority. Homework gets done when it should. And there’s at least a workable organization to the household.

I just feel I’ve learned there is stuff that needs to get done and other stuff that we really just think needs to get done. And I hope that I’m getting better at identifying which is which.

As someone who lost his dad at the age of 12, I live with the specter of not being around for my kids. And so, with each passing year, I strive to sing a little more of ol’ Harry’s haunting ballad just to remind myself to play a little more catch and throw a few more Frisbees and watch a few more football games and stretch bedtimes a little more often.

And maybe, just maybe, my sons will remember the times when Dad was there to watch or play or listen, and it’ll remind them to hum a few bars of “Cat’s in a Cradle” later in life when their own internal clocks are ticking.

Devlyn Brooks works for Forum Communications Co. He lives with his two sons in Moorhead.