“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…”
* * *
This song, released at the end of 1974, has touched the hearts of millions. I first heard Cats in the Cradle at the tender age of fourteen. Being a young girl, I wondered about the Mom. She would be the ‘usual way’ referenced so dismissively in the second line. That the mother is there during the father’s disconnection is implied, right? I mean, the boy didn’t learn to walk and talk from apes.
Later in life I married, had two sons, divorced, and then married again. You know, “the usual way” in today’s terms. Rather than whine about the now-divorced relationship, I’ll sum it up with a quick (quasi-funny) story from before the divorce.
My boys and I had been a part of the local Cub Scout troop. After a few years of being Den Mother, I ‘attained’ the rank of Pack Leader, all while still holding a full-time job, and being a mom and wife. So, one day in the early 90’s, the two sons and I were at the Cub Scouts Pine Wood Derby Race. Their father had participated in this particular activity and was there as well. Suddenly, one den mother from my Pack yanked me aside. She pointed across the room and with true concern in her voice asked me who that man was with my boys. When I told her that was my husband she exclaimed, “I thought you were a widow!”
True story. So, I kind of empathize with that barely acknowledged mother from the song, and feel I can speak for her.
I believe the lie of Cats in the Cradle is the unspoken impression left of the other parent. By the lyrics, you would be led to believe that mom, or whoever it was that did teach him to play Cats in the Cradle, to walk and talk, who read Little Boy Blue and sang him to sleep, might have some type of precedence. You’d be wrong. The son who dealt his father such casual callousness most likely treats the mother in the same manner.
As parents, we slowly become marginalized from their lives, until the grave claims us.
There are some who will not go quietly. Those who clutch their sons to their breasts, tendrils of emotion (guilt) fixed inside the mind, to the point of being brain-washed that the man-child cannot live without Mama.
I’m told there are sons who are willingly attentive, visiting without prompting. They come with or without their family, just to spend time and share with the parents. I’m also told there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But I haven’t seen that either.
Then there are boys who are raised to be independent thinkers, by parents who know those boys will leave, just as they left their parents. It is the natural progression. In the meantime, they do their best to build a man that will become a self-sufficient, productive member of society.
My children are now grown men. Not only do they have planes to catch, and bills to pay, they are also wonderful fathers to their children and are great husbands to loving wives. I know because I hear about it during the occasional phone call. If I get lonely, I can look at the pictures of their families on social media.
I do understand that generations of parents have suffered this conundrum, as proven by the oldest of Biblical scriptures “… a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh…” (Genesis 2:24).
You know what’s really heartbreaking, but true? The mothers of daughters are omitted from this passage, much to the chagrin to the mothers of sons.
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JL Mo is a mother of two full grown geeks and Nana to their geeks-in-training. She is also the author of the McShane Mini-Mystery series and has had a number of stories published in various anthologies which can be accessed on her Amazon Author Page.