In my ‘day job’ delivering training and development for folks in the workplace, I’ve had a lot interest in my workshop on the topic of Time Management. Back when I worked with an instructional designer to create this class, she suggested that I read the lyrics of the Harry Chapin song “Cats in the Cradle,” to bring home the point of the course. Initially I found this a gratuitous and sappy teaching tool. Sure, it’s a song about a father who for many years was too busy for his young son, and later discovered that son had “turned out just like me,” and had no time for his own father in retirement. On the surface it has relevance to the topic of Time Management, where we look for ways to get more out of every day.
But when I learned the back-story of the song, that really convinced me to use it in my class. Maybe it was from an old episode of VH-1 ‘Behind the Music,’ but it turns out that Harry Chapin didn’t exactly write the lyrics to his best-known song. Rather, they were based on a poem that was penned by his wife Sandra. It seems Mrs. Chapin saw the trajectory of her own husband’s career, and when he turned her words into his hit, they came all-the-more true to life, as he traveled the world singing that song, and missing some milestones in his own family.
But what really makes the story poignant and pertinent to my Time Management class is the fact that Harry Chapin died before he reached the age of 40, in a car crash on the long island expressway. (If I remember correctly he was driving a VW Rabbit, and was driving on a suspended license.) I remind my students that, like Harry Chapin in his VW, we cannot predict nor control how much time we are working with in our life, so learning skills to make the most of every day makes my class all the more worthwhile.
Truth is, I had a lot of trouble trying to read the lyrics to “Cats in the Cradle” aloud during my classes. Got so choked up the first time I tried, that I took to asking someone else to read it in future classes. Clearly the lyrics strike a deep cord with me, recalling my own father’s choice to work a lot, and spend fairly little time with me and the family. And of course now that he’s retired and living nearby in a nursing home, I try never to claim that my work gets in the way of visiting him, not wanting the song lyrics to mirror my own story.
Recently in my Time Management classes I’ve taken to just playing the song as my students consider and complete the sentence “Someday I’m going to...” a tool I use to help them chart their course to spending more time on what matters most to them.
And I try to walk my talk on this, and not go down the path of the dad in Harry Chapin’s song. I really focus on staying connected to my son as we both get older. Music is one of the ways we connect – and every time the song “Cat’s in the Cradle” comes up in my iTunes, I smile when I see that my son gave it a FIVE STAR rating.
…and that’s the full-circle fatherhood report for this week.