Cat's in the Cradle
By Tom Lauterback, Air Force, USAF/ Vietnam ERA
Writing Type: Prose
By Tom Lauterback
It seemed such an impossible task to choose one song from the thousands and thousands I have in innumerable playlists.
I spent more than half of my life as a single parent, custodial with my son and non-custodial with my daughter (800 miles away). When my son was young, say three, I got to appreciate Harry Chapin's "story songs." I saw him in concert five times and grew to appreciate him as a lyricist. “Cat’s in the Cradle” became "our song," Kirk's and mine.
I was on airplanes constantly, flying all over the country and I wondered how he processed my frequent absences. Would I have to say, "...my boy was just like me...he'd grown up just like me?"
I suppose I looked for the signs the song warns about. Would he grow to have no time for me? Would he truncate the phone calls? How long would the transition take from asking me to teach him how to play ball to "...y'see, my new job's a hassle and the kids have the flu, but it's sure nice talking to you, Dad...sure nice talking to you."
The song turned out to be only partially prophetic. Like his father, Kirk always worked without being asked or even truly encouraged. He decided that with my schedule he'd have trouble going out for sports teams, and that was a big disappointment for him.
So he worked. Hard. He went from slinging hamburgers and changing lightbulbs to becoming an optician. After high school, he attended the local juco for a year, majoring in criminal justice. But the skills he developed selling and fitting eyeglasses drew him to an optician's trade school. He completed two years of a three-year program, at which point he was confident he could pass the certification exam. He nailed it and achieved a national certification, which led him to a chain of optical stores mostly in the Midwest.
As Kirk was celebrating 25 years with the company, it declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy, leaving everything up in the air for employees. Eventually, an angel investor decided to buy the optical business. Kirk was promoted to vice president for operations and took on the task of creating 80 stand-alone optical stores. He is now responsible for over $100 million in sales and, just like his Dad, is on an airplane every other day.
But I said the song was only partially prophetic. I do see him every few months, aided by the fact that his girlfriend lives in Chicago.
"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 can't tell you when' ...he said thanks for the ball, Dad, c'mon, let's play. Can you teach me to throw? I said not today...There were planes to catch and bills to pay. He learned to walk when I was away."
Again, only partially prophetic, but at least I can listen to the song without a tear in my eye today. My boy, now a 46 year-old man, grew up a bit like me. But he's shown loyalty, 60-hour weeks, ingenuity and focus. Too bad my father isn't around to assess my career.