“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, son, You know we’ll have a good time then…”
Harry Chapin is one of those musicians whose time with us ended much too soon — the result of a traffic accident in 1981. One of his most popular songs, “Cats in the Cradle,” a portion of which is quoted above, tells the story of a father who was too busy to spend time with his boy when the child was growing up. Later, after the boy became an adult and started his own career and family, Dad was retired and finally ready to do some things with him. But the son had become busy himself — too busy. He’s a real chip off the old block. A lot of dads, and a lot of sons and daughters, can probably identify in some way with the words of this song.
Fathers and grandfathers, if you’re covered up with attention and appreciation this weekend as Father’s Day arrives, count yourself blessed. Many of us who are fortunate enough to receive that type of treatment may not be getting exactly what we deserve.
According to a Time article last week, written by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy and Mary Batten, as many as 40 percent of children worldwide grow up with a father. In the United States, more than half of divorced fathers lose contact with their kids within a few years. After 10 years, as many as two-thirds of them have drifted out of their children’s lives.
Consider what’s important in the lives of some fathers. According to a study by the Children’s Defense Fund, men are more likely to default on a child-support payment (49 percent might) than a used car payment (3 percent).
And even fathers who are in families that are still intact spend much less time focused on their children than they might think. In the U.S., fathers average less than an hour a day with them, and that’s squeezed into the short time available after work is over. At least that statistic has improved in recent years; it had been only 20 minutes not too long ago. Perhaps that’s an indication that the tide is changing.
Greg Nelson, senior leader with The Studer Group, discussed values held by people in four generational categories during a presentation in Brownwood last week. Nelson spoke at the second Business Leader Forum hosted by Brownwood Regional Medical Center, and while parenting wasn’t his topic, the values he described for Americans from age 10 to 110 were revealing. But once you think about them, they were hardly surprising.
Nelson described the differences in what people in each age group — Matures, Boomers, Gen Xers and Nexters. The transition is fascinating, and too involved to relate fully here, but for the purpose of this discussion, the biggest changes show up between the first two and the last two categories. That line generally falls between people born before or after 1965. Hard work, and more specifically, working long hours is common among the older groups. The younger workers work hard too, when they’re on the job, but they want a schedule that provides more balance in their lives.
Perhaps that will translate into fathers — and mothers, as well — who choose to spend more time with their families.
Nelson also made a telling observation — almost as a footnote to his intergenerational comparisons as he wove stories from his own life with those he has heard from audiences across the United States. There’s a critical time that exists in the lives of every youngster when getting to know Dad, when doing things with Dad, is much more important to them than the things he can get with the money he earns working overtime.
If that’s part of the balance the younger generations are seeking in what they value in life, perhaps they’re on the right track. It’s unfortunate to think, as a member of one of those older generations, that the kids learned this lesson the hard way.
Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.