Harry Chapin Makes Me Feel Bad

As I have mentioned before, balancing work life and home life when you work from home poses challenges that didn’t exist when I was working from an office. Last Friday all three of our kids were home – no pre-school and no daycare – and I was home with them for half of the day before my wife got home from work. I knew I wasn’t going to get a lot of work done, but I did need to get some work done. I had a project with a deadline. How cliche of me.

While the baby was napping and the two older were glued to The Little Mermaid I was able to be productive. Fun fact – The Little Mermaid is an hour and twenty-five minutes long. My window of productivity closed much quicker than I hoped, but I wasn’t sure if Dances With Wolves would have held my kids’ attention for all four hours and I didn’t have time to explain the complexities of manifest destiny. Though I suppose there is only one way to find out. Perhaps next time. It was snack time as soon as the movie ended. Shortly after that the baby was up, and the work-life balance shifted all the way to life. But the project deadline still existed.

My girls are old enough where they can entertain eachother if they want to, but can also be incredibly needy. Sometimes they want me for everything, and sometimes they only need me to step in when somebody inevitably starts crying. The baby boy is at an age where he can sit up and play on his own but is not yet crawling. Quite a sweet spot when you need to get things done. You can almost pay no attention to him at all. Just have to hope he doesn’t flop backwards and bonk his head, which he practically almost never does. Solid head on that kid.

I visioned setting up shop in playroom with the girls playing nicely, the boy staying very much upright, and me getting some work done. That lasted about a minute.

As soon as I opended my computer, it became a magnet for tiny fingers. Everything they did needed to be looked at. Everything needed to be helped. Yet work needed to be done. I have always tried not to tell my kids I can’t do something for them, but in this moment I needed to focus, I needed to work. “I can’t right now,” I said, “I have to work.”

I immediatly though of that jerk Harry Chapin.

In December 1974, “Cat’s In The Cradle” topped the Billboard charts and it has been making dads feel sad ever since. It is the sole reason this song exists. I picture Harry sitting there writing songs and thinking “I’d really like to make a song that makes a dad feel like he’s doing a terrible job raising his kids.” He nailed it.

So I picked up my computer and moved it to back to my workspace in the basement. I honeslty don’t remember what my kids were asking for, but I said I would do it after I made a phone call. We’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then.

I try hard not to tell my kids I can’t do something with them. If they ask me come here, or look at this, or pick me up, or tickle me, odds are the answer is yes. My wife thinks I’m spoiling them. I think I’m dadding the crap out of them. Most of my motivation is I love my kids and want to be with them, but I’d be lying if I said the other part isn’t guilt. Pro-active guilt. My kids didn’t learn to walk while I was away and if they’ve asked me to throw I’ve never said not today, but even the consideration gives me guilty feeling in my stomach and Harry freakin Chapin in my head.

I wonder, did dad guilt exist before this song came out? I was neither a dad nor alive in 1974, so I don’t know, but I have a feeling that there weren’t too many songs in Sinatra’s catalog about the struggles of an absentee father. His kid got kidnapped for godsakes and his next album had the classic gutwrencher “Swinging on a Star.” I mean sure, if you had to leave your kid at home while you went on a work trip then moonbeams in a jar would make an excellent souvineer to bring back, but I don’t see dads circa 1964 reexamining their priorities with the Chairman of the Board. But little boy blue and the man in the moon come along and now dads have an anthem devoted to their failure.

I finished my work, the project met its deadline (I’m sure you were very concerned), and the kids went about their day. That night we played, we snuggled, we read books, all the usual stuff. For all I know they won’t remember it or maybe they’ve already forgotten it, but I haven’t. And I’ll try as hard as I can to never tell them “I have to work” as an excuse not to spend time with them. I’ll keep watching this, I’ll keep tickling, and I’ll keep picking up. Because eventually the day will come when I can’t pick them, but the day will also come when they say “I’m gonna be like him. Yeah, you know I’m gonna be like him.”

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