My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, dad; come on, let’s play
Can you teach me to throw?”
I said, “Not today, I got a lot to do.”
He said, “That’s okay.”
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him.”
It is probably fair to say that few things, especially those found in pop culture, have influenced my view of fatherhood like the words of Harry Chapin’s hit song “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Never mind that my own father was readily available (and still is) more often than not, or that my line of work is flexible enough that I can generally rise to the occasion—the words are haunting, and as someone that used to be a young boy and is now a father to two of his own, they reflect my deepest fear: What if I’m not a good dad? Perhaps you have felt something similar.
To be clear, there have been plenty of times over the years that I have found myself staring out the window instead of at a spreadsheet, watching my boys run through the yard and wishing I was there. Those are the moments when a distant guitar starts to play and Mr. Chapin gets comfortable on the shoulder (I’m not sure if he’s wearing horns or a halo). However, and this is key, I don’t let those moments define me, and you shouldn’t either.
Fatherhood should not be seen as a series of things we missed, because life guarantees that everyone is missing something, but rather the time we have together. It is fleeting. Grab it.
And, while a game of catch is a lot of fun, there may be any number of reasons that it isn’t the type of play or bonding opportunity that works best for you and your child. Guess what? That’s okay.
Play is what you make it, whether a tea party or a skating rink, it isn’t the activity that matters, but the players involved. That’s you.
Granted, there will be times when your idea of fun will vary greatly from that of your child, and maybe, if we’re being honest, you really don’t want to do it. Sure, the safe money is on doing it anyway, because it isn’t about you, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that it is. Yes, their happiness is the driving factor, but you’re living lessons and making memories, too. There is always a compromise.
The common ground with my own children includes video games, cartoons, science fiction books and films, hiking, and music—all things we enjoy on our own, but made even better by doing them together. Obviously, I am guilty of shaping their tastes and interests from an early age, but that doesn’t mean we agree on everything. As they have grown older they have each developed their own opinions and thoughts (about everything), which, frankly, makes the sharing of such things even more rewarding.
My advice for new dads is this: Don’t beat yourself up when life dictates you miss a milestone or two, and don’t worry if the time you and your child spend together doesn’t fit some stereotype of father-child bonding. You know what you like to do, and as your child grows they will be sure to let you know the things that they enjoy, too. Finding common ground where everyone is happy together is simple enough, because together is the fun part.
Take that, Harry Chapin.