It’s a busy day when my daughter steps into my office. She has a question. I’m on deadline. I start postponing listening to her. Then I notice the crestfallen look on her face. It checks me.
At the very least I could listen to her request. And so I do. Then I ask her if we can talk about it in depth later as I have an urgent task to complete. She nods and excuses me.
That, right there, was one of life’s unwritten rules. It’s taken me a very long time to learn it, and even now, I still forget. The law is simply: First people, and then activities or things.
In a world where action is valued over relationships, it is easy to put loved one’s last, giving them the leftovers of our time, energy and attention. We expect them to understand that we are quite busy, and once a slot opens up, we promise to give that time to them.
You see it in the busy father who works all day, travels regularly and when he has a moment to spend with the family on Sunday, chooses to bury his nose in the newspaper.
Or to catch up with a football match. You see it in the working mother who postpones going to visit her ailing parents because her schedule is packed with activities for the children, her spouse and work.
We all have “good” excuses or reasons for placing the people we love on the back burner. When we hold them to the light, they are justifiable. We tell ourselves, “I am doing it for them.” And to assuage the nagging guilt, we send them toys or cash, hoping it eases their disappointment in our absence.
Musician Harry Chapin released the song, Cat’s in The Cradle in 1974. In it, he presented the dilemma that a working father faces when it comes to spending time with his son. He wrote, “My child arrived just the other day, He came to the world in the usual way, But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay. He learned to walk while I was away. And he was talking ‘before I knew it, and as he grew, He’d say, I’m gonna be like you, dad. You know I’m gonna be like you, And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon. When you coming home, dad? I don’t know when. But we’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then.”
The boy grows up and his father still hasn’t made good on the promise he made to spend time with him. Interestingly, the father is aware of the milestones he is missing and the events in his child’s life. He is just not present to share them with him.
“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. Said, I’m gonna be like him, yeah. You know I’m gonna be like him…”
Sadly, time waits for no-one and eventually, the little boy leaves for college.
“Well, he came from college just the other day, So much like a man I just had to say. Son, I’m proud of you. Can you sit for a while? He shook his head, and he said with a smile. What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys. See you later. Can I have them please? And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon. Little boy blue and the man in the moon. When you coming home, son? I don’t know when, But we’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then.”
“I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away. I called him up just the other day. I said, I’d like to see you if you don’t mind. He said, I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time. You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu. But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad. It’s been sure nice talking to you. And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me. He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”
Life is full of noise. And usually, the things that matter the most, shout the least. When tempted to forget, remember. People first.