Cats in the Cradle: A Cautionary Tale

There’s an old Harry Chapin song called “Cats in the Cradle” that I recall my father saying frequently when I was a kid was one of his favorite songs. When he was a pastor, I even recall him using the lyrics of the song as an illustration a time or two.

If you’re not familiar with the context of the song, it’s about a man who has a kid, but is so busy with life that he neglects time with his child. When he retires as an older man and calls up his son to spend time with him he finds that his son has now turned out just like him: not able to find the time.

One of the most poignant lines in the song is the moment the father has his revelation:

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me

He’d grown up just like me

My boy was just like me

It’s a song that, in my mind, captures perfectly the problem we are experiencing in America. We have not just one but several generations of people who are fatherless. Either they were raised in a home where the father was literally not present, or the father was physically present, but perhaps was mentally absent. Maybe he was there on the outside, but was far removed on the inside.

And the damage fathers have wrought on their children and the subsequent generations to follow has been undeniable. Check out THIS site for some startling statistics about fatherlessness in America if you want to see how messed up things really are.

As I look back at my own childhood, I would like to say my father was present. To what extent, I’m honestly trying to probe deeper into my own memories to determine, but he was at the very least physically present.

My father usually quoted this song or referenced this song as he would say to me or others, “My father had a lot of problems, things I never want to repeat, things that were unspeakable and horrible for a father to do to his wife and family.”

Honestly, the things about my grandfather that he was talking about I never even learned about until after he had passed away while I was in high school. Talk about a wake up call to what you thought you knew about a person you loved.

I certainly won’t go into great detail here as the point of this article isn’t to expose my grandfather and air out his dirty laundry, because while my grandfather has long since passed, I still love him, and as a child of God I want to remain respectful and honor him even still.

But I will go so far as to say that his problems…the things he struggled with…the things he lived out in front of my father and his family as he grew into an adult unfortunately were transferred to my father no matter how many times he vowed with his lips that he would NEVER be the guy his father was.

My father became just like his father.

Which, frankly, scares me a little.

If I’m honest with myself, I have to ask the question…”If my father, who was once a pastor, was incapable of defending himself against the corruption my grandfather brought into his life…what chance do I have?”

Perhaps you’re reading this and you can totally relate. Perhaps you are not sure about what kind of chance you have on this side of heaven to remain untouched by the sins of your father either.

But…there is HOPE!

You see, the difference between my father and myself when it comes to recognizing our fathers sins and the potential impact it could have in our lives is this: my father made a lot of vows with his lips, but rarely if ever took actual steps to actually guard himself against the corrupting power the sins of his father, whereas I am not just saying “I won’t take that path”, I’m already taking steps to correct the path we are on.

Generational sins…corrupted family trees…they don’t have to continue. Their power over a household can be broken. And it starts NOT by making vows, but by taking steps in a new direction. We can declare all we want over our home that “This will not be the home I grew up in”, but until we actually take steps to correct the path our families are on, we will simply be making declarations as we continue down the same path of ruin.

My father heard the message in Harry Chapin’s song.

My father identified with the message of Harry Chapin’s song.

My father just never allowed the warning buried in the lyrics of the song, and in the pages of God’s word to move him to action.

Here’s a tidbit of truth for you: if our words never become actions, they are empty.

In the book of James, in the New Testament, we are given a similar warning when he says in James 1:

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

No, Harry Chapin was not a preacher or even a prophet (I don’t even know if he was a Christian). No, his lyrics are not scripture…but his song definitely points out a problem that we can all relate to and that we have all seen in our lives. One that, unfortunately, is frequently ignored and left unchecked in many homes, and the pattern of sickness in those homes continue to wreck them for generations.

There is still time.

There is still hope.

You just need to stop saying you’re going to do something and actually get up off the couch and do it.

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