Cue the Cat’s In The Cradle, get the melody and Harry Chapin’s voice stuck in your head. Drift through all phases of life – those already experienced and those left to the imagination. You might find yourself feeling like there’s nowhere to go – that we’re all exactly where we need to be.
I suspect that this song is often taken literally about a career driven father too busy for his son, only for the father to find himself old without much relationship with his grown-up son. Those stories certainly exist.
More effective and broadly applicable, is if the song is interpreted as a drama. Not a specific story, but just a reminder that even though we’re mostly good parents, when our kids ask the infamous line, “Hey Dad, or Hey Mom, wanna play?”, that it’s likely most appropriate to dig deep during our tired moments and play dolls or pass the ball. These moments compound, and undoubtedly, decades-later-us are grateful.
The four stanzas below give the timeline of the father’s life in the song. The first two offer the son seeking the father’s attention. The latter two are the father watching the son grow up. I’ve chopped it up which hurts the song but makes for better skimming.
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.
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.
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?
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 kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you.
My kids are not close to college age and I’m nowhere near retirement. This song easily helps us transcend time, though, and imagine ourselves as the person described in all verses.
We all have the song(s) that take us back to childhood through college years and we can place ourselves at exact places with exact faces.
“Cat’s In The Cradle” covers a wide span of life and we get to spend about 3 minutes in a time machine that goes forwards and backwards. Quite the ride no matter the age of the listener.
I wonder what this transcendent type of experience means for our professional and retired lives.
Hopefully, that experience can help a thriving professional pause to remember that habits can easily become ruts. Trekking through the life phases of raising children and growing professionally can easily become a blur if not given attention. I always encourage clients to think in terms of ‘designing your ideal day’. Reverse engineer from that starting point. If not, how easy it becomes for decades to feel like all we did was blink.
And, inevitably, a retiree will experience a song like this and think back to what they did well and what they might have done differently. We’re all human. The passage of time surely hits us as the song traverses childhood, parenthood, grandparenthood.
Maybe a retiree more fully embraces that things unfold as they should. They might reflect on what didn’t go according to plan was just as valuable as what did.
When drawing parallels between the song and our wealth, there’s an overarching theme for all ages to transcend time, revisit the old and imagine what’s to come, and also recognize that rushing to the next part doesn’t do much good.
Because, we’re simply a calculus of all moments from our past and how we imagine ourselves in the future – which, beautifully, equates to ‘right now’. This math problem we cannot outrun, and so whatever our business is that moment we do so impeccably. It becomes a reflection of our past and plants seeds for our future.
The song covers nearly a lifetime in a few minutes and explains why money is half the story of wealth. Even in the event of sudden windfall, I’ve never witnessed people suddenly aligning their desired path with their resources. The presence of money doesn’t suddenly answer who we should be, how we best serve, or what’s our role.
The combination of good financial habits (a projection of our past) and a vision of service to others (employers, customers, family, society) leads to a harmonious ‘right now’, which was possibly missing as Harry Chappin had “planes to catch and bills to pay.”
There’s no rush, nowhere to go, nothing extra to gain. Just the financial freedom to fulfill our roles impeccably right now. And, that’s wealth.
Stay calm. Stay invested.
Thanks for reading,