Cat’s in the Cradle & Breakfasts with Dad

“And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then”

When Harry Chapin released his wife’s poem in folk music form in 1974, he had no idea that Cat’s in the Cradle would change the world between fathers and sons forever. In December of that same year, this now historic song topped the charts of the Billboard Top 100 and it has toppled the hearts of people ever since.

I grew up singing and adoring the lyrics of this timeless work. As a young boy, I experienced a tumultuous family scarred by substance abuse and divorce. I was close to both my mother and my father but never under the same roof. However, it was clear to me that each of them loved be in the best way they knew how and to the best of their ability at the time.

Recently I watched a clip of Harry Chapin expressing the significance of song. Then he said something that resonated deeply with my own encounter with these poignant lyrics: “It’s about my son Josh. And frankly, the song scares me to death.” Who could have known that a short 6 years later, at the young age of 38, Harry Chapin would die in a fatal car accident? Personally, I can’t imagine what his wife and son went through, especially in the spotlight of their husband and father’s musical creativity, publicity, and legacy.

No father wishes this kind of tragedy on his family. Even without knowledge of the backstory, it is no wonder Cat’s in the Cradle speaks so deeply to parents and children all over the world.

Several decades have passed now. My parents and I have each worked hard over the years and miles to strengthen our familial bond. And, I am proud to say that I am closer than ever with my mom and my dad. It is only by God’s grace that this is the reality I and my own family enjoys today.

So why this post on an aging folk song?

And, what does this have to do with the first meal of the day and fatherhood?

Father's Day 2012

For the sake of my family, my wife and my two sons, I want every moment I’m with them to count…hanging in the hammock, grabbing a meal, watching a ballgame, whatever and wherever! I want to experience depth of relationship with the people I love most, just like the relationship I forged separately with my mom and my dad over nearly forty years. And, I want this for you too.

Between 2007-2013 I participated in father-son camp with each of my sons at Camp Paradise, a ministry of Willow Creek Community Church. The primary goal: five simple days of 1-on-1 time between fathers and sons away from all of life’s distractions to connect with God, each other and other fathers and sons. I could write a lot more about how these retreat weeks transformed me from the inside out as a man, a dad, a friend, a husband, an employee, a pastor, and on and on. I only bring this up because Camp Paradise was the catalyst for something I never thought to do but now I see it has paid off big time.

My sons and I started “Breakfasts with Dad” once a week because we wanted to bring part of our camp experience home. We loved how being together made us feel, how raising the bar of communication changed us, how laughing shifted our outlook on life and each other, and how focusing on God lifted out spirits. So, we decided to get up early once a week to have breakfast before I drove them to school. Aaron took Thursdays. Avery took Fridays. We’ve been doing variations of this ever since.

As I look back on my own life, I’ve had plenty of regular appointments with each of my parents, grandparents, friends, colleagues and mentors. We’ve shared coffee and meals through happy times and seasons of hurt. Our relationships grew in depth because we intentionally worked on building a bond between us.

When we purposefully carve out time for deep community with the people we love, we discover 4C’s that result from being face-to-face.

Character

When you and I make time to be with the people we love, to look them in the eyes and to listen to the heart behind their words, our character becomes visible and it gets shaped. When I was a kid, meeting with my dad mattered because I got to see him for who he really is in the moment. Being in the backyard learning to mow the lawn, joining him at work as he made his rounds, sitting on the couch playing board games with him – each of these gave me a window into his inner world and the integrity of his personhood. When I hang out with my sons, I know they are watching me, learning from me, mimicking me. Because I love them, I want to be the best example possible and that makes me want to grow in my own depth of character.

Being face-to-face with the people dearest to you matters because your character has the opportunity to become transparent in the moments when you’re together.

Consistency

The more often you connect with someone the more stable your relationship becomes. Similar to my experience with my own parents, I’ve noticed that my sons look forward to breakfast or any sort of 1-on-1 time with me. It doesn’t matter if we’re doing something cheap or expensive, educational or entertaining. They just want to spend time with me. In fact, my younger son Aaron has started going on car rides with me just to talk…and believe me, he loves to talk! I can’t guarantee that this is the result of instituting weekly breakfasts, but I do know that the stability we enjoy as father and son is a result of the consistent time we spend together from one week and season to the next.

Being face-to-face on a regular basis gives you the opportunity to strengthen your relationship simply by making yourself available to each other.

Closeness

Have you ever had a heart to heart talk with someone you didn’t implicitly trust or figured they would only be around a short while? I’ve discovered the importance of character and consistency serving as the bedrock for building closeness. My immediate family and I can only experience intimacy of mind and heart when we have taken time to know one another deeply. Weekly breakfasts with my boys catalyzed this kind of closeness between us over the past several years. We can talk about anything. We are comfortable just being together and not saying anything. We can encourage and challenge each other. There is an understanding that we balance grace and truth when we are together because love is what holds our hearts tightly knit. If you had told me that this would be true of me and my teenage sons, I would have lost a bet!

Being face-to-face can be a springboard for you to experience a kind of closeness with people you hold most dear that you never knew possible.

Commitment

Life is a marathon. I love the ancient African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The truth about deep community is that it requires more than one committed person over a long haul. After 17 years of marriage, I know this to be true. I’ve had the privilege of knowing married couples who have stayed together 50, 65, even 75 years! Now that’s commitment. This kind of longevity doesn’t happen over night and never happens without people wholeheartedly committing to something bigger than themselves. My parents divorced, true, but they never lost sight of the importance of me knowing how much I was loved. My sons have encountered my lesser moments as a dad, but they’ve yet to question that I am dedicated to sticking it out through thick and thin. Longevity is important in relationships, and longevity gets established best when character, consistency, and closeness translates into commitment.

Being face-to-face sets the tone and stage for you to be around long-term and for your relationships to endure no matter what challenges come your way.

“And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then”

The words of this song are powerful. They are poetic and prophetic. If you, like me, desire to experience deep community with those you love, it’s time to get face-to-face so you can enjoy the benefits of character, consistency, closeness, and commitment…and maybe, just maybe, that can start by simply scheduling breakfast.

WHO IN YOUR LIFE NEEDS SOME FACE-TO-FACE TIME WITH YOU?

WHAT HOLD YOU BACK FROM SCHEDULING THIS MORE FREQUENTLY?

WHICH OF THE 4C’S DO YOU WANT TO GROW IN OVER THE NEXT MONTH?

WHAT STEP(S) WILL YOU TAKE TO PURSUE DEEP COMMUNITY WITH THOSE YOU LOVE?

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