And Just Like That: Harry Chapin, Ice Cream, & A Dad’s Love for His Son

Sometimes only a song will do. That was the case today. My son and I were driving home after church. My daughter was away. My wife was driving in her car because she, as part of the music ministry, goes to church before my son and I do. We typically ride together to Sunday school and church. Anyway, my wife and son and I had just gone to a new burger restaurant in town after church. It was quite good. But my boy and I both got a sweet tooth after lunch, so we pulled into the local Dollar General to pick up something sweet for him, my wife, and me. My son and I both got the same thing, a Snickers ice cream bar. There were only two left in the freezer when I slid back the transparent lid. Seems we’re not the only ones who appreciate the combination of a Snickers bar and vanilla ice cream. I picked up my wife’s favorite, a sleeve of Reese’s Cups. As I stood in line to pay, my son said, “Dad, I need to pick up something.”

“Sure,” I said.

He got his item, handed it to me, and I paid the cashier, and my son grabbed the bag and we walked back out together to the car.

When we closed the doors and I cranked the car, he handed me my ice cream bar and he grabbed his. We both devoured them like we’d not just had lunch thirty minutes before. “Mmmm,” we both exclaimed, as we exited the parking lot in the car and drove up farther into the hills and towards home.

And just like that, it hit me: the Harry Chapin song, “Cat’s In the Cradle,” with these words:

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 talkin’ ‘fore 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 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

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 ok”
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”

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

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 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 on the moon
When you comin’ home son
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad
You know we’ll have a good time then

I‘ve long since retired, 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 can 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

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

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

As we drove the next fifteen minutes or so up into the hills where we live, and the retail world gave way to the bucolic world where we live, I studied my son even as I drove. I wanted to say what fathers don’t usually say to their sons–that I wish I could freeze this moment, son; that you’re growing too fast, son, and I see your innocence falling away as your voice grows deep now and gravely; that I love you, son, more than you can understand until you’re a dad; that I love watching your personality develop; that I love to see your body develop the dexterous, nimble, lean way adolescent boys’ bodies do; that I love the way you inherited your mom’s skin; and the way your smile is perfect and the way you love music as much as we do; that I wish I could save you from the world’s ugliness; that I wish I could save you from future broken bones, crashed cars, and heartbreaks; that you’ll never know that, this very day, as you sit in my car and enjoy your Snickers ice cream bar, your dad loves you so profoundly that I have to turn my head and look out my window so you won’t see the tears I shed for you even now, as I drive.

There are times when the love one has for what is young and innocent (in worldly terms) overwhelms, when one knows, as a dad, that sin is crouching at the door and seeks to devour the naivete of your children. And your heart bursts inside your chest with words you can’t untangle.

And yet the song from decades ago says it. It says, in its own way, “I love you, boy. I’m far from perfect. I’m gone too much. And you’ll be gone soon. But your dad loves you, more than you can currently understand. But one day you may.”

2 thoughts on “And Just Like That: Harry Chapin, Ice Cream, & A Dad’s Love for His Son

  1. It doesn’t matter how much time one spends with a son, there is always regret that you didn’t spend more. I sang at a former pastors memorial service a few months ago. He used the lyrics from this song more than once but he didn’t spend the time with his sons (he had two) that he wanted to. Anyway, Jon, thank you for the lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

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