Jeff Smith

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Cat's In The Cradle

The thirty-year old Harry Chapin classic song, Cat's In The Cradle, has been revived in recent years by a national television commercial for newer, faster computers. That aside, the song's message has always been poignant and powerful.

The title is borrowed from a nursery rhyme, but the song is about the neglect a wide-eyed little boy receives from his over-working father throughout his childhood. There are always planes to catch and bills to pay and so Dad never gets around to playing catch with Junior who learned to walk and live while he was away. Toward the end of the song, the inevitable parental neglect has dawned upon a lonely and retired Dad, whose son now has no time for him. "The n job's a hassle and the kids have the flu, but it's sure nice talking to you, Dad."  Grown up son hangs up the phone and Dad goes back to the solitude he created and now loathes.

If the song were meaningful back in 1970-something, it surely has only grown since then. So many children are in that little boy's position and it is no longer only the Dad who is neglectful. Neglect has become an equal opportunity event for Moms as well.

The word neglect may seem harsh. After all, the children are well-fed and dressed in the latest styles. They park nicer cars than their teachers have in the student parking lot and their bedrooms are filled with expensive technology. It is not their bodies that are neglected, but their spirits. Playing catch in the backyard or sitting through an imaginary tea party are rather inexpensive outings, but to a child they are worth more than all the GameBoys on Earth. It is neglect when a child's interests are always put off so that the parent can do his own thing. The father in Chapin's song discovered that eventually the cat leaves the cradle and it is too late to repair those parent-child relationships. The detachment becomes set in stone through the years and the child will either repeat the process with his own offspring or resolve to do better. What he or she is unlikely to do is to allow that neglectful parent a second chance to break his heart. It is simply too late to make that parent-child relationship now that the child is grown up. It is too late for playing catch, drinking imaginary tea, and being there for school plays, ballgames, scraped knees and Saturdays.

Sadly, this neglect is not just an alternative parenting theory; it is sin. And it is a sin that we rarely label strongly enough to create any prevention. By focusing on the material and neglecting the emotional and spiritual, both Mom and Dad are overlooking their most important family roles before God, in favor of roles imposed by a secularized society.

Mom's Job One is to manage her household, be a wise and affectionate companion to her husband and see to her children (Titus 2:4-5). She will certainly have other interests and people in her life and is blessed with opportunities to do many things, but for the married Christian woman, Job One cannot be abdicated without it being both sinful and disastrous to her home. "The wise woman builds her home, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands" (Proverbs 14:1). Some of the kindest words in the Bible are reserved for Eunice, who managed to teach Timothy the word of God without a believing husband to help (2 Timothy 1:3-6). While nannies, babysitters and day care can have their places, no one can replace Mom.  And for Mom, nothing should exist that rivals her attention to Job One, being a godly woman and a daughter of Sarah (1 Peter 3:1-6). Someday soon — and it is already later than she thinks  — the cradle's going to be empty.

Where is Dad? In the Chapin song, he is anywhere but home and the same is often true today. Whether it is due to divorce or just an overly heavy workload, Dad is often pulled in a direction that is consistently away from his children. If he is overworking and cut off from his family, he assuages his guilt by describing it all as necessary to give them the things they want (Proverbs 23:4). What they most want is Dad himself — Dad's time and Dad's heart and Dad's soul.  Where is Dad?

Dad's Job One is to take headship of the home and while work is necessary to that job, it cannot be accomplished in absentia. Dad must learn to balance the rigors of a profession or trade with the absolute necessity of being at the house long enough to learn it and lead it well. Dad is to bring up the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), a responsibility that is often transferred to Mom, abandoned altogether or redefined into oblivion.

Marriage was to provide companionship to mankind and "he who gets a wife is blessed by the Lord."  Yet if Dad is never there — and is not really there when he is there — those blessings are being turned into curses. The hours when Dad is home are precious, especially if Dad is complaining about a busy work schedule. They are too precious to waste. They are hours for him to bond with his wife in a way that shows interest, love and caring. They are hours for him to devote to his children and to getting Job One done and done well.

Much of the book of Proverbs is one man's attempt at teaching his children to be good and wholesome. The Proverbs are a good place to start if you have never done much in the way of training your child in the way he should go. But if you have not started yet, it is already later than you think and one day soon, the cradle is going to be empty and you won't be able to put the cat back in it.

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