On Where’s Mom and Dad

A 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 said, “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 in the Moon,

When ya’ comin’ home Dad, I don’t know when,

We’ll get together then son,

Ya’ know we’ll have a good time then.

Well 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 gotta lot to do”

He said, “That’s okay”

And he walked away but his smile never did, and he said

“I’m gonna be like him, yeah, I’m gonna be like him. Ya’ know, I’m gonna be like him”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,

Little Boy Blue, and the Man in the Moon,

When ya’ comin’ home Dad, I don’t know when,

We’ll get together then son,

Ya’ 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 cars 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 in the Moon,

When ya’ comin’ home Dad, I don’t know when,

We’ll get together then Dad,

Ya’ know we’ll have a good time then.

Well 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 could find the time.

You see, my new job’s a hassle

And the kid’s have the flu

But it’s sure nice talkin’ to you, Dad,

It’s sure been nice talkin’ to you. . . .”

And as he 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 ya’ comin’ home Dad, I don’t know when,

We’ll get together then Dad,

We’re gonna have a good time then.

Those words were written over 25 years ago by a great songwriter named Harry Chapin.

Although his song is about Dad, it doesn’t take much imagination to see it could just as easily have been written about Mom or Dad. In a very gentle and eloquent way Harry teaches us about the dangers of procrastination and rationalization.

Dad’s gonna teach, and mentor, and play with his son. . . but just not right now. He puts it off until later, and later never comes. Why? Because the father made that plane he had to catch more important than his son. The spirit of self-surrender was missing from the father.

It is one thing to miss an event with our children when it is unavoidable. But Harry is talking about a Dad with a lifetime pattern of behavior. And he’s also talking about passing the same behavior, and value system, on to his son.

The mistake in the thinking of the Dad in Harry’s song is clearly explained in the Letter of James, Chapter 4, v. 14-15:

“. . . you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears.”

Is it a coincidence that the very writer of this song died in a puff of smoke? Harry Chapin was killed in a car crash on his way to a concert. His car was rear-ended and burst into flames. His life ended in a literal puff of smoke. How presumptuous it is for us to think we will get to something tomorrow, when scripture clearly tells us we can not be certain there will be a tomorrow.

The words of Harry’s song are like a compass to me; they keep me on the straight path. But I have not always been on that path.

I make no judgments, but in the spirit of sharing I will tell you my Dad was an example to me. Except in many ways relevant to this talk he was an example of what not to do. It wasn’t that my Dad had a plane to catch; he worked at Sears dressing display mannequins. He worked Monday through Friday, and was home at six every night, just like clockwork. It’s just that as a depression era man, and the son of an immigrant who came through Ellis Island, my father had a different belief system. If my Dad put food on the table, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head, in his mind he was a complete Dad. His perspective was that he was providing things for his son that he sometimes did not receive as a child, and so that was good enough.

Before having children I had decided my Dad’s definition of an active father would not be adequate if I had children. So I tried to improve and do better for my children than my Dad did for me, attending as many birthday parties, hockey games, and other events as possible.

Therefore, by the standards of this world I am a good Dad, and I thought I had the correct answer to the question, “Where’s Mom and Dad?” Dad is helping with my homework. Dad is at my birthday party. Dad is at the dinner table. It’s too bad it took me almost 20 years to figure out that I had the wrong answer. It’s too bad it took me almost 20 years to figure out that of all the things we do for and with our children, in the end, only one thing really matters to God.

What is that one thing?

To answer that question let me start by introducing you to a most excellent book. The book is titled, “The Screwtape Letters”, by  Christian author C.S. Lewis.

Lewis builds the book by letting us read a series of letters written between a junior devil, named Wormwood, and Wormwood’s much wiser and older uncle, Uncle Screwtape. Wormwood is a soldier for Satan, and his job is to lead humanity astray. Wormwood selects his human target and builds a plan to lead him to hell and away from Christ. But just to be sure he is on the right track, Wormwood always runs his plan past his older, wiser, Uncle Screwtape.

Every single plan Wormwood crafts to lead man to hell appear to be logical and well designed. For example, a man plans to spend more time with his children. He plans to take them on a nice weekend trip. To ruin this father’s plans Wormwood decides to have the man fired from his job the day before the trip, and after that have an automobile accident on the way home. To top it off his income tax return should be audited, and he shall lose all his friends.

Uncle Screwtape listens patiently to Wormwood’s plan . . . then calls Wormwood an idiot. Screwtape prescribes the exact opposite. He tells Wormwood not to have the man fired. Instead, see to it that he receives a promotion and a healthy raise. Forget about an automobile accident. Instead, see to it that the father buys a new car. Do not audit the man’s tax return, but instead, make sure he receives a large refund check. And find him even more friends that are rich and smart and intellectual.

All of this totally confuses the young devil, Wormwood. Sensing his nephew’s confusion, Uncle Screwtape patiently explains:

My dear Wormwood, do you not understand our goal? Our goal is to send people to hell, is it not? How do we do that? We do that by taking their eye off of the Bible and off of Jesus Christ. Every time we send people affliction, they turn to their Bible and their God. This father who wants to spend time with his children, let him spend time, you fool! Let him spend the entire weekend lost in the pleasures of the world. And let him do that every weekend until he dies! Then, what little faith this man has will not be passed along to his children, and after he is dead the children will be all ours to do with whatever we please.

So as I mentioned it’s too bad it took me almost 20 years to figure out that of all the things we do for and with our children, in the end, only one thing really matters.

What is that one thing? Passing the gospel teachings of Jesus Christ to our children.

It’s not whether you go to the hockey games, or birthday parties, or dances, or girl scouts, or any things such as this. It’s not whether your children are brilliant and go to the finest schools, find a good job, or discover the cure for cancer.

There is one thing, and only one thing, our enemy works to prevent Mom and Dad from achieving. Satan will not only allow, he will direct us to do anything and everything with our children in an attempt to take our eye off the most important thing: teaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ to our children. Passing the baton.

Our enemy is more than happy, our enemy is in fact rejoicing, when we as parents consider our duty done if we simply attend the sporting events, go to the birthday parties, and be home for dinner. Why is Satan happy when Mom and Dad spend time with their children in apparent family unity? Because as long as you are talking about the home runs hit and birthday gifts received and how good the spaghetti tastes, you are not talking about Jesus Christ and His gospel message. Time moves on, and day after day Mom and Dad cover what they think are important; everything from how to throw a curveball to how to do a job interview. And then one day you realize there’s a problem. The faith in Christ you have, your children do not have. And when you reflect on passing that baton to your children, you see it was dropped. The gospel message of Jesus was not passed to your children. Why? Because Mom and Dad were mislead by the enemy, and spent their time on everything else but passing on the gospel of Christ.

No doubt Harry has it right in his song, as it is not okay for parents to put their desires before the needs of their children. But even if we are not like the father in Harry’s song, we are not complete parents until we do all we can to pass along the gospel message of Jesus Christ to our children.

It’s not just a question of being home for family dinner, or praying the rosary together. It’s not just a question of going to the Indian Guides campout, or taking your child with you to help feed the poor. It’s not a question of choosing between one, or the other. There is no “or” in our duty as parents and grandparents. No doubt whatsoever that we must be present in a worldly way to our children, and we must prepare them to live in the world. But we must also be present in a spiritual way, and go beyond the shortcomings of the father in Harry Chapin’s song. Each day we must at least try to pass the gospel message of Jesus to our children through concrete and tangible actions.

Is it my imagination, or do you also feel like everywhere you go, someone is giving you another thing to do, another thing to add, to your already busy schedule? I would hope, however, that tending to the spiritual development of our children or grandchildren would be able to make the cut. I would hope that through word and action, the passing on of the gospel message of Jesus Christ to our children would be uppermost on our “to do” list each day, and it would not be considered a burden, but a blessing to be given such a role by God.

In closing, I think it would be appropriate to listen to the words of Harry Chapin. But I ask you to do one thing: Imagine you are the parent in Harry’s song, and as you listen ask yourself if you will find the time for passing the message of Jesus to your children.