There is always a song in one’s life that takes you back to a certain time in your life that makes you reflect, sometimes you laugh and sometimes you cry. For me, it’s the Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle.”. If you listen to the lyrics, it’s about a father that was always too busy to spend time with his son as he was growing up, with one excuse after another of why he cannot spend time with his only son – and in the end, as the father gets older, his son is the one that is too busy now to spend time with his father. Before you know it, your father is gone.
Growing up, I lived that song. You see, my dad was from Europe, and lived through the the second world war. At the age of 15, he was in a Nazi labor camp converting gas trucks into steam powered ones. Living conditions were horrible, and every day he never knew if he would live or die. Today, my daughter is 15, and I can’t imagine her living, or even surviving through this ordeal.
At 17, I was the all American boy, growing up in Long Island – cars, football, girls and drums. I couldn’t understand why my father was not involved in my life. My friend’s fathers came to their football games, taught them how to catch, pass and even tackle. Their father’s even showed them how to change the spark plugs on their first car. My dad, no where to be found, he was either working, down in the basement fixing things, painting, or talking on his HAM radio. I was angry with my dad for so many years. When I got my first job on Madison Avenue, I moved out of the house. My mother cried when I left, but I had enough. I’ll grow up on my own. I knew it hurt inside, but I was tough, my father was tough – “Cat’s In The Cradle!”
It took three years, but after I had surgery, he called, “How are you doing?” he asked. I did not know what hurt more, my scar or my heart. “Can we meet for dinner?” he said. I paused, but I answered “sure.” After three years of not seeing my father, there he was waiting outside the diner – he aged.
He asked me how the job was., I answered “busy,” long hours and weekends, but I loved it. He then asked, can we get together again? “I would love to,” I said, "I just work so much, long hours, I just don’t know when…" “Cat’s In The Cradle!”
In 2004, my sister called me hysterical from New York – “daddy’s dead.” He suffered a heart attack. It was December 13th, a Saturday, I believe, I had just spoken with him on Wednesday.
I walked outside, stood in my driveway and tears started dripping down my face. I was staring at the full moon, asking myself, “did I say everything I had to on Wednesday – did I tell him I loved him? Did I tell him I miss him?”
A week later, I flew in from Florida and drove to Brooklyn to clean out his apartment. My dad was retired and was a phenomenal painter and sculptor. “What a mess!” I told my sister. I started going through his things – keep it or throw it out was the question. How do you throw out a man’s life, especially when he’s your father?
While sifting through his dresser draws I found was a birthday present I bought him in the 1980’s, a cotton sweater by Ralph Lauren. He saved the sweater for over 20 years. Why? Because it was from his only son. There was my magnifying glass that I used as a kid to start fires in my backyard. Hey, and there were the cuff links I bought him for Father’s Day. Then I realized his life wasn’t in those dresser drawers, it was mine!
And then, there it was – the blank birthday card! You see, my birthday isn’t until April. It was December, but he bought my card early and was waiting to fill it out and mail it to me. It read: “To my son, I know I don’t always tell you that I love you, but I do, and I’m so proud of you.”
Happy Father’s Day, Dad – I love you too.
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