When You Comin’ Home, Dad?

Dump the long runs and golf. It’s weekend sleep-ins and cheng tng outings that really matter to this father

tree8MY FAMILY and I were on our way home after dinner recently when Harry Chapin’s song “Cat’s In The Cradle” came on.

I asked my kids to listen to the lyrics and explained to them what they were about.

The son worships his father, and wants to grow up like him. The father is too engrossed in business.

‘There were planes to catch and bills to pay, he learned to walk while I was away.’

And the chorus:

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 son

You know we’ll have a good time then

Suddenly the boy is grown and married, the father is alone.

Now the son is too busy to visit.

He’d grown up just like me,’ the painful punchline observes.

This song never fails to make me sad. The feelings of the father are familiar – that time marches on and before one knows it, it has come and gone.

I remember, many years ago, sharing my thoughts about this song with my wife, Pee Ing, when it came on over the radio. Our kids were little then.

I had told her that I would never want to be the father in the song – caught up with work, too busy for the kids and, at the end of the day, left with nothing but regret.

It was an especially big concern for me because of the hours I work – usually starting in the afternoon just before the kids get home and knocking off at about midnight, after my family is in bed.

I decided then that I needed to give up some of the things I enjoyed doing or had planned to pursue in order to spend time and do things with the children.

I stopped my long runs which took up to two hours daily and killed my plans to take up golf because the sportsman in me would have wanted to practise till I was a decent player.

I also switched from reading novels, where I would be incommunicado until I was done with a book, to magazines.

These activities just took up too much time. Of course, I slip up occasionally – when a new Tom Clancy book is out or a World Cup football comes along but, by and large, I keep to it.

Painful though some of these sacrifices were, the rewards have been worth everything.

My kids’ recent report card on my performance as a Dad could be summed up as: ‘Doing well. Goes out of his way to do stuff for the kids. But could be more generous with his money.’

But there is another part to this song that troubles me. It is about how my children will grow up and leave home one day.

I know it is inevitable and I don’t think I would want to change that but it still bothers me and I have to do something about it.

I resolve that the best thing I can do is give them some good memories of the family they grew up in to take away with them.

I have many fond memories of my growing up years. Memories of my Dad, Mum and siblings, about things we did together.

These memories remind me about how much love, comfort, encouragement and solace my family and home were to me. I want my children to be able to look back and say the same.

It was for this reason that I had consciously made an effort to give the children memories which they would treasure.

One is the weekend sleep-in in our bedroom. It is something which my wife and I started when the children were young – two years old or so – but which they still look forward to every week even though they are now in their teens.

On Friday and Saturday nights, they drag their mattresses into our room and sleep there.

We talk, the voices of the kids floating from below our bed.

Sometimes my wife and I interject. At other times, we just listen to them, their thoughts, their incisive observations and inane comments.

And slowly, one by one, they doze off.

Sometimes, when one of the younger two takes a bit longer to doze off, I hear: ‘Dad, you still awake?’

It is something I enjoy very much to this day. I want them to look back and always talk about the weekend sleep-in in Mum and Dad’s room.

When I chatted with my kids, they singled out other events which they said they would remember for a long time to come.

To my surprise, they did not mention Christmas when they get a lot of presents from their generous uncles and aunts, or the overseas vacations.

My eldest son Shaun, 16, singled out the family sitting around the dinner table and chatting after dinner over one of our favourite desserts – cheng tng from Newton Hawker Centre.

We do this almost twice a week and we talk about anything under the sun.

I have always noticed that cheng tng acts like truth serum on my usually reticent elder son.

He becomes communicative and shares his thoughts without hesitation. These after-dinner chats were consciously created to spend time with the children.

My youngest son Marcus said that he would always remember the Sunday soccer matches which all of us, including my daughter, used to have with some of our neighbours. It was special to him to be playing in the same team as his Dad.

Today, we are all tight for time. Working 12 hours a day is not uncommon. I struggle to fulfil many of my commitments but, if something has to give, I try very hard to make sure it is not my time with the kids.

For me, it is the only way to fight ending up like the father in the song, the last stanza of which I leave you with:

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 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.

About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network.

First published on 16-01-2012.

Categories: Dad's Journey, Matthew Pereira

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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