Those of us a certain generation will not only immediately recognize the above reference but also conjure up
associated feelings. We may not remember exactly what we were wearing when we first heard Harry Chapin’s Taxi, but we have a connection nonetheless. I’m told that the Elizabethan Age had a lot to do with
Elizabeth; the adolescence of my cohort was defined by lyrics.
We must have done something is addition to listen to music on the radio. Oh, yeah. We also talked about the lyrics of
the songs we heard. Louie, Louie. What was that about?
The meaning of other lyrics became clear to us only over time: “he kissed his boy while he lay sleeping and turned
around and headed home again.” Now that we have kids of our own, we know what Paul Simon meant. Some lyrics we still don’t understand half a century later: “in and around the lake, mountains come out of the sky and they stand there.“ Other lyrics we have disavowed: “Feed your head,” suggested Gracie Slick—perhaps contributing in some way to the 90,000 avoidable opioid deaths last year.
But we all have associations, feelings, nostalgia for those songs, artists, and lyrics. Just ask us. Readers who can
“name that tune” likely feel closer to this author this Tuesday. Whereas blog recipients who don’t know “Slip Sliding Away,” “Roundabout,” and “White Rabbit” may not make it through the rest of these paragraphs.
Everybody who shares the common vocabulary, having lived through that time, those experiences, is automatically my brother. We came of age with those songs. Our visceral responses to those lyrics are our decoder ring and secret handshake. I can recognize my brother by the flowers in his hair suggested Three Dog Night. Whereas I can recognize my brother by his connection with that lyric.
I think it’s a good idea to have a shared lexicon with your children as well as your contemporaries. Your conversations with your progeny don’t have to be about classic rock music—or indeed any music. “Hand me that screwdriver,” will serve just as well.“Let’s make some cookies,“ “let’s water the garden,“ “does anyone know where we left the camping gear?“ are all good. There just needs to be communication about a time, (preferably every day;) a place, (the magic of childhood and adolescence;) and an understanding, (we enjoy no-agenda time with one another.“)
The alternative, that of not having a common vocabulary, can be summed up by another Harry Chapin song.
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 talking ‘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”
Chorus: And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming 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-a, not today
I got a lot to do, he said, that’s okay
And he, he walked away, but his smile never dimmed
It said, I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him
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 they said with a smile
What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?
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
So, as much as The Cat’s in the Cradle still gives me chills, I don’t know everything about parenting. If you think
I’m some great expert with all the answers about how to raise kids, just ask any of my four children. They may express an alternative opinion. They may even give examples of my imperfect decision making. They might even mention
occasions when I should have held my tongue, kept my temper, been more thoughtful—with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one.
As it happens, you could have this conversation with some of my kids at the end of this month. Sixty of our
closest friends will once again be gathered around a campfire, sharing food, singing songs, talking old times. My kids and their cohort, all in their late 20s, will be there too. We’ve been to this State Park almost every summer since
the children were in preschool.
It’s going to be great.