Cats In the Cradle Comes Home

I’ve lived long enough to complete crossing the arc of Harry Chapman’s iconic folk song, Cats in the Cradle.

Our son called the other night.

“Hey,” he said. “I’m just calling to check in on you guys.”

My wife and I put my phone on speaker so we could share the experience together. He’s crossed over his mid-twenties but in our eyes, will always be the excited blue-eyed boy ready to greet each morning. As parents, memories of our children tend to suspend themselves in amber like an insect trapped in time. We are the same.

Background noise hints he is his car. The hours separating us are there, but he is always on our minds.

“All good on this end,” he said. “How about you?”

I convinced no matter how many years go on our personal odometers an unexpected call from your child will always magically refresh your soul like a cold drink of ice water on a humid Texas afternoon.

We barely get into the conversation when a pulsing sound between us indicates another call is coming in on his end.

“Hey, he interrupts. “I need to take this call.”

It wasn’t necessarily the words themselves, but the phrasing and tone. Strong, firm, mature. In one moment, my wife and I both recognizing the paradigm of parenting shifting. Looking down at his photo on the screen looking back at us, the moment fused in our hearts.

Much like the song, our son had unknowingly crossed the line into full-blown adulthood by using the exact phrase easily recognized in our family – six words he’d heard as code for a highly-important call related to work throughout his life.

“I need to take this call.”

In our home, this was a drop everything code for a storm hitting and the newspaper losing power, an unexpected call from a coworker at a highly unusual hour, or one from someone we were urgently waiting for a return call. In our family, the phrase was sparingly used but universally understood. No one’s feeling was hurt, but rather we all recognized as a family a newspaper’s life is fluid and unpredictable on each of us.

In Chapman’s song, the story arch goes from the young boy wishing for his father’s attention to a total role reversal, one where the father is now the child thirsting for a moment – any moment – with his son.

If you are a parent, it is hard to listen to this song without both your mind and body reacting to the deep and authentic emotions. From the young boy asking his dad to play catch to the closing where the son is telling the father he’s tied up with work and the kids have the flu, the words rip deeply into the listener’s heart. I remember doing the same as a kid with my dad, fighting to get his attention.

And like the day of his birth, our conversation this week will always be held closely as one I will never forget – and my world shifted.



MLK Continues to Lead, Teach

I met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a small wooden sunroom off the side of our home in an even smaller Mississippi town.

Like many, the death of Dr. King occurred either early in our lives or before we were brought into this world. But getting to know someone through their writings and words can be a powerful journey.

Living in a modest community struggling to support two grocery stores at the same time, my wife and our two kids lived a year or so in a town where the horizon was defined by tall pine trees and one-syllable words were routinely stretched into two. People were equally modest, polite, and somewhat distant to anyone who was not born within the state let alone the city limits. My wife, a Texan by birth and me a Midwesterner, found ourselves at the time living in a shadow dimension where words and gestures many times never quite lined up. But we loved it all the same as if a door to curious culture had been left ajar just enough for us to peek in and look around.

At the time, in 1998, the autobiography of King was released. I’d grown up in a relatively quiet suburban life that could be transplanted to numerous other cities across the nation without any real material difference. But walking the streets and listening for the unspoken so carefully laced between those used in a small traditional southern town proved revealing.

 The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a remarkable collection of interviews, recordings, correspondences, and other archival materials. His unvarnished words, unpolished and raw with emotion took me on a life-changing journey.

Racism is an ugly side of the human condition. No one with a heart or decency can honestly justify nor support of the practice. Furthermore, this human condition exists throughout both time and cultures around the globe. A universal scab on mankind not contained by borders or laws.

But sitting in the small sunroom off our home in Mississippi, pine trees whispering outside the window panes, I listened to Dr. King’s words as they came off the pages and into my soul. The pain, the injustice, the strength in character to never lose sight of the bigger picture, the longer goal. I hurt for him. There is nothing more powerful than reading the actual words penned by the originator as if sitting next to them. King’s voice is true, the emotion immediate, a powerful connection fusing between you and King. You cannot help but be changed.

Dr. King’s words and writings forever changed how I would look view the world. Sitting in the small room, I felt as if a rotating kaleidoscope of images and emotions fell into place – one forever solidifying and intensifying my instinct of measuring others based on their character and contributions to others, rather than the color of their skin, religious beliefs, or even small patch of dirt the found themselves entering this life on planet earth.

Thank you, Dr. King.








Flu Brings Fireworks and Dancing Bears

I’m sick of being sick.

The New Year snuck into our house under a fog of pharmaceutical haze – one where both time the time of day and any ability to reference a somewhat accurate date on the calendar are lost to dreams of dancing bears and fireworks. A fever will do that to you.

Reportedly this is one of the most popular flu seasons in a good while. According to the Center for Disease Control, 47 of 50 states are recording widespread outbreaks. Apparently, Maine, New Hampshire, and Hawaii are good places to be right now if you wish to avoid the outbreak. I’ll take the latter if you’re asking.

I’ll admit not getting a flu shot is hardheaded, illogical, and can be medically threatening to someone who carries an AARP card. Add to the fact I’m a guy and still harbors misguided beliefs that most ailments will cure themselves if you simply try to walk them off. Being guilty of all of the above probably made me a prime target for an extended dance with this year’s all-American, star-spangled flu.

A few weeks ago a friend told me about his personal journey through the forest of bright lights, hallucinations, and all around body-draining experience.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said, “but I kept seeing this one word – berry – blinking before my eyes like a neon sign. And the image just kept coming back with my fever.”

If you know my friend, nothing takes this guy down. Tough, focused, not going to let a little discomfort keep him from engaging the day. That is until he ran across this year’s electric Kool-Aid themed flu bug.

A week later fireworks and dancing bears filled my head all from the vantage point of wrapped in a blanket on the living room sofa. I could only imagine this was akin to Timothy Leary experiencing Jimi Hendrix perform at Woodstock.

For those of you who have not had this year’s mode, here are the crib notes: prepare to suffer and hunker down for a week-long cycle until you return to a shell of your previous self. Most of us wake up early, feeling a bit woozy, and then like cresting atop a tall roller coaster, quickly descend into a furious ride through a funhouse of haunted terror. Not trying to scare you, but this is a miserable journey.

I laid down with plans of what to do the next day – celebrate New Year’s Eve, catch the college playoff football games on New Years Day, and draw up an annual list of goals – only to wake up as a twisted and modern version of Rip Van Winkle. When the fever finally broke, we were already a couple days into the new calendar year and people we talking about an epic double-overtime football game as old news.

And to add to my disorientation, it was already Tuesday.

So yes, I’m sick of being sick. I’ll live, but count me in for a flu shot next year.