Harry Chapin – Cat’s in the Cradle

First Hit #1: December 21, 1974

Cat’s in the Cradle is a depressing song, but I realize now that it’s a depressing song that’s trying to shame its audience. It’s berating all the dads who aren’t paying attention to their kids, that they’re going to miss out on important moments and their kids’ lives. It’s shouting “look at what you’re doing! Go play catch with your son! You’ll never have a chance again!” It’s trying hard to shame a generation of men to hang out their kids more.

But, on reflection, in spite of trying to be depressing, looking under the surface, is the singer actually a bad parent? Sure, he’s never around, but he’s still a role model, the kid grows up to be successful and busy, and in spite of some late stage loneliness and regret, everyone did sort of alright through the song. There weren’t any long term consequences for the absentee father outside of some residual loneliness. The kid isn’t doing badly, he’s not hopped up on goofballs or whatever. He’s a successful businessman with a family of his own. Sucks for the dad, but for the kid it’s a decent life. I understand the message, and I’m happy it doesn’t go overboard, but it’s not like life has gone badly, and really we don’t see the good parts of life that made the kid turn alright. We’re only getting part of the story, the rest of the story might be okay.

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