by David Sisler
"And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon. ‘When you commin' home dad?' ‘I don't know when, but we'll get together then. You know we'll have a good time then.'"
The first time you heard Harry Chapin's song, you suspected what was going to happen. And you were right. Harry sang to the adult son, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind." The young man answered, "I'd love to Dad if I could find the time."
"And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me," Harry concluded, "he'd grown up just like me. My boy was just like me."
Harry Chapin certainly did not start it, but he became an adept chronicler of parenting behavior over the last fifty years. In the desire to provide "better for my children than my parents did for me" the circle became vicious — wanting, working, buying, wanting, working, buying. And before you knew it, you had a house full of things, and a drawer full of bills, and the kids were grown up and gone, strangers you barely knew.
There were many who never entered that rat race. I remember one man whose take-home pay was $166.66 a month, and on that salary, he bought a house, supported a wife and two sons, and saw to it that, after a quick nap and the evening meal, he had plenty of time for all three of them. That man's younger brothers started a small business (which became a multi-million dollar company) and they invited him to join them. He quit after less than six weeks because to become a millionaire, he had to be away from his family, and they were his priority.
Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, specifically, 1946.
Winston Churchill warned the West of an "iron curtain" falling over Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. In sports, St. Louis defeated Boston in the World Series and Joe Louis defended the heavyweight title for the 23rd time. Americans watched "The Best Years of Our Lives" at the movies and sang "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah."
1946 was also the year Americans were introduced to Dr. Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care, a book which influenced millions of new and expectant parents. Looking back on Spock's permissive parenting 50 years later, maybe the book should have been called Honey, We Screwed Up the Kids!
Dr. Spock's magic book was almost 20 years old when a twelfth grade Problems of Democracy teacher extolled its virtues to our class. I recounted the discussion to my Dad, and asked him what he thought of the book. His answer was succinct: "If it had a handle on it, it might be useful as a paddle, but I doubt it."
The non-structured parenting style first championed by Dr. Spock moved the parenting pendulum away from maintaining parental authority and more toward serving children's needs. That may be why a harried mother recently told her son's teacher, "You'll have to handle the problem. I can't do anything with him!"
This column began with the words of a song which talks about one way of raising children. I offer a different song, and a different pattern of parenting in conclusion.
"She'll change her name today. She'll make a promise and I'll give her away. Standing in the bride room just staring at her, she asked me what I'm thinking, and I said I'm not sure, I just feel like I'm losing my baby girl. Then she leaned over and gave me butterfly kisses, with her mama there sticking little white flowers all up in her hair. ‘Walk me down the aisle Daddy, it's just about time. Does my wedding gown look pretty daddy? Daddy don't cry.'
"With all that I've done wrong, I must have done something right to deserve her love every morning and butterfly kisses. I couldn't ask God for more. Man, this is what love is. I know I've gotta let her go, but I'll always remember every hug in the morning, and butterfly kisses at night."
The first time I heard "Butterfly Kisses" in its entirety I was standing at the altar, wearing in a rented tuxedo, a beautiful young woman on my left arm, when over the loud speakers drifted Bob Carlisle's modern anthem to parenting. Precious moment. Precious memory.
I wish someone would set music to the ultimate parenting song. The words are found in an old book, a Good Book. "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
"Train up" is an old Hebrew word which means "to narrow his life path." In other words, if it is your intention that your child be raised, not merely jerked up, set limits, maintain standards, and remember, you are the parent, not he. That is not terribly popular today and I guess the words might be too hard to rhyme. It is definitely very old fashioned. But then so are butterfly kisses. We'll have a good time now, and for eternity.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 10/4/97
Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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