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the cat's in the cradle

12/31/2020 09:03:44 AM

Dec31

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

The most valuable resource that any of us can possess is time. Yet unlike money, one cannot bank it for use at a later date. One cannot hold it in your hands, or interfere with its’ progression. As you are reading this blog (thank you for reading), the future has quickly become the past. It is only through age and wisdom that we learn how invaluable it is, and wish that there were occasions or even vast swaths of time that moved slowly.

My wife and I just became empty-nesters, as we moved our son out-of-state to begin a new job. Of course it was a tearful goodbye filled with a complex range of simultaneous emotions: pride in his accomplishments and the young man that he has become; sadness in his physical absence from our home; joy in that he has enough confidence in himself to take this next step; worry that he will be safe; gratitude to God for the guidance we have received to do the best that we could up until now.

When we returned home, neither of us could walk into his room, and decided just to leave it as it is for now, tidying it up a bit on another day. I know that I am supposed to feel good about this next step for him while at the same time evaluating what my new role will be. Of course I will always be his father, but the in-person nurturing phase has ended. That does not mean that advice, unsolicited or sought, will cease. That’s my responsibility as his father. I do look forward to hearing of his experiences, both work-related and outside of work, as he learns to navigate the world by himself, well aware that I will always be present for him whenever he needs me.

I was thinking of my father, z”l, and I when I left the nest. After ordination, and especially when we lived relatively nearby, my role as clergy made it far more complicated to regularly plan time together. Some of you might recall the song “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin, which premiered in 1974. The song is about a father who is so busy with his life that he does not have enough time to spend with his son despite his son’s regular requests. When his son is grown and has a family, the father now yearns to spend time with his son, and the son regularly responds with the same answers that his father gave him when he was younger. One of the verses concludes with the following:

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

I offer this not as an apology nor explanation, but as a reflection. Synagogue life as a professional can be a black hole that sucks everything in, letting nothing out. I’ve wondered many times if I spent enough time with my children, as I tried to do my best to attend school events and play board games on Shabbat despite really wanting and needing a nap. I know that both of my children will say that I did, even if I didn’t. It’s just that time went too fast, as the words of “Sunrise, Sunset” fly through my head. Where did the time go?

My lesson: Value every single minute you have on this planet. It is a gift; that’s why they call it the “present”. Next thing you know, your son has grown and moved out. I know that I will adapt to this new reality, and look forward to next stage of life with my wife. But I miss my son.  

Sun, January 17 2021 4 Shevat 5781