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When the children were young our home was always full of music. One of the first tasks I accomplished when moving to a new residence was to string speaker wire through the house via the attic or beneath the carpet from a switching unit behind my amplifier to sets of speakers strategically located throughout the house. Thus I could play music throughout the entire house or could direct it to a single or selected number of rooms.

This practice began at my house at in Plympton, Massachusetts which was built by two of my younger brothers, Richard and Glenn. Before the drywall went up we strung over a hundred feet of speaker wire through the studs throughout the house from one central location, the living room, where I had planned to set up my turntable, tape players and receiver and store my records and tapes. After the sheetrock went up virtually every room in the house had a hole in the wall with left and right speaker wires protruding.

Later married and having children I continued the habit. Because I attached a timer to my system as well, the entire family woke up every school day and work morning to classical music streaming from Phoenix’s classical FM station, announced with the mellifluous tones of Torey Malatia, then just starting out on his very successful NPR career. I do remember calling Mr. Malatia once and asking if he could perhaps limit the amount of opera in his early morning offerings because when just awakening, an aria from a full voiced tenor or soprano can be a shock to the system. Interesting though, my son Conrad enjoys opera very much today – maybe because of those days as a child in Phoenix?

OK, this has been a somewhat obtuse and circuitous way of introducing the main theme of this article so I‘ll try to finally get us there. There was a splendid song that we listened to quite often in our wired and speakered home – “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. The song’s lyrics are very poignant, especially for a father and a young son and give them both much to contemplate:

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.”
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, “Not today, I got a lot to do.”
He said, “That’s okay.”
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him.”
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.”

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 he said with a smile
“What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later; can I have them please?”
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then, dad
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

I’ve long since retired, and 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 could find the time
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got 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
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then, dad
We’re gonna have a good time then.”

Yes, every time I heard that song I felt a little guilty and wondered if I really was spending enough time with my son. Looking back, really I think I spent considerable time with him and I think his own recollections would support this. Indeed I was frightfully busy – sustaining a complex family life, maintaining, repairing and improving homes, maintaining vehicles, working at a time-consuming job in a demanding field and even writing a doctoral dissertation. But I think I always found time for watching Laurel and Hardy with Conrad, teaching him how to ride a bicycle, to throw and catch a football or a baseball, building him (and the other children) all sorts of things, from assembling a swing set to constructing a sports court and an elevated playhouse. I also remember reading to my son quite often, although usually it was his mother that read to him nightly before sleeping. We also hiked the Grand Canyon together not once but twice – down and up, then rim to rim to rim. But could I, should I, have given him more time?

Amazingly, whenever we heard Harry Chapin’s song, little Conrad would get tears in his eyes and would almost begin to cry. I remember discussing his feelings with him a few times but could never fully understand what it was about the song that made him feel so sad. Was it the little boy in the song whose “smile never dimmed” and whose admiration for his father, persistently expressed in “I’m gonna be like you, dad. You know I’m gonna be like you.” never wavered but who never got his dad to play with him that brought the tears? Or was thinking about the harried, overworked father whose promises of time with his son were never kept and then at the end of the song and toward the end of his life, found that his son was indeed like him and too busy to give him any time? Or was he considering his own life….and mine, and seeing some parallels, or harboring fears about how our relationship might change in the future? Whatever in the song brought the tears to my little boy’s eyes and made me think, we have always found this song memorable and deeply moving.

And now, regardless of how much or how little time I gave Conrad when he was young, it seems that life has in fact brought Conrad and me around to the last stanza of the song and rendered the song still sadly meaningful in my life today. For indeed, my son, now a public defender in Gallup, New Mexico, carrying a constant and crippling 100 plus cases, struggling and fighting to give each of his indigent clients the best legal help possible, seems far too busy to talk with me. And with our shared intense interest in history, literature and politics, I miss hearing his opinions and his insights very much. Usually when I call, during his business day, or evenings or even weekends, I hear his voice saying “Conrad Friedly”, then leave my message and wait…and wait. Could it really be be that “…he’s grown up just like me. My boy was just like me….”? And had I really been that busy? Perhaps so – it certainly feels that the song has come true for both of us.

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