Inside the
Summer Issue:

Home Page

For Bruce Springsteen,
"Do Something" Means
Many Things.


The Beat of a
Different Drummer:
An Interview
with Jim Chapin

Students Use
Pocket Change
to Make a
Big Difference


Cancer Patient
Cites Harry's
Message as Key
to Survival


The Power
of Design(ers)


Harry Chapin
Freedom of Choice


Goat Tales

The Cat's
in the Cradle...


Letter to
the Editor


LUNCH for WHY

Long Island
Songwriters Plan
"Sequel" Benefit
Tribute Concert

Satinwood,
Howard Fields and
Al Stewart in
Concert to
Benefit KIDS Can
Make a Difference


Readers Share Thoughts
in Second Annual
Circle! Survey


Circle Calendar


The Cat's in the Cradle...

Editor’s Note: The following story was originally published in January 2004 on http://www.landerman.org/family/stories2.asp, and has been reprinted with the permission of the author. 2004 Nate Landerman

by Nathan Landerman

Nate Landerman

As a man, it's difficult to cry. Not just embarrassing; not simply effeminate -- difficult.

We are not permitted the luxury. There is a relay in the male brain that is tied to a moisture-actuated switch in our tear ducts. By the time the first dribble of saline begins to moisten our eyelids, a tiny drill instructor has been resurrected from cryogenic storage in the depths of our subconscious and has begun the litany of verbal abuse that will soon cause us to wipe our eyes and be a man. Sheepishly, we look around. After all, the person in the car next to you could be our best friend, our old high school football coach, our father! Be cool, for chrissake!

Psychologists will tell you that keeping emotions bottled up inside is a terrible strain on one's psyche. They have told me, at least. The human mind is much like a grain silo. Silently, invisibly the space around what we want to keep there is filled with volatile compounds that will explode in a shower of flaming wreckage given the slightest provocation. A tiny spark, a mere fraction of a second, a chance happening; suddenly we are destroyed along with everyone around us, the kernels of our id spread to the four winds.

I find myself traveling a lot lately. Business of one sort or another keeps me on the road, in the air, breathing in the heady scent of fresh money and stale hotel rooms. It's a lonely life. Empty whiskey bottles make for cold bedfellows. Sometimes, when I find myself alone in the car or in the hotel room, I will hear a song on the radio that stirs something so deep inside of me that my male circuits are overridden and the tears begin to flow. Last month, it happened again. Driving my rental car up El Camino in the Mexican part of Redwood City called "Redwood City", I heard a voice I hadn't heard in a while. It was Harry Chapin.

Harry with his son Josh.
Photo courtesy of the Chapin Family.
 

I love music. All kinds. But there are a few songs that I hold dear, songs I know by heart. Songs that have, at some point in my life, been anthems. Social Distortion's Take Away This Ball and Chain, Bob Seger's Turn the Page, the Ballad of Johnny Rotten, and most recently The Cat's In the Cradle have all occupied this special place in my heart.

At the risk of diverging even more, I recently got a Maori tattoo from T's Tattoos in Rarotonga. Posted above his studio is his motto: "Visible Marks of Life's Journey". I look back on these songs now as I did at my arms and legs when I read the sign. He's right. They are. We naturally gravitate towards art that describes us at that particular time in our lives. Sometimes it gets under your skin and sticks.

It's been a month since I heard Harry croon his tale of longing and regret. I'm still emotional about it. Life, I've found, is different on the road. Outside of my normal habitat, removed from my daily routine, I have the perspective to analyze my life. Years of charging hard and making money have distanced me from those I love. I feel the pain of the lyrics because it is my pain, it is my father's pain, and it will be my son's. This is my legacy.

Sometimes, I think about what would happen if a person I love were to die. What would I say to their headstone that I didn't have the balls to say to their face? I don't want my father to die without telling him how important he has been in my life. All of my success is owed to him and one simple thing he told me when I was young that has guided every decision I have made in my life.

Raising a child is a funny thing. Like Emily Dickenson said, "The incidents of love are better than the events." For all of my father's advice that went unheard or ignored, it was one simple question uttered in a garage behind a Volkswagen that shaped the rest of my life. I was about 14. My father and I had been working on restoring a '73 SuperBeetle for my sister when she turned 16. It was a great time in my life. Being a 14-year-old boy, I had a passion for all things automotive that to this day has not dwindled. From those months spent twisted under the dash of a Volkswagen trying to translate old German wiring diagrams was born a work ethic that has carried me ever higher in the corporate world.

One day, I was wrestling with a particularly stubborn bolt. It may have been in the engine compartment, I don't really remember the details. But it was in a particularly crowded area of the car, even for a Beetle. I was applying every bit of strength I had in my young arms to the wrench when my dad looked over my shoulder and quietly said, "Where is your hand going to be when that bolt finally gives?" I stopped. I looked. The interior bits of a partially restored Volkswagen are fraught with peril. Had I pressed on, the incident would have almost certainly ended in tears and bloody knuckles. I know this because for once, I took my father's words to heart. I shifted my grip and pressed the wrench with the palm of my hand, thankful now that the only contact from the sudden release of tension was metal-on-metal.

Years have passed, but I still remember those words as if he were still here looking over me. Not a single decision I have made since has been without the thought of probable repercussion. Not a line of code is written, not a single deal made without thinking about the consequences. Sure, I've ignored it at times. That's the great thing about advice. Sometimes it goes unheeded. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it hurts. But at least you know that you're rolling the dice.

Today, I have taken a few hours to write this down. Yes, there are still planes to catch and bills to pay, but some things are more important. Dad, I hope you read this, because I don't think I have the balls to say it to your face.

I love you.

Nate Landerman is an author, entrepreneur, husband and father. His internet publishing company currently produces three websites on which his work can be seen: iNetpublication.com, GoddessLaura.com, and Landerman.org. For more information on Nate or to request a reprint, please visit http://www.landerman.org.

Watch for the Next Issue of Circle! on September 7