Last week, I heard a song on the radio that I hadn’t heard in a long time, “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. For those who have never heard it, it tells the story of a father and son who can’t schedule time to be with each other. While it serves as a warning against putting one’s career before family, it also identifies a lack of emotional connection of father to son. In the song, the father never has time to spend with his son in his childhood years because of his busy job. In a twist of fate, when the son grows older and has children of his own, he is too busy to make time for his retired father. The son had turned out just like his dad, because that’s what he learned when growing up. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
The other day, my family and I were out together at an event and had to cross the street at the crosswalk. We happened to pass by a father and his young son at the same time. The son asked if his father could hold his hand as he walked across the busy intersection. The father replied in a gruff tone, “Come on, no, you don’t need to hold my hand. You’re in fifth grade.” After we had passed by, wondering if this was just a man thing, I turned to my husband and quietly asked him, “You’d never do that, would you?” His response was, “Never.”
For some reason, all I could think about was “Cats in the Cradle.” While the situation didn’t have anything to do with being too busy, it made me sad in a similar way. That father had missed an opportunity to bond with his son in that moment when his son needed him. He had denied his son the security and protection he was asking for. There was a reason the child wanted to hold his father’s hand. I’m not judging the father. I don’t know him. Maybe he is an excellent father but just not good with emotions. Maybe “tough love” is his motto. Maybe his parents had taught him that holding hands at a certain age isn’t acceptable and he’d be embarrassed to be seen holding his son’s “mature” hand. Whatever the case may be, my heart broke for the young boy in that moment, as well as the father’s. There may be a time in the future when he wants to hold his son’s hand or bond in a way that just might wind up making his son uncomfortable because of what he had learned.
Handholding is a sign of closeness and affection. As parents, we associate handholding with protection to keep our children safe from harm and to comfort them. Children need direction and guidance and holding their hands allows them to feel loved. When we deny them this, especially when they ask for it, what message are we sending?
It’s true that the father-son relationship may be more complex than we realize (great topic for another post), but for some children, physical touch is their only love language. While denying his child’s hand to cross the street may seem minor to some, it has the potential and capability of shaping the way his child views love and affection when he has his own children. Our kids are always watching, listening, and learning from us and our behavior has great influence on them.
Unfortunately, there comes a time when our children will no longer want to hold hands with us. As for me personally, I will continue to put my hand out for my kids for as long as they need it, even when they’re “too old.” It’s one of the few simple ways we get to communicate our love to them without saying a word, and it’s important we recognize that no matter what their age❤️