“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.”—Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”
While I was growing up, my dad seemed to always be humming the words to Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s a somber, reflective song from the 1970s about a father who’s just too busy for his child. When he’s finally older and has slowed down, his grown son is too busy for him.
My dad liked the song for the same reasons fit people “like” working out or people who enjoy crunching numbers place themselves on a budget—it acted as a preventative measure against everything he didn’t want to be as a father. He took the words to heart and determined to be a present, active, devoted father to my brother and me.
As such, we benefited enormously from his love and time. Here are five things he taught me every daughter (even sons!), young or old, should know.
1. If He Doesn’t Call, He Doesn’t Care
Before texting and apps, kids actually talked on the phone. Ideally, if a boy liked a girl he’d call her (not vice versa). If I hit it off with a guy but never heard from him I’d sulk a little and ask my dad, “Does he care? Does he like me? What’s going on?” My dad would respond in his usual straightforward way: “It’s not that hard to understand. If he doesn’t call you, he doesn’t care.” Harsh? Maybe. But pretty much always true. The best part? It saved me from agonizing over someone who clearly wasn’t agonizing over me.
As much as this adage was intended toward the romantic ventures of my young adult years, it’s something I still use today. Why doesn’t that friend text me back? How come I never hear from so-and-so? If you can remember this phrase, you don’t have to wonder: If they care about you, they’ll let you know by making or returning effort. Also, quit leaving space in your life for people who don’t care about you.
2. Men Are Animals; Women Are Crazy
Ever wonder why men have the libido of a NASCAR race car? Or why women cry uncontrollably at a Hallmark movie during PMS? Herein lies your answer. Before you think my dad was some kind of man-hating male who also was a misogynist, think again. This was mostly tongue-in-cheek.
Yet think of times in your life when you’ve tried to understand or explain the male sex drive or provider instinct or how a man acts before an enemy on a battlefield. Many men possess those raw, instinctive, fierce traits that makes them so valuable (and, frankly, so attractive to women).
Whether due to hormones or that innate wiring to think in a “spaghetti” way—that every subject is connected—women tend to act a little, shall we say, nuts sometimes? I daresay some men drive women to this and some women bring out the animal in men, but in times of confusion over the two sexes, just mutter “Men are animals; women are crazy,” and you’ll feel so much better.
3. Some People You Can Count On, and Some You Can’t
My dad has long owned a small business. This meant he had to hire and fire people and depend on contractors to pay him in a timely manner so he could pay his employees. Often, due to the nature of his work, this just didn’t happen, or the work day wasn’t smooth.
I worked for him over the summers, as did my brother, to earn income and spend more time with him. When we’d get to a job site and it wasn’t ready, or a guy who was supposed to work for him that day showed up late, dad would mutter, “There’s people you can count on, and people you can’t.” Not only is it important to understand that some people truly are unreliable, but the implication was also vital: Be one of those people others can count on.
This might seem obvious, but it’s hard for people to put into practice in real life. Often when people are disappointed by what their friends or family do or don’t do, the offending person has always been unreliable but everybody just refuses to see it. Recognize this in someone else, and it will end the confusion and frustration. Identify this in yourself, so you can be more reliable.
4. Growing Up Is a Process of Becoming Less Selfish
Whether it was sharing with my brother, helping my parents clean their boat, or going to visit my grandparents (begrudgingly as a teen, I admit), if I went into something with a bad attitude my dad would remind me that if I was maturing, I was supposed to be doing one thing: Becoming less selfish. If I wasn’t doing that, I probably wasn’t maturing. He always said it in such a way and at such the perfect time that I knew exactly what he meant, and often it made me twinge in embarrassment.
The best thing and the worst thing about this advice is it can apply to anyone at any given time. Your 10-year-old still struggling to share? A teenager doesn’t want to include the nerdy kid at school? Young adults begrudging paying their parents back for a loan? Not everybody thinks growing up is a process of becoming less selfish, which is why so many people are jerks, but you can spot the ones who do. Their selfless spirit and growing maturity make them easy to admire and pleasurable to be around.
5. God Is In Control
My dad is a committed Christian. Very much like famous author and theologian C. S. Lewis, his Christianity shaped his entire worldview, and by it he saw how to do everything, including parent. Like many people in middle-class America, I didn’t encounter many hard times until I was older. This is when my dad offered the wisest advice—and the hardest to implement.
Many things happen in life that are hard to understand or painful to experience. Whether because of your own bad choices, someone else’s, or what everybody else calls “fate,” things happen that are hard, confusing, painful, and seem insurmountable. As a Christian, my dad believes fate doesn’t make things happen, but that there is a good God who oversees what happens everywhere.
While this might make some things nearly impossible to comprehend, like why bad things happen to good people, it also can provide peace, calm, and security. While I am responsible for what I choose and how I live, a sovereign being is keeping watch and interfering on my behalf.