I hate this song. Not because it’s a crappy song, but because it messes with my head. First released 35 years ago, this Harry Chapin classic is about an aging father who reflects back on all the missed opportunities he’d had to bond with his son. The pattern comes full-circle when the son, now grown up with kids of his own, can’t find the time to visit his father.

I don’t know why this song haunts me the way it does. It’s like a little parasite that found its way inside my brain, where it lurks in the background. It feeds on my insecurities as a father, and rises to the surface whenever I’m feeling torn in different directions. Sure, in some respects I was the kid from that song. But I’m no different than the millions of other kids that grew up in a broken home. You dig deep, pick yourself up as best you can and move on.

Truthfully, the song never got to me until I became a dad. Now, it’s like a bucket of ice water thrown in my face every time I hear it. My Pavlovian response is to self-analyze and critique my own actions as a father. How many times have I said “no” when I really could have said “yes?” What will my kids remember from their childhood? What opportunities am I missing?

It’s not about spoiling them, it’s more about being present and engaged. Honestly, I think I’m doing a decent job – far from perfect, to be sure, but I’m pretty involved in just about everything that they do. But when I hear that song, I can’t help but wonder if I’m falling short in some way. I suppose it doesn’t help that my first child really did learn to walk while I was away.

And deep down, I also know that I’ve become the grown-up kid from the song. My dad’s been hitting me up for a fishing trip for years now. I’d really like to go.

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