Kennedy: Quality time with your kids is a blessing

Mark Kennedy / Staff file photo

If I want to make myself sad, I can just listen to the 1974 song "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin.

For years, I didn't pay much attention to the lyrics, but now I know them by heart. It's about a father and son who reverse roles at different life stages.

At the beginning of the song, the son — a small boy — craves attention, and the dad— who travels for work — is too busy to give him much. Then, as the dad grows older and wants companionship, the boy is a grown man with a family and career of his own and little time to spend with his father.

Boomers can relate to these lyrics.

"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"

When the song comes on oldies radio, I turn it off.

Our older son was home from college the other day — just for one night. I cooked him a steak, and we watched a hockey documentary on television.

He asked my opinion about the bank failure in California, and we talked about free agency in the NFL. Every father and son have their go-to discussion topics.

The next day when he packed his truck and headed back to school in Alabama, I felt the familiar lump in my throat after our goodbye hug.

The following day was a school holiday for our 16-year-old son. I texted him while he was still in bed that morning.

"Want to go eat and catch a movie with me late this afternoon?" I texted.

"Yes, that sounds like a lot of fun," he answered.

Since he started working a part-time job a few months ago, we haven't had many father-son outings. But my older son going back to college made me be more intentional about scheduling time to hang out with his little brother.

When it was time to go that afternoon, he bounded down the steps from his bedroom. He had that tousled-hair, 16-year-old look. Dressed in sweatpants and a baseball cap it startled me — for about the 100th time — that I now have to look up to him.

On the way to Northgate, we talked about arcane car stuff. We wondered allowed if the new-look Toyota Venza would sell better than the original, and we mused about how you would load mulch into a Lamborghini.

We ate lunch at Panera Bread.

"What do you want to drink," I asked.

"Nothing," he said.

"You've got to drink something," I said, knowing that he would insist on "nothing to drink" and then change his mind later. It's a pattern.

When he finished his food, he asked for my credit card so he could go back to the counter and get some water. I tried to suppress a smile as I handed him my card.

We decided to see "Champions," a comedy starting Woody Harrelson and a group of basketball players with intellectual disabilities.

"Don't you want a drink," I said, as he bought popcorn before the film started.

"No, I'm good," he said, munching on the popcorn.

We watched previews for 20 minutes, and then he asked sheepishly, "Do I have time to go get a slushy?"

"Sure," I said, leaning forward in my seat to reach for my wallet.

We enjoyed the movie, but at several points he pulled up my shirt sleeve to read the time on my watch. It's a big ask for a teenage boy to sit still for two hours.

"Thanks for spending time with me," I said as we drove home.

"Yeah, it was fun," he said. "Thanks for taking me."

As we made small talk, I realized I was feeling both happy and sad. Happy for our afternoon together and sad that our days together are numbered -- both by age and life stage.

Harry Chapin, who had five children, died in a car crash at age 38 in 1981, a reminder that all any of us have is today.

So, breathe in all your "todays," parents. Cherish them. Drink them up.

Even if you're not feeling thirsty yet.

Someday, you will be.

The Family Life column appears in print on Sundays. Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645.