I've been learning to play the Harry Chapin song, Cats in the Cradle, which really reminds me a lot of my relationship with my father. Now, I had a pretty good dad. He was always there for me physically when I was a kid. He was a good provider and family man. He wasn't perfect, but he was okay.

But I found him a very difficult man to connect to emotionally, and the line in the song that really hits me is right at the end where the man says, "He's grown up just like me. My boy was just like me."

Now, my father was an engineer and his father was an engineer and I became an engineer. And at the time consciously that was just what I wanted to do, but I can't help thinking that subconsciously perhaps I was trying to make my dad proud of me by following in his footsteps in some way.

I think the other reason why that line really hits me is that when I was a kid, it was my mom who wore the pants in the family, not my dad. Any time that my dad would do anything where he asserted his authority or expressed a masculine point of view, my mother would criticize him for it, call him a sexist pig or a male chauvinist, when really he was just being a man.

And then when I grew up and I started to express a masculine point of view, my mother would shame me for it, saying, "Oh, you're just like your father", which I knew wasn't a compliment.

Now, your father is your natural male role model, your source of your masculinity and of your self-confidence. So if you had a confident dad, then you're in luck. But if like mine you had a dad that kind of lacked confidence, then perhaps you've got a little bit of work to do in order to build the sort of confidence that you really want to have.

Have a think about your relationship with your dad and perhaps the ways in which he's given you the confidence that you want or maybe not as we listen to the song.

Graham Stoney

Graham Stoney

I struggled for years with low self-esteem, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence before finding a solution that really worked. I created The Confident Man Program to help other men live the life of their dreams. I also offer 1-on-1 coaching via Skype so if you related to this article contact me about coaching.

Harry Chapin's famous song Cats In The Cradle hits me emotionally every time I hear it. Whether it's his original, Cat Steven's even more well-known version, or more recent covers like the one by Ugly Kid Joe, it never fails to strike an emotional chord with me. I've spent the last 3 weeks learning to play it on my guitar, and when I play it myself it's even stronger.

Knowing what I know now, I'd say that my father lacks confidence and that's why he is so reluctant to share his feelings, and hard for other people to connect to. He was my natural role model and for a long time I emulated this too. As a result, I lacked confidence and we both had very little emotional connection.

The song connects me with the pain I still feel in my relationship with my emotionally distant father. Ironically, my father and I have a lot of time for each other and get together on a regular basis; we have even more time together now that he's retired and I'm working for myself. But there's a distance between us that I find painful.

My Dad was always there for me physically as I kid, and I don't ever recall brushing him off because I just wanted to borrow the car keys once he'd taught me how to drive. But emotionally, I have found my father a very difficult man to connect to. He was an Engineer, his father was an Engineer, and I became an Engineer. We were more interested in analytical problem solving than having an emotional connection with people; yet it's the emotional connection that I crave now. Someone else can do the analysis and solve the world's engineering problems... I just want to connect with real human beings.

The line “I'm gonna be like him, yeah. You know I'm gonna be like him” is particularly moving for me. I am my father's only son, and of course I want him to be proud of me. I probably couldn't help but want to be like him when I was a kid, simply because he was my Dad. I was vary aware that he had his flaws, which was most obvious in the painfully caustic relationship between my two parents.

My mother used to regularly shame my father calling him a “male chauvinist pig” any time he exerted any kind of masculine power, or expressed a viewpoint that wasn't radically feminist in its outlook. Ironically my Dad strikes me as quite a powerless man who lacks confidence; but any time he did exert his authority, my mother was always there to shout him down and put him back in his place. And then whenever I expressed an independent viewpoint with a masculine bias, I would be shamed with “You're just like your father”. Ouch. That always hurt. I was fooled by my mother's shaming into feeling that being like my father was a terrible thing, yet I couldn't help but want to make him proud all at the same time.

The father in the song gets the insight that he's been his son's role model all along, but it comes too late for him to do anything about it. The son's new job's a hassle, and his kids have the flu; he doesn't have time for the father because the father taught him by his actions that these relationships weren't important. Yet clearly they are. Then tables are turned in the final chorus when it's the father wondering when his son is coming home so they can get together; but there's a sense that it's all too little too late by then.

If I were to sum up the point of this song for me, I'd say it's that we only really have the present moment to be there for each other. There's no point putting it off for some other day and waiting to establish a meaningful connection with other people, and doing that invariably involves spending time with them and sacrificing other possibly more urgent things that are ultimately of lesser importance.

And so I take my Dad out to dinner regularly, and we talk on the phone reasonably often. He always relishes hearing from me, and I know he loves me; even if I long to actually hear him say so. It means a lot to me. I feel frustrated when he talks on and on about things I don't care about. I get tired of trying to break through his emotional defenses all the time, partly because I'm too scared myself, and partly because I get lazy.

There's a place for superficial small talk; just not quite so much though thanks Dad. Sometimes we get there, and I think I'll value those times even more once he's not around. At least we haven't fallen into the trap Harry describes of putting off getting together indefinitely, knowing (just hoping, really, because in the song it never actually happens) we'll have a good time then.

So what is/was your relationship with your father like? Did he have the confidence you wanted, and was he able to pass it on to you? Or perhaps you have some work to do to build your confidence so that you can have the life you really want. Think about him as you listen to the song:

Graham Stoney

Graham Stoney

I struggled for years with low self-esteem, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence before finding a solution that really worked. I created The Confident Man Program to help other men live the life of their dreams. I also offer 1-on-1 coaching via Skype so if you related to this article contact me about coaching.


I · August 17, 2015 at 12:20 pm

I don't know what to feel about my dad. He wasn't there physically, mentally or emotionally for me when I was growing up. I look back on my life and there are no memories of us spending time together. Sometimes I feel sorry for him and other times I just hate his fucking guts. We've spent some time recently but I'm always filled with murderous rage whenever we do. He's full of so many defences that talking to him is harder than getting blood out of a stone.

    Graham Stoney

    Graham Stoney · August 19, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks for your comment. I really relate! Most of my life, my father has been an emotional brick wall; albeit a relatively benevolent passive one. I felt guilty about being angry with a man who was there physically and mentally, and for the most part fulfilled his obligations to clothe, feed, and provide for me in all respects... Except the one I craved most: a sense of emotional connection. I can only imagine the anger you must have if he wasn't there at all. I had to work through a lot of rage towards my father before I could start to enjoy spending adult time with him, and it's still a work in progress. If you can't get it from your father, I recommend connecting with other men who can validate your emotions and teach you how to value yourself regardless of how your father behaves. If you want to talk more, please contact me. Cheers, Graham

    iced · September 6, 2015 at 8:50 am

    Wow. That's the description of my father, word for word. Like they are the same model or something. I'm still unable to spend time with him, or take him seriously. I don't think he's even realized what's wrong after all these years (I've waved the red flag more than enough now). Which is ridiculous by itself.

      Graham Stoney

      Graham Stoney · September 6, 2015 at 10:35 am

      Thanks for your comment; I relate to what you're saying. I've noticed that the more I process my repressed anger towards my father, and the more I stand up to my controlling mother, the better my relationship with my Dad is. I don't think he'll ever really "get it"; but for me it's about learning to accept both him the way he is, and the emotions that get triggered in me when I'm around an emotionless brick wall. Ridiculous is right; there's comedy in this whole thing you know!

Andrew Smith · March 29, 2011 at 10:21 am

Very good cover - well played!

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