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The Song That Changed Your Life

Cat's in the Cradle by Elizabeth Booth

This story is on the shortlist for The Song That Changed Your Life challenge. 

Video source: Youtube.

This isn’t about a song I love, it’s about a song I hate. I always have, and always will have an intensely unpleasant, almost physical reaction every time I hear Harry Chapin’s song “Cat’s in the Cradle.” When I was a child, it was my father’s favourite song. He’d put it on when he would sit in the living room, drinking glass after glass of scotch on the rocks, every day after he came home on work. When the song ended he’d get up, move the needle on the record player, and play it over, and over, and over again. 

One night, my dad came home particularly late from work, ringing the doorbell to wake my mother to let him in. From the dark of my own room, I heard him fumble around in the kitchen, pour himself a drink, and put his Harry Chapin album on the turntable. 

“And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon/Little boy blue and the man in the moon!”

I listened to the lyrics and tried to get to sleep but all I could do was toss and turn, growing more and more upset as Chapin’s voice drifted through the house. Before too long my dad turned off the music and I heard him lumber up the stairs. He came into my room and sat by my bed, in which he assumed I was asleep. He gave me a kiss on the cheek.

“I love you so much,” he slurred. “I love you. I know I’m a terrible father, but I love you.”

And then he did the unthinkable. He began to softly sing “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

I couldn’t take it. I opened my eyes and gave my dad the best stink-eye that a six-year-old kid could muster. It was a look that said “You’re drunk. You’re a fool. I’m on to you.” Miraculously, he read everything that that look was meant to say. He stopped singing, got up and backed out of the room.

After that, my dad still drank, but not quite as much. And he stopped playing his Harry Chapin record. We had a lot of ups and downs in the years that followed (especially through my teenage years), but today we have a functional relationship, which is something I couldn’t have imagined at age six. But I will still always hate that Harry Chapin song.

Elizabeth Booth lives in Calgary, AB.

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