My first memory of Harry was hearing “Cat’s In The Cradle” on AM radio in 1974 when I was 15. As I hadn’t really grown up yet, the song didn’t mean much to me at the time. That was to change.
Fall 1976 found me at college, State University of New York College at Geneseo, where a roommate introduced me to “Taxi”, as well as “Bananas” and the other songs on the Verities and Balderdash LP. Yes, these were interesting songs, indeed.
Later in college, I befriended fellow classmate Chris Chapin, Harry’s younger brother, who worked alongside me on the college newspaper. As this friendship developed, I began paying attention to brother Tom as well. Prior to this, I hadn’t connected Harry with Tom, though I’d faithfully watched “Make A Wish” every Saturday. I even taped the theme song on my cassette recorder. (I still play that tape!)
Of course with Chris as a fellow graduate, who else but Harry could be our Commencement speaker? The date was May 16, 1981. He had plenty to tell us about life and the living of it. He told us about “good tired and bad tired” (the concept came from his grandfather), about his credo, “When in doubt, do something”, and about picking the job that felt right even if the pay was less. But the line I remember best was one little remark, “I recently turned 38, and it was a melancholy moment to know that a quarter of my life is over.” Oh, Harry, if you only could’ve known! After his death, a transcript of his speech was made available to the graduates. (I still have that, too!)
He even sang “Flowers Are Red”, a capella. He said the song came from the story of his secretary’s son, on whose report card the teacher lamented that the child “marched to the beat of a different drummer”, but that “we’d have him in line by the end of the term.” My future wife, Sarah, was in the audience, and we took every word to heart. Some 15 years later, a child of ours would face a schoolteacher with the same remark.
But the best (?) was yet to come. A couple of months later, still living with my parents in Buffalo, I had interviewed with IBM, Westinghouse and other big firms for a position as a computer analyst. My father was retiring that week. The radio was on while I did the dishes one night, and on came “Cat’s In The Cradle”. Then the phone rang. It was the man in Pittsburgh calling to tell me I got the job! And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, I’m now the son that moved away. Pittsburgh is about four hours from Buffalo, and the distance made it hard to visit very often, notwithstanding the hassles of a new job or kids with the flu.
Back to the present. A year ago, at the ripe old age of 9, my son decided to study the cello. Why the cello? I think it’s because he’s heard “Taxi” many, many times, and seen me play “air cello” every time it’s on.
Today finds me carrying on Harry’s teaching. Through most of the 1980s, long before it was acceptable to complain about it, I was a vehement anti-smoking activist. As I write I am scheduled to receive an award for reading to the blind each week for 10 years. Also in there I found time to volunteer in the classroom sharing my hobbies with schoolchildren, be a Junior Achievement volunteer for three years, and be president of a civic organization promoting public transit as a desirable mode of transportation for everyone. And that’s all subservient to being Daddy, husband, sole breadwinner and student (I’m working on a Master’s degree) — in that order.
And somewhere in all that, feeling “good tired”. The battles I fought were my own. Thank you, Harry, for keeping me focused on what’s important.
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