Father and Son

Back before the pandemic lockdown, before all the changes thrust upon us from the outside, and before all those changes we perhaps sought in ourselves, maybe often in solitude (or to be more blunt, in straight-on loneliness), I shared a post about the song, “Where Do the Children Play,” by Yusuf / Cat Stevens.

Today I’m deeply mindful of another song of his, “Father and Son,” from the same album, Tea for the Tillerman (1970).

As I said in that earlier post, the album and others of Stevens’ were important music in my childhood home, bridging gaps between traditional hymns honoured by my parents and rock music adored by us children, through the artistry of a beautiful young bearded man who could have a foot in each world. I always thought of him as magical in the way he sang, in that time when we could only appreciate music in the dimension of vinyl and not the richness of music videos and portable music we have now in the post-modern world.

I was ten years old when Stevens released the album and can still remember hearing it, sitting in the living room listening to it as if in a garden with a green carpet. That’s the one, as I mentioned in my post on “A Taste of Honey,” that we weren’t allowed to walk on once the pile had been vacuumed in one direction, especially when my parents were having one of their seemingly frequent weekend parties; those gatherings where, even as an all-in introvert, I would savour being trotted out for my obligatory Red Skelton impression so that I could feel the validation, warmth and celebration of me as someone special, despite all the feelings I had inside of being flawed and broken after medical problems that I suffered in the first six years of my life… we all did the best that anyone could with the absence of “emotional tools” in those days, and I’m grateful for the blessings each sibling gave me. (In particular, I remember how my sister would walk me to school so that I would actually go there, though as soon as she dropped me off, I’d surreptitiously find a way to escape out the other end of the school. To me, school was another institution, like the hospital, and I just was not having it.) Anyway, at the time, doing that party impersonation always earned me some of the sausage rolls that Mum served for the grown-up parties and which were rarely left over for the siblings the next day so, there was that. I know my family carried me and the weight of infant medical challenges, and I love them for that.

Now, as a man entering my elder years, and Sweety and me both having adult sons with partners, and her sons having their own children, I feel like it’s time to prepare the next generation and offer wisdom, blessings, and help to them into the next stage of their lives which will include them saying farewell to my sweety and me when our time here is finished.

I don’t know that I’ve done much of that up to now, though geographical distance plays a role in one sense, and newness and COVID-19 in another, but that’s all also a cop-out. I want to do better and want to learn how to be a good ancestor, like the title of the book by Roman Krznaric suggests. The book was the subject of a recent talk Krznaric gave with his wife, economist Kate Raworth, along with a personal hero of mine — as you well know by now — Brian Eno (despite massive technological difficulties that ironically kept this tech genius from participating much).

Last night and all day today (and continuing tomorrow), I’m sharing a virtual circle with men from all around North America who are seeking to find our way into the future. Many of the men are roughly around my age and some older, some younger. Though I’ve been in online gatherings with some of these men in the last seven months and become close friends, we’ve never met in person. It’s part of the strangeness of these times in which we’re living.

Some of us are fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers… and men who might wonder if they will ever be fathers. But we are all sons. And grandsons, and even great-grandsons, and on, even though we may not have ever met those parts of our lineage. They are with us, in the heritage we carry and are behind us.

In today’s selection, a father and son have a heartwrenching exchange as the son yearns to grow and make his own life even though he does not fully understand where he is going, and the father does not understand this young man’s desire to move on.

“[Father:]
It’s not time to make a change
Just relax, take it easy
You’re still young, that’s your fault
There’s so much you have to know
Find a girl, settle down
If you want you can marry
Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy

I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy
To be calm when you’ve found something going on
But take your time, think a lot
Why, think of everything you’ve got
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not

[Son:]
How can I try to explain, cause when I do he turns away again
It’s always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

[Father:]
It’s not time to make a change
(Away, away, away)
Just sit down, take it slowly
You’re still young, that’s your fault
(I know)
There’s so much you have to go through
(I have to make this decision)
Find a girl, settle down
(Alone)
If you want you can marry
Look at me, (No) I am old, but I’m happy

[Son:]
All the times that I cried
(Decision, decision, decision)
Keeping all the things I knew inside
It’s hard (Why must)
But it’s harder to ignore it
(You go and make this decision)
If they were right, I’d agree
(Alone?)
But it’s them they know not me
Now there’s a way and I know
That I have to go away
I know I have to go”

(“Father & Son,” by Yusuf / Cat Stevens)

As a child, I thought the line, “You’re still young, that’s your fault,” sounded condemning, but now as an older man I think of it differently. The father, in his imperfect way of parenting (because as, with the rest of us parents, the child arrived without an instruction manual), I think is telling him that youth is a fault, as in an imperfection, an incompleteness; so maybe not judging, but rather truth-telling… because the son “doesn’t yet know what he doesn’t know,” and the father wants desperately to shield him from harm, all the while knowing that he simply cannot.

However, we can honour our children and our grandchildren and teach them, gently, some of the hard lessons we learned and which our ancestors learned, often in terrible conditions like the horrific, muddy trenches of war, sometimes never to come home to share their wisdom, love and softness in the doting, focused face of a loving, innocent baby.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official music video for the song from Yusuf / Cat Steven’s YouTube channel. I watch numerous music videos and this is one of the more amazing ones I’ve been able to receive in the music and the visual storytelling of the interplay between the old and the young (and animals):

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