What does Cat's in the Cradle mean?

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Harry Chapin: Cat's in the Cradle Meaning

Song Released: 1974

Covered By: Ugly Kid Joe (1993)

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Cat's in the Cradle Lyrics

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My child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He'd say, "I'm gonna be...


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    Apr 3rd, 2007 4:02pm report

    The son doesn't only represent the child. He also represents the family as a whole. The father is too busy with work and doesn't have the time to spend with his family. As the lyrics say "the cats in the cradle" - the family is at home - "and the silver spoon" which is a symbol of wealth the father has to earn. The "little boy blue" is the child that is sad because his father is away, while the father is represented by "the man on the moon" - the one far away who is unreachable, idealized by the child who sees the father as his male role model. So this is the metaphorical way of describing the pairs of opposition the song is talking about. The family which is in contrast to work and the sad and left-alone boy in contrast to his never-having-time-for-him father and role model.

    The songs intention is to make the listener think about the balance of time spend with the family/children and the time spend with earning the money and gaining wealth. At the end of the song the father realizes that the way he lived was unbalanced and that he wasn't a good role model for his son and this is the reason why the now grown up boy became like his father once was, with little time for his family (which his father is a part of).

    This balancing is the problem each generation is facing and the reason why the listener feels so attached to this song. It's the wish of parents to spend more time with their children and the lack of chances to do so. It's a criticism to society.


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    Oct 19th, 2010 10:41am report

    The song is about a man who, when his son is born, cannot find the time to spend with him. The son accepts these absences sadly, but makes no objection, repeating many times that he will grow up just like his father.
    Eventually, the boy becomes a man, and his father has more time to be with him. But the son is far too busy for his Dad, and eventually, he has a child of his own.
    And at the end of the song, the father realizes that his son was true to his word, and is now exactly like him, and that another child will be neglected, and another, and another...


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    Jun 23rd, 2011 6:16pm report

    I agree completely with the June 20th response above. Most people interpret this song as a criticism of the dad for "neglecting" his little boy and that karma teaches the dad a lesson when he's older for being a "bad role model" to the son. Perhaps, but I never viewed the song's meaning in that light. Instead, I think the song is about the sad and ironic reality of life for a typical loving father and son. When the son is young and growing, unfortunately the dad can't spend much time with his son because the dad has to work (planes to catch and bills to pay -- the dad isn't neglecting the son). You can't condemn the father for working. It's just part of life. The dad is a young man trying to provide for his family, which requires him to be away from home when his son is young and growing. When the boy is ten years old, the dad gives the boy a present for his birthday, but again unfortunately, the dad still must work a lot -- he still has many responsibilities. Time moves on. Years later the boy is in college. Now the father has more available time. He doesn't have to work as much to support the family. The dad's responsibilities are winding down, providing more available time. However, at the same point, the boy is becoming an adult and his life is growing increasingly active. When the son comes home from college, the dad is proud and wants to spend time with his son, but the son is now a typical college kid for whom hanging out with his friends or going on a date is more important to him than chatting with dad. That's not a bad thing. Again, it's just part of life. Time goes by and the dad is retired. Now the dad has a lot of time, and he would like nothing more than to visit with his son, but in contrast, the son's time is consumed with his new job and family responsibilities -- the father and son have switched roles. But its clear that the son is glad to at least talk with his father for a moment. After the conversation, the dad ponders the irony -- how a father and son don't get to spend much time together. When the boy is young and has time, the dad has to work. Later in life, when the dad has time, the son has to work. I hear nothing in the song that places the father in a bad light. The father and son clearly care for each other, and the son does not harbor ill feelings of neglect by the dad ("But it's sure nice talking to you, dad. It's been sure nice talking to you." For me, the point is that a father and son (parent/child) don't get much time together because of age-specific responsibilities, so they should keep that in mind and take advantage of the precious time they do have together when its available.


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    May 27th, 5:42am report

    Another song about an absent dad. People are trying to ascribe it to metaphor but it's purely literal: it's through they eyes of the son. Whatever the father was doing that kept him from his son all the kid knows is daddy wasn't there. But the kid knowing no better thinks his dad is something great and aspires to be like him. Consequently the father and his son grow apart and the father isn't a priority anymore. Through his son's dismissiveness---
    ( I called him up just the other day.
    I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind."
    He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time.
    You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,
    But it's sure nice talking to you, dad.
    It's been sure nice talking to you."
    And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
    He'd grown up just like me.)

    The kid grew up to be like his father, but not in the same way. His dad wouldn't make the time and the kid subsequently can't be bothered making the time for his dad: or sacrificing the time with his kids to make time for his dad (the kids have the flu.) If you grew up without a dad then you won't blab on about it being a metaphor, you don't get to steal credibility because of your so, so relationships from those who had not any kind of father or father son relationship.


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    Oct 16th, 2018 10:03am report

    Overall, the song sheds a positive light on this father son relationship with a thin veil of sadness over it. It’s just life. It’s perfect.


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    Sep 11th, 2018 9:18pm report

    The son doesn't only represent the child. He also represents the family as a whole. The father is too busy with work and doesn't have the time to spend with his family. As the lyrics say "the cats in the cradle" - the family is at home - "and the silver spoon" which is a symbol of wealth the father has to earn.


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    Jun 6th, 2017 6:48am report

    Review- Cats in the Cradle

    Harry Chapins “oldy but a goody” Cats in the Cradle is an extremely touching super song with an enlightening beat.

    The lyrics is all about a father (AKA Harry Chapin) who puts his family and son aside for his job and money. He doesn't play a good role as a dad but his son still looks up to him. As the son grows older and the dad no longer works, Harry has now got free time to spend with his son. However, the son is growing older and he has his own life to get on with. So now the father realizes that his son grew up just like him and they will never find good quality father-child time.

    All people will enjoy this incredible song, and safely know that it has a story within it-one that will tell people to spend time with their kids. Because the words are clear and quite slow, you will realize that family comes first.


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    May 1st, 2013 5:42pm report

    Cat's in the Cradle is a song about the relationship of a son and his father, not about a woman with a cat. Nowhere in the song does it mention a woman, only a father and son.

    Like many fathers today, the song states the conversations between father and son. He asks for his fathers attention and his response to his son is "not now, later." When the father has the time, I'm guessing he's retired, the son has a family of his own. His life is busy with sick children and bills to pay. When the father hangs up the phone, he realizes at that time that his son has become a shadow of himself and he has missed out on his sons childhood.


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    Jan 16th, 2013 1:55am report

    I think this song is about Karma, in it's truest form. The negative energy that you
    send out will come back to you, at some other time, in some other form, but YOU will realize that what is now happening is because of you. What you chose to sow, will now be what you reap. The father gained the Karma of not spending any time with his son, so when he wanted to spend time with his son, his son did not care about him anymore. The father has to grow old with a handful of memories of the times he could have had lunch with his son, or gone to a ballgame, or anything nice. I go further to say that this song is not about just a father and a son, but relationships between ALL people. If you are rude and negletful to someone, ignore them no matter how they try to reach out to you, then it may come back to you someday. That, is Karma,and the cat's in the cradle and silver spoon... little boy blue and the man in the moon. It's sure been nice talking to you. Peace.


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    Sep 4th, 2012 9:04pm report

    I think the popular interpretation that the song is a "criticism" of the father is very narrow and misguided.

    The fact is that many fathers (and mothers) have to work very hard to provide for their families. Many work jobs that take them far away ... there really are "planes to catch, and bills to pay." Some people work two and three jobs. Life can be tough. These are the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary to provide -- a role that generally falls on the father (and if it doesn't, he will certainly be viewed as a deadbeat).

    I feel the fair interpretation of the song is that both the father and the son lose something in that ... but also that their love between each other remains strong. And the father, not only for worse, but also for better, is a role model for the son. The son, when he has his own family, has his own commitments to take care of. That is the way of the world ... but the father showed the son that those commitments to provide for your family come first. As in most "solid" families, it is the father who has the responsibility to be provider. It is a cross most fathers bear with both a sense of duty and a sense of loss.

    Unfortunately, popular media love to bash on fathers ... showing them as little more than grotesque morons ... but that is another story.)


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    Aug 20th, 2012 8:17pm report

    I think this song is about a father who is to busy doing heroin to spend time with his son but still finds time to work and support his family and his son ends up taking on all the good qualities the father has and becomes the man he always thought his father was because he was innocent to the fact or idea of drugs being the reason they didn't spend time that's the correct interpretation i don't care what anybody thinks

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


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    Apr 8th, 2012 4:12pm report

    Great interpretations! I would also like to contribute that the song is a perfect example of the American, or "Western" culture of "work ethics." The pressures of society often degrate the family unit. Is this intentional? Have we created a "Brave New World," a "work machine" powered by progress?

    Look to impoverished nations or different cultures and you will find that families are quite close. Mother's stay home to raise the children often reinforced by the presence of a grandmother because nursing homes do not exist. The families are close and are not consumed by consumerism, therefore, the child grows up to take care of the parent, a long-lost concept that was reality not too awfully long ago.

    There are still small "backwards" towns in the U.S. that somehow missed the train to the big city, but they are imbred and ignorant, right?


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    Apr 8th, 2012 4:27am report

    I'd say the song is about succession of the flaws of parenthood from generation to generation. The father did not have time for the Son, when the Son was young and when he needed the most. As the child becomes a grown up, the father realizes that his son has become just like him, imbalance of spending time with family and make a living.


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    Feb 22nd, 2012 2:16pm report

    didn't this guy die in a plane? Hope this really wasn't about him. Probably wasn't...hmm. I like most of the interpretations here.

    These are my metaphors:

    cat's in the cradle: the boy as a baby

    little boy blue: child (the boy growing from infant to kid to teen)

    man in the moon: the dad in the beginning of the song being far away and then the boy as a grown adult in the end of the song not spending time with his dad and moving away.

    Please don't rate this bad, I am only in 6th Grade and we had to do a paper on this song.


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    Feb 12th, 2012 2:43pm report

    Sixty-eight now, and looking back..
    See my life...through my son's bright eyes.
    Of life gone by while he watched me go..
    He now reminds me of this little song..
    As both our lives continue on...


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    Jan 24th, 2012 1:02pm report

    The father in the song does not neglect or not love his son -- he's in fact busy working to provide for him (and the family).

    No where in the song does it say the father is 'Out with the Boys' or doesn't want to be with his son. He's busy working, trying to provide for his current & future needs.

    The son never sounds angry toward his father in the song -- quite the contrary, he idolizes him, probably because he sees how hard he's working to provide, and repetedly says 'I want to be like you, Dad'.

    When he becomes a man with the very same pressures & responsibilities, he is faced with the very same shortage of time his father faced. 'The new job's a hassle & the kids have the flu', and he chooses to not see his dad, but take care of his own kids.

    This is how his father in the song prioritized HIS time --- doing what's right for his kids, and now the son makes the same choice.

    I think in the end the father is proud of the son's decision & implied priorities. The son didn't say 'I'd love to see you and leave these sick, needy kids!!', but put his kids first and made the choice his father would have made in the same circumstances.

    In this way, life comes full circle. I grew up with friends whose fathers worked multiple jobs, not to get away from their kids -- but to work and provide for them. They missed baseball games and dance recitals not because they didn't want to participate -- but because they had to work.

    Same I believe holds true in this song.

    In the end, Cat's Cradle is a song that only a parent can understand. It is about trade-offs and sacrifices, doing what one HAS to do versus what one would like to do.


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    Nov 26th, 2011 11:40am report

    im glad i read these posts, thank you. Im only nineteen and my mind one tracked the song to drug use by parent, similar to my growing up

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


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    Sep 20th, 2011 9:11pm report

    I completely disagree with the interpretation that there is neglect. I think the song is telling the story that the father HAS served as a good role model by working and providing for his family. He and his son both come to this realization in the end of the song, "As I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he'd grown up just like me, my boy was just like me". After all, the father thought he was doing the right thing all along by earning a living. The father is proud.

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