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Kindred: A father’s footsteps — be there and do your best

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Wendell Kindred pulling wagon.jpg

Wendell Kindred pulls his granddaughter, Kayla Kindred, in a wagon on Easter 1987 at Atlanta, Illinois.

There are a lot of sad songs out there, tales of troubled childhoods, lost love or too many empty bottles. They are filled with regret and often climb high on the charts.

Why?

We all have regrets that are difficult to express. Easier to hear a stranger put them to music.

Driving down Veterans Parkway this week, a familiar tune began to play on the radio. Perhaps you have a “saddest song” among all the sad songs. This was mine.

Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” tells the story of a father who, consumed by work and chasing money, fails to spend quality time with his son. And, years later, the son fails to make time for the father.

Chapin’s words near the end are haunting: “And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”

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It tugs at the heart if you’re a father or son, especially so close to Father’s Day. Hearing it for the first time or the thousandth, it is a reminder that fatherhood, like most things, is a learned behavior.

The message in Chapin’s 1974 hit? Being a distracted or absentee father can be passed through generations, creating a cycle of regret.

The song almost dares you to reexamine your own father-son relationship. Was it like this? Was it this sad refrain of lost opportunity? Or was it a wonderful connection that made you feel unique, special?

As Father's Day nears, the main thing that dads need to know is that they will make mistakes. The key is to accept each day as a new opportunity and "pour life into your children," said Andrew Held, a Bloomington-Normal youth advocate who along with his wife, Katharina, have adopted two boys.

Mine was the latter. My father had time for me, my brother, my sister. His priorities were family and farm, not the other way around.

You think about that when a melody makes you melancholy. You wonder if yours is a more uplifting tale, and feel incredibly lucky to say, “Yes.”

Fatherhood came a bit late to Wendell Kindred. He was 37 when his first child was born, 44 when his youngest arrived. Perhaps maturity was his ally, or maybe he just had a knack for it.

Wendell and Norma Kindred.jpg

Wendell Kindred (left) and his wife, Norma, were married for 56 years before Wendell's death in 2005. 

Regardless, he exuded what it meant to be a father. He didn’t sit us down and lay it out for us. There was no list of dos and don’ts, just doing.

That is, he was there. He was busy, but never too busy. He had distractions — particularly when rain stayed away or came in buckets — but never was distracted. He knew when to pat the back, push you in the backside and offer advice.

He didn’t always find the right words. Who does? Yet, they were his words into your ears, which meant he was taking the time, doing his best.

It meant everything.

“Cat’s in the Cradle” begins this way: “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.”

In sports, we admire athletes with “a quick first step.” No Kindred ever had a quick first step, but we’ve taken first steps. My dad was around for ours, and every other first that marks time in life.

His example made it clear that being a father is largely about being there. So when you have children — in my case two daughters — you’re not concerned with being perfect or a super dad. You just seek to be there.

Wendell Kindred with Randy, Barb.jpg

Wendell Kindred (center) celebrates his 91st birthday at his home in Atlanta, Illinois, with his son, Randy (left), and daughter Barb in July 2005. Wendell Kindred died later that year on Halloween.

As best you can, you build your schedule around them and their activities. If it means a split shift, so be it.

When you’re a sportswriter, you are gone from home a lot of nights, leaving it to your spouse to read them bedtime stories, tuck them in, kiss them goodnight, or later make sure their homework is done, etc.

There is regret in that.

You find comfort in knowing you could have done worse. “Cat’s in the Cradle” reminds you of that. If you’re lucky, you remember your dad and realize you could have done better.

COLUMN MUG Randy Kindred

You are left clinging to this on Father’s Day and every day: You did the best you could.

Like he did.


Randy Kindred is a columnist and retired sports editor at The Pantagraph. Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: pg_kindred

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