Cat's In The Cradle by Harry Chapin - Songfacts (2022)

  • This heartbreaking song tells of a father and son who can't schedule time to be with each other, and it serves as a warning against putting one's career before family. The verses start out with a natural harmony and depict the tale of a father with his newborn son. Although dad gets the necessities of child rearing accomplished, he doesn't allow himself to put in quality time with his son because of his career. Initially, this seems like no big deal because of his hectic and oblivious life working and paying bills.

    The recurring verse has the son saying, "I'm gonna be like you Dad, you know I'm gonna be like you..."

    Over time, both father and son grow into a switching of life roles. The father realizes his son's ambitions of college, grades, and driving, and wants to spend more time with him, yet slowly grasps the reality that now his son has no time for such things. In the last verse, Chapin illustrates that the son is all grown up with a fast-paced job and kids of his own. In a glaring twist of roles, we see that the son now has no time to spend with his father. With a heavy heart, dad realizes that his boy has become just like him.

  • This song is based on a poem that Harry's wife Sandy wrote. She told us: "'Cat's In The Cradle' was a combination of a couple of things. Whenever I was on a long drive I would listen to country music, because words would keep me awake more than just music. And I heard a song… I can remember the story, but I don't remember who sang it or what the title was, but an old couple were sitting at their breakfast table and looking out the window, and they saw the rusted swing and the sandbox, and they were reminiscing about the good old days when all the children were around and then the grandchildren, and how it passed, and now it's all gone.

    The other part of the idea – this is always a problem, because Harry introduced the song at all his concerts and said, 'This is a song my wife wrote to zap me because I wasn't home when our son Josh was born.' I was always kind of amused by that because of the fact that we learn life's lessons too late. We don't learn lessons before the fact. We don't have a child born and then have all this wisdom. So I always thought it was interesting the way he told the story.

    But I learned the story because my [first] husband was going to New York to be a lawyer, and I had a teaching job in New York. While we were apartment hunting, we were living with his parents in Brooklyn. His father was the borough president of Brooklyn at the time, which I think was a much more important job than it is today. But every day when he got home from work, he would start talking to his son about, 'It'd be great if you'd go down to the club on Tuesday night, I'd like to introduce you to some of the people I know,' and so forth. And he started trying to engineer a career for him which leads to politics. They did not have any relationship or communication because they had been so busy until his son went off to college and was gone. I don't remember exactly how, but he started talking to me. My father-in-law would say me, even though we were all in the same room, 'Tell Jimmy I would like to see him down at the clubhouse on Tuesday.' It was really very strange.

    (Video) Rockin "Reaction" Rollers - CATS IN THE CRADLE - (Harry Chapin)

    So this is the way the evenings went. The conversation was going through me. So I realized what had happened. You know, relationships and characters and personalities and all those things are formed by two, so I realized that that hadn't happened. And it was very jerky at that stage. So I observed something that gave me the idea for the song."

  • It took the birth of his son for Harry Chapin to decide to turn the poem his wife wrote into a song. Sandy Chapin explained in her Songfacts interview: "Harry and I would exchange writing of all kinds. We were always working on each other's writing. Some of my writing at a certain period were 20-page papers for a doctoral program at Columbia. So it wasn't always that poetic. But we both looked at each other's stuff. And then one time he came home and he said, 'What have you been doing?' I showed him 'Cat's In The Cradle,' and he said, 'Well, that's interesting.'

    You know, sometimes he'd pick up something and put music to it. And that didn't really grab him at all. And then after Josh was born, it did. He picked it up and he wrote music to it."

  • Sandy Chapin runs the Harry Chapin Foundation, which does what it can to continue supporting the causes Harry championed when he was alive. While Sandy does a lot of work for the foundation, her focus is her family and her role as an on-call grandmother for six grandchildren. As can be expected of the woman who wrote "Cat's In The Cradle," she values the time she can spend with them while they are still young.

    In our 2009 interview, she said: "The eldest of the six has just gone into 6th grade, which means not only does she live in a community where the kids grow up fast, but now she's in a middle school where everybody thinks they're teenagers and ought to be in high school. So you know, you have to grab those years. It used to be when I would drive up to the house, she would jump out and run and greet me, and say, 'Grandma, what's the project for today?' Because I would always bring some arts and crafts. We'd make Thanksgiving place cards, or Christmas tree ornaments. But all through the year I was always doing projects with them. So now she's answering her e-mail, she's on her cell phone and doing dates, walking around town with her friends, being a grownup, and doing all the after school activities. You have to grab that chance when you have it." (Read more in our interview with Sandy Chapin.)

  • The message about procrastination and missed opportunities makes this song an excellent parable for use in church sermons, where it remains very popular.

    (Video) Cats in the Cradle

  • Harry Chapin included various symbols of childhood in the lyrics as reminders of how quickly it ends. "Cat's Cradle" is a game played with string, "Silver Spoons" are ornamental spoons for babies, and "Little Boy Blue" is a nursery rhyme. "Man In The Moon" could be about the human features children see when they look at the moon.

  • This song was used for a commercial in Northern Ireland about the troubles at the time. In the spot, a father is involved in one of the political groups and he isn't much of an example for his son (flash back father with gun running into house terrorizing family of opposite religion, etc.). Because of this the kid ends of following in his foot steps. It tried to send the message that following a bad example can become a vicious circle and unless we change, the troubles will never go away and our children will suffer. >>

    Suggestion credit:
    Tess - L'Derry, Ireland

  • There have been many cover versions of this song, but the only one to chart is by Ugly Kid Joe, a puckish rock band known for their novelty hit "Everything About You." Released as a single from their 1992 album America's Least Wanted, their rendition went to #6 US and #7 UK (the only UK chart entry for the song, since Chapin's original didn't make the tally).

    In their remake, Ugly Kid Joe changed the lyric "Man in the moon" to "Man ON the moon," apparently thinking the song was referring to Neil Armstrong's 1969 lunar landing. Another tweak: their version is titled "Cats in the Cradle," without the apostrophe. This indicates that there is more than one cat in the cradle, but it's unlikely the band was concerned with the vagaries of grammar.

    Ugly Kid Joe's version is earnest, however. When we spoke with their lead singer Whitfield Crane, he said, "That song means a lot to me just because of my childhood."

    (Video) Cat's In The Cradle (2)

  • The video for the Ugly Kid Joe version was directed by Matt Mahurin, an illustrator whose work has appeared in many high-profile magazines. Mahurin was shooting a lot of music videos around this time, including clips for Alice in Chains ("No Excuses") and Soundgarden ("Outshined").

    For the "Cats in the Cradle" video, Mahurin shows the boy growing into a man, ending with a shot of the father old and lonely. It's an elegant and touching portrayal of the song, with lots of cinematic slow-motion footage.

    The scenes where Whitfield Crane is singing were shot in Mahurin's game room - he had Crane sit on the pool table and sing. They had what they needed after one take.

  • This song plays throughout a Nissan commercial that debuted during the 2015 Super Bowl (between the Patriots and Seahawks). In the spot, a champion race car driver spends most of his time away from home and rarely sees his son. At the end of the commercial, he shows up in a Nissan to surprise his now-teenaged son.

    We found the ad troubling for two reasons:

    1) The idea that an absentee father can show up late in his child's life and all will be forgiven.
    2) At one point in the commercial, the driver survives a crash. Chapin was killed in a car accident.

    (Video) Cat's on the Table (Big D Parody)

    Still, any time the song is used in a commercial, Chapin's estate gets paid, which ultimately benefits his foundation.

  • This was used in The Office episode "St. Patrick's Day" from season 6. Dwight sings along with it to taunt Jim, who has just returned to work from paternity leave.

    It was also used in these TV shows:

    It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia ("PTSDee" - 2017)
    Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life ("Winter" - 2016)
    The Goldbergs ("In Conclusion, Thanksgiving" - 2015)
    Modern Family ("A Slight At The Opera" - 2013)
    Cougar Town ("Wake Up Time" - 2010)
    How I Met Your Mother ("Not A Father's Day" - 2008)
    Scrubs ("My Unicorn" - 2004)
    That '70s Show ("The Career Day" - 1999)

    And in these movies:

    Last Vegas (2013)
    Shrek The Third (2007)
    Mr. Jealousy (1997)

  • This was also used in three episodes of The Simpsons: "Saturdays Of Thunder" (1991), "Bart's Girlfriend" (1994), and "Labor Pains" (2013). In "Saturdays of Thunder," Homer (who realizes he had been a lax father to Bart) breaks down in tears when it's used as holding music on the "Neglectful Father Helpline."

    (Video) Song-a-Day #15 - Cat's in the Cradle

  • FAQs

    What is the story behind cats in the cradle? ›

    Right from the opening lines, Chapin is telling the story of a son's birth and the father that's too busy with his career to spend quality time with his baby boy. All of life's responsibilities—working, paying bills—get in the way of quality time with his son.

    What does cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon mean? ›

    Harry Chapin included various symbols of childhood in the lyrics as reminders of how quickly it ends. "Cat's Cradle" is a game played with string, "Silver Spoons" are ornamental spoons for babies, and "Little Boy Blue" is a nursery rhyme.

    Why is Cats in the Cradle so sad? ›

    Lots of people interpret the song in that he is lamenting his failures as a father, but I don't think he's a bad dad. He was there when his son was born, but he couldn't take family leave and had to get back to work, and missed a lot of milestones in the child's life.

    Is Cats in the Cradle a nursery rhyme? ›

    I have never heard of a nursery rhyme for the cat's cradle. It's a string game that kids love to learn and play.
    ...
    English translation: the cat's cradle (string game)
    English term or phrase:the cat's in the cradle
    Selected answer:the cat's cradle (string game)
    1 more row
    5 Apr 2004

    What is the climax of cat's cradle? ›

    The climax, or turning point, is when the ice-nine hits the fan. Only, in this case, instead of a fan it's the entire ocean. The climax takes place in chapter 116. Yep, it only takes up 1/127th of the novel's reading time.

    What does the ending of cat's cradle mean? ›

    Newt reiterates the idea of the cat's cradle, implying that the game, with its invisible cat, is an appropriate symbol for nonsense and the meaninglessness of life. Soon after, the bedridden "Papa" Monzano commits suicide by swallowing ice-nine, whereupon his corpse instantly turns into solid ice-nine.

    What are the main themes in cat's Cradle? ›

    Cat's Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)
    • Science. The major theme of this novel is man's inability to understand the power of science fully, despite craving this power. ...
    • Free Will. ...
    • Truth. ...
    • Good vs. ...
    • Salvation in Lies. ...
    • Religion. ...
    • Interpersonal Relationships. ...
    • Destiny.

    What does Ice Nine symbolize in cat's Cradle? ›

    In a way, ice-nine represents more than the atomic bomb. It represents an unchecked use of technology where humanity is harmed rather than helped. When Vonnegut was growing up, technology for him represented ways to help humanity.

    What does the saying she is the cat's mother mean? ›

    Who's 'she', the cat's mother? (idiomatic, somewhat dated, Britain, Ireland, New England) A rebuke especially directed towards children for having referred to a woman as "she", instead of using her name or an appropriately respectful title. "She's coming on the trip with us too!"

    What figurative language is used in cats in the cradle? ›

    Similes and Symbolisim

    The speaker of the poem uses references to children's games (Cats in the Cradle, Man on the Moon) and bedtime stories (Little boy blue) to symbolise the amount of his kids childhood he is missing out on. During this song, some similes are used to enphisze the point trying to be made.

    What does it mean when a cat cry like a baby? ›

    If your cat doesn't like its carrier, then you may be familiar with wailing as a form of protest. Bored cats can be vocal cats, too. You might notice this more in outdoor cats who are temporarily being kept inside following a house move or when they're recuperating from an injury.

    What does cat's Cradle say about religion? ›

    Kurt Vonnegut tells the novel implores the reader to look at other religious beliefs as foolish, as well as other people can believe that bokononism is a lie. This is not to estimate an atheist belief, but Vonnegut is speaking of the absurdity of religious beliefs even if people claim their beliefs.

    What is the rhyme scheme of the poem cradle song? ›

    Structure. The 32-line poem is divided into 8 stanzas of 4 lines each. Each stanza follows an "AABB" rhyme scheme. “A Cradle Song” follows a couplet structure where each pair of lines rhyme.

    Who is the antagonist in cat's Cradle? ›

    What makes Dr. Hoenikker the antagonist of the story is his outlook on life. His search for truth is selfish, undeterred by what might happen should he discover something horrific like—oh, we don't know—the atomic bomb. And this inability to understand how he harms those around him makes him our antagonist.

    Who survives in cat's Cradle? ›

    John, Frank, Newt, and the Crosbys survived for six months.

    What does Bokononism symbolize? ›

    Bokononism acknowledges that human existence has no inherent meaning or purpose, but it recognizes that people demand meaning and purpose for their lives.

    Why did Felix create ice-nine? ›

    Ice-nine is Dr. Felix Hoenikker's invention, conceived at the request of the U.S. marines in order to solve the “problem” of mud. It is a molecular material that teaches water to change its chemical structure and freeze into solid form, without any need for a reduction in temperature.

    Why did the Hoennikers each take the ice 9? ›

    None of the three children could explain why they each took a piece of the ice-nine before cleaning their father's kitchen. Exhausted from the emotional toll of the crisis, John and the Hoenikkers decided to take a break to attend the ceremony in honor of the Hundred Martyrs.

    Why is the woman screaming at the cat? ›

    The woman in the meme is Taylor Armstrong from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The angry yelling woman picture comes from season two of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, when Taylor Armstrong had a very heated row with fellow cast member, Camille Grammer.

    Why is a mother cat called a queen? ›

    Although you may believe that the term “queen” comes from the elegance that many cats may give off, that's actually not the case. The name “queen” comes from the term “queening” which is the term used to define the time when a female cat is giving birth.

    Can the mother cat be pregnant on her son? ›

    Mother cats can get pregnant by their sons as long as the son is sexually mature. Because of the genetic closeness of the two relatives, there's a higher risk of genetic mutations in their offspring.

    Why does the poet use the metaphor of a cat? ›

    However, he has used cat as a metaphor for describing the fog. He says that the fog comes on its little cat feet, which implies that the fog is like a cat as it comes slowly.

    Is Cats the musical a metaphor? ›

    Cats Movie Story

    The Heavyside Layer is a big metaphor for heaven and the basic plot of the story revolves around the Jellicle cats making their case to be the one who gets the big prize. Yes, this is a show about a bunch of cats who are way too excited about the prospect of dying.

    What poetic devices are used in the poem a cradle song? ›

    Explanation: Imagery has been used in the poem as the poet gives a visual description of the various locations using beautiful words. Since it is being sung to a child, she uses fantasy and a very pleasant and soothing tone.

    Do cats like when you talk to them in a baby voice? ›

    In fact, cats seem to prefer high-pitched tones as their ears of a hunter have evolved to pick up those types of sounds better, as they are characteristic for birds and mice- their natural prey. So, kitties like baby talk because you sound like their dinner.

    Why do cats hate water? ›

    Cats are fastidious animals that spend a great deal of their day grooming themselves. Wet fur is extremely uncomfortable for a cat and often takes a long time to dry. Wet fur is also heavier than dry and thus makes a cat less nimble and easier for predators to catch.

    Why do cats talk like humans? ›

    Susanne Schötz, a linguistics researcher from Lund University in Sweden, claims that while cats can imitate human voices, it's more about the sound than it is diction. “Cats can imitate nuances in their owners' voices, such as melody patterns, in order to be able to communicate better,” Schötz explained.

    Do cats believe in God? ›

    There is no evidence that any non-human animals believe in gods, pray, worship, have any notion of metaphysics, create artifacts with ritual significance, or many other behaviours typical of human religion.

    What does the character Bokonon show about the topic of religion and morality? ›

    Using the fictional religious tradition of Bokononism allows Vonnegut to reveal that religion, more broadly, is fictional—through Bokononism, Vonnegut highlights that religion is human-constructed and is a temporary, illusory balm for the pain of living.

    What do cats mean in religion? ›

    The Overall Biblical Meaning of Cats

    Cats are, simply put, an enigma in the animal kingdom! In the Bible, felines are symbolic of the best and worst traits of humankind.

    Which line in the poem is repeated and why? ›

    Solution. The line, “We are proud and feel so tall” is repeated often in the poem. This establishes beyond a doubt the poet's pride in the dignity of labor and pride of hard work experienced by ordinary folks in life.

    Why is neem referred to as fairy neem? ›

    Neem tree is symbolised as fairy either because it is considered holy and sacred in Hinduism or because it looks like a fairy in the night.

    What is the setting of the poem cradle song? ›

    From the poem we can infer that it is based in an Indian village as she describes the spice groves, rice fields and a stream. Structure: The poem consists of three stanzas with the same number of lines in each stanza. Each stanza ends with the line "A little lovely dream".

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    What are the main themes in cat's Cradle? ›

    Cat's Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)
    • Science. The major theme of this novel is man's inability to understand the power of science fully, despite craving this power. ...
    • Free Will. ...
    • Truth. ...
    • Good vs. ...
    • Salvation in Lies. ...
    • Religion. ...
    • Interpersonal Relationships. ...
    • Destiny.

    What does Ice Nine symbolize in cat's Cradle? ›

    In a way, ice-nine represents more than the atomic bomb. It represents an unchecked use of technology where humanity is harmed rather than helped. When Vonnegut was growing up, technology for him represented ways to help humanity.

    What is the summary of Cradle song? ›

    The poem A Cradle Song by William Blake is about a mother's unconditional love as well as fear for her baby child. The poem is a kind of lullaby which is sung by parents for lulling a baby to sleep. It shows mother's concern over child's journey from innocence to experience.

    How is religion portrayed in cat's Cradle? ›

    Within the text an entire religious sect, called Bokononism is born; a religion built on lies, absurdity, and irony. The narrator of Cat's Cradle is Jonah, a freelance writer who characterizes Bokononism as being, "free form as an amoeba" (Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle, 3).

    Who is the antagonist in cat's Cradle? ›

    What makes Dr. Hoenikker the antagonist of the story is his outlook on life. His search for truth is selfish, undeterred by what might happen should he discover something horrific like—oh, we don't know—the atomic bomb. And this inability to understand how he harms those around him makes him our antagonist.

    What figurative language is used in cats in the cradle? ›

    Similes and Symbolisim

    The speaker of the poem uses references to children's games (Cats in the Cradle, Man on the Moon) and bedtime stories (Little boy blue) to symbolise the amount of his kids childhood he is missing out on. During this song, some similes are used to enphisze the point trying to be made.

    What does Bokononism symbolize? ›

    Bokononism acknowledges that human existence has no inherent meaning or purpose, but it recognizes that people demand meaning and purpose for their lives.

    Why did Felix create ice-nine? ›

    Ice-nine is Dr. Felix Hoenikker's invention, conceived at the request of the U.S. marines in order to solve the “problem” of mud. It is a molecular material that teaches water to change its chemical structure and freeze into solid form, without any need for a reduction in temperature.

    What does John discover about Hoenikker grave and marker? ›

    After his ill-fated interview with Asa, John visited the local cemetery to take a photograph of Felix's grave. He found that Emily Hoenikker's tombstone was a 20-foot high monument while Felix's tombstone was a small, modest square marker.

    Which line in the poem is repeated and why? ›

    Solution. The line, “We are proud and feel so tall” is repeated often in the poem. This establishes beyond a doubt the poet's pride in the dignity of labor and pride of hard work experienced by ordinary folks in life.

    What is the setting of the poem cradle song? ›

    From the poem we can infer that it is based in an Indian village as she describes the spice groves, rice fields and a stream. Structure: The poem consists of three stanzas with the same number of lines in each stanza. Each stanza ends with the line "A little lovely dream".

    What does the title of poem The Cradle Song suggest? ›

    Explanation: The poem Cradle Song Written by Sarojini Naidu is a lullaby i.e. a quiet and gentle song which is sung to send a child to sleep. In the poem, the poet who is a mother is trying to lull her child to sleep. She uses ample beautiful images to help the child visualise them and ultimately close his eyes.

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