Some years ago we bought Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman CD, mainly for the very brief title track, which was featured at the end of each episode of Extras and which we all (all four of us, that is) really liked. Another track on the album, which of course I already knew well, was ‘Father and Son’.
The CD has been playing in the car quite a lot recently, and I have been paying more attention than of old to the words in ‘Father and Son’, which alternate between the father’s and son’s points of view.
The father is counselling calmness and conservatism (‘It’s not time to make a change’). The son is complaining about deficiencies in his upbringing. Among the son’s lines are:
How can I try to explain?
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
All the times that I’ve cried
Keeping all the things I knew inside …
Sean’s upbringing was the antithesis of this. From the moment he could talk he was encouraged to talk, and he got all the love, attention and respect he needed. He never had to keep things inside. I never turned away (nor did his mum, of course, but I am concerned here with the father–son relationship).
The father in the song comes across as a smug, platitudinous old git who really ought to be ashamed of himself. The advice he offers is mere statements of the obvious.
My father was a decent man and was very good to me, but I never had a relationship with him that compared with the relationship that Sean had with me.
I had a son – a wonderful son. I have him no longer, in the sense that he is not physically here with me. I will never have a son in that way again, and life will never be as full as it was.
But I had a son, and my son had a good father. We clasped hands joyfully and often. We looked into each other’s eyes and saw love, pride and connection. He had every chance to develop and flower; he had freedom and he had guidance.
In a sad world, these are bright and happy facts.