If Not Now, When?

Category: Weekly Columns

Rabbi Hillel had a famous quote from about 2,000 years ago: “If Not Now, When?”  If ever there was a timeless question this is it, especially as we enter the holiday season.  It really applies to just about everything in our lives, but for the sake of staying “on point,” I am applying it to parenting.

Everyone remembers the classic Harry Chapin song, “The Cat’s in the Cradle,” which is about a dad who taught his son to be like himself–a too busy dad to make time for his son–only to learn that lesson himself, when he was on the receiving end of his son’s unavailability.  Can you listen to that song without tearing up?  I can’t.

There are so many touching lyrics in his song but the following always gets me the most, “Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while? He shook his head and said with a smile, what I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys. See you later, can I have them please?”

By then, in the story of Chapin’s song, the game was lost and the dad’s son had become just like his dad: a-too-busy-for-his-kid-parent.  So, I ask you, “If not now, when?” are you going to make the time you keep promising to spend with your kids, your spouse, your aging parents?  Today might be a good time to start.

The cliché that time passes so fast the moment you have kids is one that every parent knows to be true.  Another song that comes to mind, in this same vein, that also brings tears to my eyes, from “Fiddler on the Roof” is, “Sunrise, Sunset.” Here are some lyrics from that classic song:

Is this the little girl I carried?

Is this the little boy at play?

I don’t remember growing older

When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty?

When did he grow to be so tall?

Wasn’t it yesterday

When they were small?

I see this myself since my older son now towers over me and I joke about how I look upwards and point my finger at him and say, “You’re grounded!”  My younger teenager and I recently spent a rare day together and, like “Sunrise, Sunset,” I realized our conversation was now almost completely adult because with the passage of time his vocabulary was almost matching mine when “just yesterday” he was asking me the definitions of so many words.

Continuing with the clichés as I often do, because like generalities, clichés come from truth though there are exceptions to every cliché just as there are exceptions to every generality.  On your deathbed, most people will not be declaring that they wish they had spent more time working.  They often declare the opposite–that they regret not spending more time with their loved ones.

I am very fortunate to have learned that lesson early in my life, and I don’t have those regrets.  Having become a parent four days after turning forty, I had plenty of time for self-indulgence and fun in my single and pre-parent days.  When my boys arrived, I was eager and ready.

The same applied to the time I spent with my aging parents.  We were fortunate to live in the same city all our lives so we had at least one dinner a week together.  I arranged parties for all their significant birthdays and anniversaries, and capped it all with a very special surprise 50th anniversary party that was truly a highlight of their lives and mine.

That event was the “talking point” of their circle of friends for literally months, before and after. The time put into it and the money spent is long forgotten, but the memories, the photo album, and the video were theirs and mine to enjoy the rest of their lives.

Those things are irreplaceable and completely fit into the “If not now, when?” theme that I’m espousing.  Please, don’t carry regrets when loved ones pass on.  Do it now.  Celebrate milestones when your parents are well.  Enjoy your children when they still want to be with you, before the aliens take over sometime during their teens–and, trust me, they will.  For that matter, enjoy your spouse and don’t take him or her for granted either.

I think we all have a story about someone we know or know about who suddenly dropped dead, young or old.  If that “someone” were your loved one, would you carry with you an “I wish I had done this or that?”  That is the ultimate point that I’m trying to impress upon you, my readers.  Please take it to heart and I hope you’ll share with me that special event that you put together for your family member that I may share with all my readers in a future column.

“If not now, when?”  “If not now, when?”  These are wise words, indeed!