Father and Son by Cat Stevens, the Universal Conflict of Generation Gap

Cat Stevens originally wrote "Father and Son" as part of a proposed musical project with actor Nigel Hawthorne called Revolussia, that was set during the Russian Revolution; the song was about a boy who wanted to join the revolution against the wishes of his father. However, in a broader context that reflected not just the societal conflict of Stevens' time, but also captured the impulses of older and younger generations in general which has a universal value.

The poem discloses almost one sided conversation from the perspective of a father and a son. It is not a complete conversation because both of them just impart their thoughts without listening nor understanding the other properly. The mind-set of two generations are not alike; both seem to have less idea about that. This inability of understanding is a common feature of the generation gap. This conflict has been universal and timeless because the experiences and level of maturity are different between older and younger generations.

Father represents the older generation who possess knowledge and experiences. He understands the level of maturity in younger generation. Young generation jumps into to decisions with their lesser knowledge and experiences. Father sees this as a fault of young in general:

You’re still young, that’s your fault,

There’s so much you have to know.

Father is understanding and is rational in his way of expression based on his life experience. He too had been a young boy; impulsive and impatient like his son when he finds a target to reach. It is universally acknowledged fact that the younger generation is quite revolutionary and easily gives in to recent trends.

I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy,

To be calm when you’ve found something going on

He requires his son to ponder over the decision he made because ‘dreams’ in life may change during his life time as life is a long journey. Father too might have had his own dreams which he had to left behind for a better reason. He insists his son not to take quick decisions based on impulses.

His resolution to the rush of his son is to be married and settle down. The life of a youth is like a free bird; settling down makes them bound with responsibilities. On the other hand, father tactfully tries to divert the mind of his young son:

find a girl, settle down,

if you want you can marry,

In a period of revolution in the country, the young might not care about marrying or settling down in one place mainly because it might hinder their freedom. The time difference and political background in the country might have deepened the conflict between father and son.

Son’s return response gives another reading about the way the youth think about older generation. Their need of recognition and the necessity of free expression revealed through that. The son seems to reject the way he is treated. He expresses his father is rather autocratic than democratic. He despises the way he has been given orders. The obvious truth is that the son does not like to lend his ears to father’s advice. He seems to find it annoying to listen the same thing every time:

It’s always been the same, same old story

From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen

The ‘same, same old story’ is an implication of the universality of the conflict between generation gap. With the course of time, when young generation gets older, they would give the same instructions to their young generations. It is like a cycle.

In a way, this is an eye opener to the elders to understand the feelings of the young generation. More the elders try to bind their wings in order to protect them, more they try to fly away from them. The son reveals his suffering due to less space of expression he was given as a child:

All the times that I’ve cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,

Now ther’s a way and I know that I have to go away.

The son going ‘away’ suggests that he is going to leave his home, to be independent. His action may be a reaction to the treatment he was given by his father. His idea of leaving might have been germinating in his mind till the right age comes. When he finds an opportunity, he seems to pounce on to that. His words ‘I have to go away’ might suggest his feeling of obligation to the purpose of his exile. Due to the requirements of the society the sons sometime have to behave in a stubborn way.  

The poem may be read by two generations in two different points of view. The older generation might find father is rational and the son is immature. The younger reader might draw parallels to his life and consider the elders should give freedom to young generation to take their own life decisions. The main reason behind the responses is the level of maturity one has. With the experience and time, the way of thinking changes: this is called the generation gap. In the poem the reader can experience another slice of same issue where the ideas of the elders and the young do not agree each other.

However, the poet has voiced both sides in an unbiased manner which leave some space for the reader to comment and speculate. It is written in lyrical form which can be sung. You can read the analysis of the poem and to watch the song here.

What is your idea about this universal issue? Don’t you think this is natural and will continue in the same way generation through generation? Leave your idea in the comment section. Share the post if you find it useful to to others. Subscribe to the newsletter to receive email notifications weekly into your mailbox.  



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