Harry Chapin’s 1974 classic “Cats in the Cradle” is a timeless meditation on the tragedy of growing older and growing apart. But you can’t just repeat the lyrics from the classic song to your parents to explain why you’re choosing not to travel home for the holidays this year — even though it perfectly encapsulates the modern condition and capitalist run-around of the American Dream that ultimately alienates us from our loved ones.

1. Stick to the facts.
If you live in an area where cases are surging, if you have family members with underlying conditions, or if you just can’t afford that ticket — let everyone know from the get-go. No need to sugarcoat it. If you want to leave everyone hopeful, you can commit to traveling after a vaccine comes out, and then you’ll have a good time then. Oh, damn, caught myself slipping. It just flows so naturally.

2. Make a Zoom plan.
Or Facetime, Skype, whichever your preferred video chat is. That way there’s no missed calls or phone tag. You won’t have to worry about finding the time, and it’ll be sure nice talking to everyone. I mean, but it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad. It’s sure been nice talking to you. Damnit! OK, it’s just… like… well… ugh. Moving on!

3. Let them know this isn’t a big deal.
Doing our part to protect our communities and avoid further spreading COVID is a small thing we can all do. We won’t miss the holidays every year! And besides, we all have to make sacrifices sometimes. We miss a holiday now and then, we reschedule events, he learned to walk while I was away — shit! No! That’s… ha! That’s the song. Nope. Oof.

4. Figure out something special to do that isn’t just travel.
Part of spending time at the holidays isn’t simply being together, but delighting in each other’s individuality and your special relationships. Think about things you can say or send to your family that are unique and reflect how you love them. Perhaps you can watch your favorite movie together, or there’s a recipe you can share, or thanks for the ball, Dad, come on, let’s play. Can you teach me to throw?

5. I said not today.

6. Fuck.

7. Let them know there are planes to catch and bills to pay…
This is why you can’t afford to travel…

8. And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man on the moon…

9. Be brutally honest.
You’re not sure when you’re coming home next since we don’t know when we’ll have a vaccine. Happy? When you comin’ home, Dad? I don’t know when!

OK, yes, it’s pretty tough to tell your family you’re not going to see them for the holidays (even with common sense and science on your side). So, sure, I guess sharing the Spotify link to “Cat’s in the Cradle” in your family group chat is really the only option to properly convey your devastation and mourning for how time is slipping away.

Happy Holidays.