Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published August 14th 2019
Celebrating dads by singing
Being a father is something that I looked forward to immensely. The first day I held my son in my hands, and then, two years later, when I held my daughter, are amongst the best memories I have. But sometimes it seems as though fathers get short shrift in popular culture. I mean, you just have to look at Father's Day. In the USA it's in June, in many Catholic countries it's in March, in Australia, it's in September, and it hardly gets the same advertising and sales that Mother's Day does. But that doesn't matter: being a father is an incredible experience in and of itself.
So, with Father's Day approaching in Australia, I decided to go through my music collection and find some cool songs about dads or being a dad.
Wow. That was not easy. So many were twee and sappy, so many were very negative, and so many were just plain bad. It was tough to listen to them all. In the end, I had fifteen songs that I felt were any good, and I culled them down a decent ten.
Not all of them are happy go lucky "I love you, dad" songs, but these are all, in my opinion, good songs that examine at least one part of being a father. These are songs I like, by the way; your favourite might not be here simply because I didn't like it.
'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own' by U2 (2005)
Yes, this is a song written by Bono for his father when he was going through a bad time with the cancer that eventually killed him. It's simply saying that, no matter how old you get, sometimes a person actually needs their father to help them through it all, and sometimes a father needs the help of his children to get through some things. But there is no doubt it is about his father: "And it's you when I look in the mirror…" Good song.
'Kooks' by David Bowie (1971)
This is a weird song from the Hunky Dory album where Bowie sings to his newborn son (now the acclaimed director Duncan Jones) that his parents are both kooks and that: "…if you stay with us, you're going to be pretty kooky too…" He sings about buying things and being a dad, and it really is a wonderful celebration of what it's like to be a new dad with that first child and not knowing what the future will bring.
'Not All Heroes Wear Capes' by Owl City (2018)
A song that is, quite unashamedly, the singer hero-worshipping his father: "Some folks don't believe in heroes/'Cause they haven't met my dad…" This is a celebration of a father, one who might not be able to say, "I love you," but he shows his love for his family through the things he does. It is something many fathers can probably relate to… and many children as well, for that matter.
'Teach Your Children' by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1970)
A song that is directed at parents, and fathers in particular ("Their father's hell did slowly go by…"), telling them to give their children life lessons that are worthy, and to accept their children for who they end up being. Look, I know this could be classified as 'twee', but the harmonies of CSN&Y lift it to something amazing and spine-tingling. This is a beautiful song with a fantastic message and has rightfully become a classic.
'Song For Dad' by Keith Urban (2002)
This is a singer looking at his father and realising he has turned into him, and you know this from the opening lines: "Lately I've been noticing/I say the same things he used to say…" However, you also realise that this is not a bad thing: "…I'm proud today to say I'm his son…" This a celebration of the father-son relationship and it is joyful. There is love in this song, without it turning into schmaltz. (And, yes, it's a country song.)
'My Father's Eyes' by Eric Clapton (1998)
Oh, look, you knew an Eric Clapton song was bound to end up here somewhere. Now, when I ran this idea past a friend, she suggested 'Tears In Heaven' because it was written about a dead son, but that felt like it was more about death and that sort of thing than fatherhood. When I explained that to her and she listened to this song, she told me this was still sad, but, yes, it was definitely about a father. In Clapton's autobiography he said he never met his father and this song was written in response to learning about his death, so soon after the death of his son. It is very depressing, yes, but it is still a fantastic song.
'The Living Years' by Mike The Mechanics (1988)
As I have mentioned before,, this song has some personal meaning to me. It's about a man saying goodbye to a father who has died, and when it was released, it struck me on a very personal level. It is charged with emotion. A line like " I wasn't there that morning/When my Father passed away…" spoke to me; my father died on the morning I was supposed to go and visit him. The song stirs up emotions in me still; I have come to terms with his death, but it took me a very long time (and the help of a friend, Mel) for me to reach that state.
'Cat's In The Cradle' by Harry Chapin (1974)
This is actually an incredibly depressing song, about a man who puts his work and life ahead of his children, and in the end he comes to the horrible realisation that: "He'd grown up just like me/My boy was just like me…" It serves almost as a morality tale for the listener, warning especially fathers to give time to their children while they have the chance, for time is something we never get back. Too many men I've seen need to be reminded of this. Unfortunately.
'Father And Son' by Cat Stevens (1970)'
Another song that is quite depressing to listen to and take in. In this one, a father and a son are having a discussion about what the son wants to do with his life, but neither are really hearing the other. The generation gap in song. The delivery is awesome, something too many covers don't get – Stevens sings the lines of the father in a deeper tone, really differentiating the two characters without being overbearing about it. Again, this is a song I can relate to; even though I was 10 when my father died, we had already started to have discussions like this: "From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen…" I'm not sure what he would have made of what I became…
'Father's Day' by Weddings Parties Anything (1992)
A sad song, really. It's about a guy who only sees his child on Saturdays, the rest of the week living the life of a lonely single man. But it's sung with such hope and joy that you know he loves his child and this is the one day of the week he looks forward to the most: "You might call it sad/You might call me mad/But I've got one who calls me Dad…" I guess this has become poignant to me because I find myself in a similar situation. But it is a celebration of fathers and the fact that, for some dads, just having their kids around when they can makes that day Father's Day. I think this song best encapsulates what it means to be a father in today's world.
And there you have it. 10 songs that celebrate fathers, fatherhood and what it means to be a father. Some are sad, some are downright depressing, some are filled with hope, some are cheerful celebrations, but all look at some aspect of being a dad. And all are very good songs.
Is this a playlist for Father's Day itself? Possibly not. But maybe it's a playlist all fathers should listen to and take note of. We can learn from these songs and their writers and singers. At least, I hope I can…