Our Best Songs For and About Dads

If there’s one medium that encapsulates the ups, downs and merry-go-rounds of fatherhood, it’s song. While most musical genres have tackled fatherhood, there’s a central theme going on: unyielding love and regret (or both). Which, of course, fits the brief to a tee. There’s been some outstanding — and emotive — tunes for and about dads over the years, and The Dad Website‘s Daniel Lewis has teamed up with Raph Tripp and Jeremy Raine to round up 10 of the best.  

1 One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) Wilco
(The Whole Love, 2011)

Clocking in at 12 minutes but never outstaying its welcome, this delicate, folky number documents the lifetime of a fraught father-son relationship, proving there is beauty in repetition. – DL

“Ring ’em cold for my father / Frozen underground / Jesus I wouldn’t bother / He belongs to me now…”

2 Father and Son Cat Stevens
(Tea for the Tillerman, 1970)

Timeless words of fatherly advice to his son, and the son’s response that he should always listen, but his own words are ignored. The singer’s frustration comes through as much as his love for his father. Beautiful song! – RT

“Take your time, think a lot / Why, think of everything you’ve got / For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not…”

3 Daughter Peter Blegvad / Loudon Wainwright III
(Just Woke Up, 1996 / Strange Weirdos, 2007)

A simple, yet powerful little number pitched squarely at the heartstrings of dads with daughters. – DL

And that’s my daughter in the water / I lost every time I fought her / Yeah, I lost every time…”

4 Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) John Lennon
(Double Fantasy, 1980)

Paul McCartney’s favourite Lennon tune, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” is a tender Heart Talk addressed to baby son Sean. There’s tragedy here, too, when you consider the line ‘I can hardly wait / To see you come of age’ and the fact he was assassinated just after Sean’s fifth birthday. – DL

Close your eyes / Have no fear / The monster’s gone / He’s on the run and your daddy’s here / Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy…”

5 Independence Day Bruce Springsteen
(The River, 1980)

When The Boss was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, he paid tribute to his dad, Douglas, who’d passed away early that year. “I’ve got to thank him,” he began. “What would I conceivably have written about without him? Imagine that if everything had gone great between us… I would have written just happy songs . . . He never said much about my music, except that his favourite songs were the ones about him. And that was enough.” Those lines alone say so much about the complexities of so many father-son relationships, and this point is hammered home in “Independence Day”. – DL

The most heartfelt song ever — from a son to the father he never got along with, Bruce tells the heartbreaking tale of the night he leaves home forever. – RT

“So say goodbye, it’s Independence Day / Papa now I know the things you wanted that you could not say…”

6 Cat’s in the Cradle Harry Chapin
(Verities & Balderdash, 1974)

On the surface the song seems a bit hokey, but if you really listen to the lyrics you find a rare gem: a man’s journey through life from the son, to the father, seeing the world from both sides. Haunting. – RT

While it’s melodically pleasing, the real power is in the lyrics. This is a classic ballad. I don’t think anyone could ever more simply and eloquently express that fleeting sense of missed opportunity and regret that most dads feel as their kids grow – how many times have we all said, ‘They grow up so fast’? It also speaks to the gnawing anxiety we feel that the sons will inherit the sins of the fathers – the old ‘apple and tree’ analogy. – JR

“And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me / He’d grown up just like me / My boy was just like me…”

7 Only Son of the Ladiesman Father John Misty
(Fear Fun, 2012)

Josh Tillman holds nothing back in this lovely acoustic lament presented as something of an epitath from a son to his womanising father who has passed away, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts. If the middle ground between Fleet Foxes and Sun Kil Moon sounds desirable, this is your sort of music. – DL

“I swear that man was womankind’s first husband / They all died in a line to save him…”

8 The Living Years Mike & the Mechanics
(Living Years, 1988)

A classic song with a timeless message reminiscent of “Cat’s in the Cradle”, but told from the son’s perspective rather than the father’s. This one always makes my cry a bit as there’s so much I know I can never say to my dad – but I know I’ll wish I had, when he’s gone. – JR

“I think I caught his spirit / Later that same year / I’m sure I heard his echo in my baby’s new born tears / I just wish I could have told him in the living years…”

9 Tears in Heaven Eric Clapton
(Rush (soundtrack), 1991 and Unplugged, 1992)

This is as harrowing as it gets. A memorial to his late son Conor, who at the age of four, fell 50 stories to his death from a New York City apartment building, how Clapton performed this without choking up each and every time is beyond me. One YouTuber sums it up best: ‘This song is so good you could play it at a Slayer concert and everyone would show respect.’ – DL

“I must be strong and carry on / ‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven…”

10 Wake Me Up When September Ends Green Day
(American Idiot, 2004)

A lot of people don’t know this is actually about Billie-Joe’s father’s death, as the music video is misleading. Apparently the refrain – which is also the title of the track – comes from a real life incident: He was locked in his room crying and his friends were trying to get him out and all he would yell at them was “Go away, wake me up when September ends”. – JR

“Like my father’s come to pass / Twenty years has gone so fast / Wake me up when September ends…”

Honourable Mentions

As always, there are many great tunes that missed the cut. If you haven’t heard any of these, be sure to check them out:


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