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Songs about good dads are far outnumbered by the vast array of songs about saintly mothers. That may have something with dads being not as central to pop culture and society as mothers, but here are 10 memorable tributes to father figures that inspired love and loyalty in their children and not rage and seething hatred.
1. "Patches", Clarence Carter
Soul singer Clarence Carter's masterpiece isn't just G-rated and family-friendly, it's a heartwarming, tear-jerking, father-loving tribute to family and the durable, earthy bond between father and sons. The narrator of the song is a young farm boy who earns the nickname of "Patches" due to his raggedy clothes. The young man's dad, "a great old man," joins in on the teasing, but only to belie his shame in not being able to provide better for his family. Things get even bleaker when this rough-hewn but loving father dies, but not before telling his son that it's up to him to assume the role as the man of the house (or farm) in his absence. The burden of having to finish school while supporting his family is almost too much, but in times of weakness he remembers the vow he made to his father on his deathbed.
The father in the touchingly tender "Color Me Father" is a stepfather rather than a papa of the biological variety, but that doesn't make him any less special or treasured. If anything, it makes him even more because he chose the difficult, challenging and never-ending role of father. The stepfather is big, strong, hardworking and perpetually cheerful, but he's also a loving patriarch who always has time for children he couldn't love more if they were his own flesh and blood. He's an everyday hero, a man who embraces his responsibilities as a loving husband and father and never loses his big, wide grin.
3. "Oh My Papa", Eddie Fischer
On "Oh My Papa," crooner Eddie Fischer doesn't just praise a saintly father; it damn near nominates him for sainthood. The song rapturously praises everything about this paragon of human decency and compassion and the singer goes so far as to state no one else could be as gentle and as lovable. Fischer's singing is overwrought and sappy, making this an exercise in unapologetic schmaltz so over the top it might even embarrass the papa being heralded as being nearly God-like in his greatness and apparent infallibility.
4. "Dance With My Father", Luther Vandross
Nothing prompts a child to venerate their father in song quite like that father's death. The impossibility of reconnecting with a father who has now departed from this earthly realm add an additional layer of pathos to tributes to truly transcendent dads. That is certainly the case with Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father", which pines for the narrator's early years, when his father was not just alive, but a joyful, loving presence in his and his mother's life. The singer prays for the father's return so that he can dance once more with his wife and son, to a song that never ends.
5. "His Dream", Asher Roth
In this track Roth lovingly acknowledges the sacrifices his white-collar father made for the sake of his children and his family—how he put his own creative ambitions to the side so that he could help his son realize his. And while the father might feel a little ambivalent about his son's artistic legacy largely being brotastic songs about women, beer, partying and weed, this track illustrates that Roth is capable of much more.
6. "Love Without End, Amen", George Strait
The protagonist of George Strait's "Love Without End, Amen" begins the song expecting a whooping for getting into a fight at school that left him with a ugly black eye. But instead of the expected stern display of corporal punishment, the father lets his son in on a secret: a father's love is not conditional and wavering, it's unconditional and everlasting. Sure enough, when the singer becomes a father himself in the early 1980s he has a boy who's stubborn and mule-headed just like he used to be, but instead of punishing him, he extends his father's unconditional love to his own son. It's a heart-wrenching, lovely ballad that depicts love as an endless circle that unites fathers and sons and the fathers those sons often grow up to be themselves. But in its final verse, the scope of the song broadens to include the Heavenly Father, whose love for humanity and the protagonist as he reaches the pearly gates is just as unconditional as the more earthly father's love—which is good news to us incorrigible sinners.
7. "Piss Bottle Man", Mike Watt
"Piss Bottle Man" is most assuredly not the most touching or tender or tasteful song about fathers and sons. But it does deserve credits for having just about the least likely, and most irreverent possible title for a song about dear old dad. The subject matter follows suit. While many odes to dad's center on their kindness, or compassion, or unconditional love, "Piss Bottle Man", which punk legend Mike Watt wrote and 1990s heartthrob Evan Dando sang, centers on a curious tradition lovingly passed down from father to son: using the titular urine container while driving long distances to cut down on the number of stops being made. In its own weird way, it's loving and affectionate, and Watt thought enough of it to make a music video for it.
8. "That's My Job", Conway Twitty
Like so many musical valentines to dad, this prominently dwells on a beloved father's death. It begins with Twitty as a child having a nightmare about his father's death, a trauma that causes him to wonder how he'd go on without his father's loving guidance. The father assures him that it's his "job" to keep him safe and even as the son gets older a schism opens up between Twitty's dreams for himself, and his father's dreams for him, that connection, and the father's dedication to his "job" remains. The song ends with the father's actual death, and with the son once again wondering how he'll be able to carry on, and realizing that now it's his own job to keep his father's memory and spirit alive through his own words and actions.
Another tribute to stepfathers who step in with quiet heroism to fill the space left by the absence of a birth father, Brad Paisley's "He Didn't Have To Be" pays tribute to the man who married his mother while he was just a little boy and went far above the call of duty. Paisley starts off by acknowledging how much more pressure dating a woman with a child entails, quipping. "When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new, it always winds up feeling more like a job interview." By the end of the song, it's clear that not only was the man who became his father deeply interested in the position, but he's overqualified for the job.
10. "Leader of the Band", Dan Fogelberg
The father in Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band" is a quiet, unassuming and solitary man, a cabinet-maker's son who used his hands to become a musician. Yet he nevertheless leaves behind a profound and meaningful legacy in the music and musicianship he shares with his own son. As Fogelberg sings with trembling emotion over a soft acoustic backdrop, "I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band." His life is much different than his father's but the bonds of blood and of music are strong enough to unite them forever.