My Five Favorite Songs About Fatherhood

by Michael Channing

I've had a lot of negative things to say about fathers. But now I'm considering the very real possibility that I will become a dad. The problem is that I learn everything from music, and I grew up in the 90s. Eddie Vedder didn't have anything positive to say about parents. Kurt Cobain even less. But even bad examples can teach a lesson. Here's what I've learned so far.

5. "25 Years" by Pantera

Far Beyond Driven by Pantera

The protagonist calls his old man a weakling and a drunken liar, launches a wooden chair at his head and forces him to pick up the splintered pieces. The chorus repeats "Don't touch me," which points to a history of abuse. Dope and drink were more important to Dad than his son, and he answered his son's life questions with lies.

I can understand your desire to break furniture across your father's face. But that's not really what you're going to do is it? That's just a fantasy, right? Oh, I see. You envision yourself as a surrogate father to your fans, a role model to teenagers with crappy dads. That's nice. "You'll never be the father I am." I like that. Wait. Then you're gonna do what? Oh my god.

This is where the song gets weird. Because the lyric goes... "We're fucking you back." Over and over, "We're fucking you back, we're fucking you back." Even in the kindest interpretation, that's a terrible thing. All the damaged, hostile kids sending the mental and physical torture right back at their fathers. That can't be a healthy cycle. But if you consider all the kids who have been molested, the phrase "We're fucking you back" takes on a dark, twisted meaning.

Sometimes when I listen to this song, right after the line "You'll never be the father I am," I plug my ears and sing the Smurfs theme song.

And think about my real dad.

4. "No Son of Mine" by Genesis

No Son of Mine by Genesis

The father's actions are kept intentionally vague, but the son says he lived in constant fear of what would happen at night, which seems to imply sexual abuse. One day, the boy decides he's had enough and runs away. Good for him. He breaks free, and he heals. Then he does a stupid, stupid thing. He goes back.

I want to shake this guy, slap some sense into him. What do you want? An apology? An explanation? I guarantee you, there is nothing a molesting father can say that will help in the least.

"You mean all those times I thought I was raping your mother, that was actually you? Boy, is my face red."

So he goes home and confronts his piece of shit dad with expected results. The old man shifts the blame onto his victim and says, "You're no son of mine." The son, for some reason, is hurt by this when he should be elated. The despicable fuck looked you in the eye and found no similarities. I say good job. Unlike the protagonist of the last song, you escaped the cycle. Here's the best advice I've ever heard on how to deal with a tyrannical parent. It was given to me by a man we'll talk about later. Close your eyes and picture your dad, his flashing eyes, his clawing hands. Do you see him? Good. Murder him in your mind.

Not in your living room.

3. "Father and Daughter" by Paul Simon

Surprise by Paul Simon

We'll get back to the hate and vomit momentarily, but let's take a break to reflect on the positive aspects of fatherhood. Believe it or not, fathers actually are good for something. Instead of pawning your bike for drugs, they can take you fishing or camping. And rather than populating your nightmares, they can check under your bed for monsters. They can make you feel safe. They can love you. I've heard about fathers doing those things and figured they were just setting their kids up for a con, but it turns out those dads may have had other reasons. Did you know that seeing your child happy makes you happy as well? Shocker to me, too. I need the assurance that good fathers exist. If my fiancee and I do have a child, I'm going to need a soundtrack that doesn't include weeping or humiliation. Thanks, Paul Simon, for showing me the good things dads can do. And, uh, if this doesn't work out, how many ways are there to leave your children? Must be at least fifty.

Leave 'em at the mall, Paul.

2. "Just Like You" by Rollins Band

The End of Silence by Rollins Band

So you escape from your evil father. You squeeze out of that choke-hold, actual or metaphorical, and run. Maybe you join a legendary punk rock band, maybe you get a job polishing turds two towns over. Regardless, you pull your life together and redefine yourself. And then one day you pass your old man on the street. Only that isn't him. It's your reflection in a window.

Oh your god, you look just like the motherfucker. Which only makes sense: genetics and all. But that thought dominoes into another. Your dad was a turd polisher, and he hated it and vented his frustration on you. Even if you do join that punk rock group, you're still spilling your bile onto others in a fruitless attempt to mask your own inabilities to deal with this shitty world. Just like dear old dad. And that realization only makes you angrier.

Though you won't look half this awesome.

This song always sends me spiraling into a panic. How close am I to being my dad? Because there will be similarities. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, as they say. I can't keep pretending to have been left here by aliens.

1. "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin

Verities & Balderdash by Harry Chapin

This is the one that scares me the most. Because it says even dads with the best intentions, the ones who work hard to pay the bills and provide for their families, can still fuck up their kids.

Look, I'm not going to Sandusky my son. I won't beat him. And if he decides he'd rather be a coal miner than a poet, I won't begrudge him that decision. But I am afraid that in the normal process of living my life, I might still accidentally ruin his. Too much time away. Hell, too much time at home. Who know what spills the balance over into creating a tiny douchey version of yourself. What if all the things I think are the right things to do backfire?

It's not my fault, your honor. My father read to me everyday.

Honorable Mention: "My Three Sons" by Elvis Costello

Momofuku by Elvis Costello

In this song, Elvis ponders on the blessings of being a father and hopes his sons have lives without sorrow. He readily admits that's an unrealistic wish, but it's a nice sentiment. He seems to truly cherish the joy and humility that comes with being a father. But then he says this: "I can't do what can't be undone." Four of the songs on this list prove that you most certainly can.

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Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing