How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

Top 5 Fatherhood Songs of the 90’s

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I’m something of an audiophile. My father loved music. My mother loved it equally, but in more sentimental ways. So it’s no wonder I slowly gained the ability to listen to an album and know which three songs would be the band’s first, second and third singles. It became a parlor trick I used to prove to myself that I was worth a damn. Of some kind.

Today, I want to provide you with some solid tunes about being or having a dad. These songs about fatherhood are near and dear to me. They could be called the best of the worst. Or the worst of the best. The only reason I say “worst” is that each of them relies on tricks that can appear pandering or confusing or overwrought.

But I love them all equally. Nostalgia is addictive.

Here’s my mixtape, for you, on Dadhood.

1. Ugly Kid Joe – “Cats in the Cradle” (1992)

This is unexpectedly sentimental for me. The original song is a very touching rendition of what it’s like to be a father. But when UKJ sings the lyrics, there’s a whiney adolescent quality to it. I’m not gonna lie: I had this playing on my walkman when I was younger.

I guess the song could also be classified as another attempt by Alternative music to prove it had grown up? Did people think a 12-string guitar solved all of rock-n-roll’s ills? Make it more emotional? Mature?

2. Will Smith – “Just the Two of Us” (1998)

Can Will Smith be my dad? I don’t even know WHY I want him to be my dad (besides being the Fresh Prince). This song was so overplayed but the Bill Withers hook is undeniable. It takes me back to being a teenager, and already thinking about fatherhood.

Damn you, Will Smith. Damn you.

3. Nirvana – “Serve the Servants” (1993)

“I tried hard to have a father/But instead I had a dad” became the mantra of Gen-X and beyond. In the wake of fathers realizing things about their own childhoods coupled with stoic, distant treatment by the men in their lives, dads claimed their new place. Kurt Cobain had a troubled relationship with his dad, but never wrote about it. Until this song.

Teenage angst and confusion about the role of parents in the age of Grunge led us to where we are today. It’s a bit amorphous, but I’ll take it.

4. Pearl Jam – “Alive” (1991)

This song would eventually become an anthem for kids who didn’t know or feel connected to their fathers. The autobiographical nature of Eddie Vedder’s lyrics recounted his discovery that his father was in fact his step-father, and his biological father had already died, but “I’m still alive” has taken on a ton of different meanings.

In fact, Vedder himself has said the original meaning of his verse and chorus was about the burden of finally knowing the truth. But his fans and their positive, life-affirming response to the song changed it for him.

Vedder, now a father himself to two daughters, would be an interesting conversationalist about the topic of fatherhood.

5. Everclear – “Father of Mine” (1997)

Was this song a commercial attempt at pulling our heartstrings or an honest account of growing up? I have no idea. I just know it became the song that made me turn off the radio. Overplayed would be an understatement.

Listening to it now, however, I don’t care what its origin story is. I hear the words of one refrain and know EXACTLY what he means: “Now, I’m a grown man with a child of my own/And I swear I’m not gonna let her know all the pain I have known.”

Music is a time machine, and a bookmark.

How about you?

There are so many more songs than these, but I figured this would serve as a good start.

What are some of the worst or best songs about fatherhood you’ve heard, from the 1990’s or otherwise?


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18 Responses to “Top 5 Fatherhood Songs of the 90’s”

  1. Anna in Ohio says:

    That’s the first time in a LONG time that I’ve really listened to the lyrics of “Just the Two of Us.” SUCH a good song, with good lessons. I want Will Smith to be my dad, too!

  2. Tony says:

    Pearl Jam’s Alive has special meaning for me. I had a similar situation, though I was aware that my step dad wasn’t my real father. I just had no idea who my real father was. My mother found him when I was just in my early 30s and put us in contact. The jury is still out on weather or not I was better off not knowing. The man is, to put it mildly, a train wreck. I also found out I have somewhere between 9 and 15 half siblings (long haul truck driver with single mom at every stop) and that has been…interesting. Drawing out my family tree for my son will be like giving an epileptic an etcha-sketch.

    And that brings me back to your first two songs. ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ and ‘Just the Two of Us’. The first is a warning and the second is an anthem. In this world, it is *hard* to be a father and balance spending enough time with your kids while also providing for them. My career choice means a lot of long hours some times, and a very very angry boy at bed time if dad play time is cut short. But damn it, I try.

  3. Chris says:

    Charlie, Good job with this list. When I read the blog post I immediately thought of Just The Two of Us. I almost thought the Dr. Evil and Mini-me video would be on there instead. Love Father of Mine. Huge fan of Everclear…the band also.

  4. Dave says:

    Hey Charlie, I totally agree with you on #1, 2, & 5.

    Cat’s in the Cradle is the first that pops into my head when thinking about dad-hood, probably because it’s exactly how I didn’t/don’t want to be.

    I have one son now, and we’re hoping for another boy in a years time. Who knows, it may be a girl? But another dad song that hits me, if I were to have a daughter, would be Butterfly Kisses. I’m not usually into country, but I heard this one day and it struck a chord.

    Keep up the good fight ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Robin says:

    Love this list!! I never would have chosen the UKJ version of Cats in the Cradle, but you were spot-on with your explanation. It was definitely more adolescent.

    I would have a very similar list, but would add “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg. And possibly, to sate my growing appreciation of country, Alan Jackson’s “When Daddy Let Me Drive.” If you haven’t heard that one, go listen to it. Now.

  6. Brent says:

    “Letters for Zoe” by Lenny Kravitz is a sweet, poetic song from a dad to his daughter. Not sure if that counts, but Lenny was still cool back then. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Benjamin says:

    My personal favorite has always been “Evermore” by the Young Dubliners. Can’t find a good link now but highly recommend it.

  8. Ana-mnemosyne says:

    My all time favourite fatherhood song is Changes-Ozzy Osbourne; when you go through some rough patches with your dad (everyone had those)…there was always this song as a picker upper ๐Ÿ™‚

    Cats in the cradle is, but of course, a classic- even Donkey from Shrek sang it ๐Ÿ˜›

  9. Bill Ward says:

    One of my favorite songs about fatherhood is a country song: HeartLand – I loved her first. Since I have two daughters this song really struck home. It shows how much love fathers have for their daughters and how hard it is to give them away when they get married. It scares me to death just thinking about it. But then again we want our daughters to be happy and loved.

  10. Allie says:

    “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts. Maybe it’s only because I danced to it with my dad at my wedding but maybe it’s because it’s awesome.

    or “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” by Darius Rucker. Tears me up every time.

  11. Danielle says:

    You totally forgot “Dat Just My Baby Daddy” LOL

  12. rob says:

    “had a dad” by Jane’s Addiction, circa 1989-1990, though this resonates with the broken family demographic

    “runaway return” by Fugazi circa 1991-1992. Anthem for foster kids. Despite that (similar to the helplessness and urge to flee when one sees a homeless person), the song rocks.

    Speaking of, what do most parents say to their own kids when kids see homeless people? I try to convey feelings of empathy, but wonder what others do. *brings back memories of a rich boss I had back in the 90s who thought I was a sucker for giving money to a homeless guy once and used to chide me about it..*

  13. rob says:

    “don’t mess with my toot toot” – covered by john fogerty back in the 80’s


    decidely upbeat song with cajun beat.

    “You can have the other woman” (wife)
    but “don’t mess with my Toot Toot” (my daughter)

  14. Cheryl Long says:

    When Iโ€™m looking for the latest country music, I always end up in one spot โ€“ 103.1 WIRK. I was even lucky enough to catch up with Keith Van Allen in the streets and got free โ€˜Rib Round Upโ€™ tickets. Just one of the many events that keep me tuned into

  15. Great list! and mad props to you for including Pearl Jam in there, I effin love Eddie Vedder. ‘Black’ is my favorite song of all time ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Arsenio says:

    Right now the only song that pops into my head is Arms wide open – Creed. I definitely listened to that after I found out we were pregnant with our first child.

  17. Derek says:

    “Bridge” by Queensryche is also a cautionary tale, like Cat’s In the Cradle. But “Dance with My Father” by Luther Vandross chokes me up every time. So sad.

  18. Kevin says:

    I never would have described “cats in the cradle” as a touching rendition of what itโ€™s like to be a father. I would have described it as a sad story told by an old man who regrets not being present for his son, because now he’s alone. In other words, the opposite of my ideal of fatherhood.

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