Song Talk: Papa Don’t Preach!

It’s fun to think of our favorite endearing songs about dads. We’ve even done it here at Country Universe a time or two. But let’s face it, dad’s aren’t always right and they’re not always wise. Here are a few songs that show villainous fathers.

While I’m so fond of my dad that I almost feel guilty about writing this Song Talk installment, my guilt is eased by knowing that he would actually be amused by the topic. So, here we go! Feel free to add your selections in the comments.

Lefty Frizzell Saginaw Michigan

Lefty Frizzell, “Saginaw, Michigan”

I was listening to this song the other day and it’s what inspired this list. It’s the classic scenario of the dad thinking that his daughter’s suitor isn’t good enough for her, but the twist at the end takes a hilarious turn!

Blake Shelton All About Tonight

Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert, “Draggin’ the River”

Dads beware! This is another way that a dad is outsmarted in an extreme way for not approving of his daughter’s relationship.


Vince Gill, “Molly Brown”

I read an interview where Vince mentioned that he’d like to record an album of dark songs someday. Well, if this isn’t proof that he can pull off such a task, I’m not sure what would be. While the two songs above are silly songs about fathers being outwitted, there is nothing tongue in cheek about this one. The father doesn’t approve of his white son marrying a black woman, so he kills him. The End.

Tim McGraw Southern Voice

Tim McGraw, “I Love You Goodbye”

Here’s a song of darkness and redemption, a song of love and hate, and, ultimately, a song of healing and forgiveness from a son toward his father.

Gail Davies Where is a Woman to Go

Gail Davies, “Unwed Fathers”

The fathers in the previous songs may have made mistakes, even severe ones in some cases, but the fathers that are talked about in this song don’t even bother to show up: “From a teenage lover to an unwed mother/ Kept under cover like some bad dream./ While unwed fathers, they can’t be bothered/ They run like water through a mountain stream.”

While Lefty’s song is what inspired this topic, it’s this John Prine and Bobby Braddock penned socially conscious song that makes it worth writing about.


  1. This is certainly outside the scope of the genre, but what about “Cat’s In The Cradle”, the #1 pop hit from the late Harry Chapin, from 1974–in which a father doesn’t pay too much attention to his son growing up; and when the father is long since past the retirement age, he finds that his son is exactly like he was.

  2. Reba’s “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” is, for me, the gold standard in the “flawed dad” genre of country song. The singer’s love for her father is evident, that he was a good man who provided for his family, but so is her recognition of his shortcomings and the unfulfilled wish that their relationship had been more.

  3. Erik – Ricky Skaggs recorded a country version of “Cats In The Cradle,” which was released as a single in 1996 and peaked at #45. I remember it more from it’s video, not radio airplay.

    Flawed dad songs:

    Doug Supernaw, “I Don’t Call Him Daddy,” 1993 – not for the man mama married but for the father doing his darnedest to maintain a strong relationship with his son.

    Zac Brown Band, “Highway 20 Ride,” 2009 – Another with a dad showing dedication to the son who must grow up in a broken home.

    Neither song actually spills why the dad is “flawed,” but the mistakes they made cost them their respective relationships – and put their kid in the middle of some very grown up drama.

  4. Jonathan,
    I thought of some divorce songs, but ultimately decided against using them for this topic, because I didn’t want to even suggest that a divorced father is a flawed father. I do think that Divorce is a great topic for a future Song Talk installment though.

    Yes, Ricky Skaggs has a decent version of “Cats in the Cradle.” John Anderson’s “I Wish I Could’ve Been There” is similar in theme, but I always think of the dad in “Cats” as a more selfish depiction than the father in the John Anderson song. It seemed that the father in “I Wish I Could’ve Been There” was gone out of necessity while the father in “Cats in the Cradle” was gone more out of choice. There’s a warmth to the father in “I Wish I Could’ve Been There” that isn’t so evident in “Cats in the Cradle.”

    Reba’s “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” is a great one!

  5. Good songs Leeann. I also remember the original Cats in the Cradle.

    Some cheating dads:
    “Daddy Had a Cardiac, Momma Got a Cadillac” – Billy Yates (Rex Wiseman, Craig Wiseman & Billy Yates)

    “Well it turned out daddy weren’t nothin’ but a snake, He had a half a dozen women in half a dozen states.”

    Kacey Musgraves – “Merry Go ‘Round” (Kacey, Shane McAnally & Josh Osborne)

    ‘Cause mama’s hooked on Mary Kay.
    Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane.
    Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.

    Tracy Lawrence – “Time Marches On” (Bobby Braddock)

    Sister’s using rouge and clear complexion soap
    Brother’s wearing beads and he smokes a lot of dope
    Momma is depressed barely makes a sound
    daddy’s got a girlfriend in another town

    Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone – Temptations (Norman Whitfield & Barret Strong)
    “when he died, all he left us was alone”. he “had three outside children and another wife”.

  6. “Measure of A Man” by Jack Ingram. Both parties (the father and the son) were flawed in this case, but it’s suggested that they reconcile in the end.

  7. The reason I mention “Cat’s In The Cradle” is because it is the sort of comeuppance that the father gets for being away from his boy for most of the boy’s childhood…and then discovering that the boy, as a man, is now basically a clone of him. I was probably a bit off-base in suggesting that song for this category, but the whole story of it just seemed right (IMHO).

  8. Erik,
    I don’t think that you were off base for suggesting “Cats in the Cradle”, especially since there’s a country version of it.:) While the father’s bad parenting was proably more subtle in that song, he definitely ended up suffering consequences for his distance from his song. The song even suggests that the son tried to get some of his father’s time, but the father kept refusing to give it to him. So, it was even more blantant than the dad completely not realizing that his son needed him, since the son did make it clear.

  9. How bout “Busy Man” by Billy Ray Cyrus. Also a song about dads not having enough time for their children.

  10. Robbie Fulks/Dallas Wayne’s Coldwater, Tennessee and Lydia Loveless’ The Only Man both featured dads bad enough to be shot and killed by their kids.

  11. One that suddenly comes to my mind now is “The Games That Daddies Play”, by Conway Twitty. Would this fit the subject here?

  12. Maybe not a totally terrible dad, but one who, by his own admission, was less than perfect..”I wish I Coulda Been There”–John Anderson

  13. Quote by Leeann Ward re. “The Games That Daddies Play”:

    Great one, Erik!

    I remember that one from, I think, 1978 or ’79, and it just struck me that this was one where “Mama Knows Best”, and that the father can manipulate the son to want to follow in his footsteps–into cheating, drinking, and womanizing (even if it isn’t mentioned explicitly in the lyrics), as opposed to the idealized life of a father/son relationship.

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