Father's Day can be a poignant reminder of the highs and lows that weave their way into the relationships between fathers and their children. Musicians from all genres have touched on these emotions in song, capturing bittersweet reflections, deep regrets and joyful memories. Here are nine songs to add to your playlist in honor of Father's Day on Sunday, June 18.
Matt Lewis, “The River”
Singer-songwriter Matt Lewis of Springville wrote “The River” as a touching tribute to his father who passed away. Lewis wrote the song in 2003 after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lewis' father died while he was in the Missionary Training Center, and it wasn’t until returning home that the singer was really able to process his emotions.
The song reflects on a boy’s cherished memories with his dad — skipping rocks by the river, making shapes out of the clouds, fishing and eating lunches his mom packed. And through it all, his dad would give this advice: “Son, I hope your life’s just like this river. Always know where you’re going and always push through. I hope that you’ll flow free and strong, and I hope that others hear your song, and I hope this world is better ‘cause of you.”
And even though his father has passed away, the song reveals how that piece of advice has long stayed with the singer, who eventually passes it down to his own son who sits with him at the river.
Cat Stevens, “Father and Son”
In this classic folk rock ballad from 1970, Cat Stevens delivers a powerful exchange between a father and son. The song beautifully illustrates generational differences between the two — a classic battle between authority and the rebellious nature of youth.
While the father is trying to calm down his son, telling him to “relax, take it easy,” the son’s only response is that “it’s always been the same, same old story … from the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen … I know I have to go away.”
In a 1973 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Cat Stevens — now Yusuf Islam — said: “Some people think that I was taking the son’s side. But how could I have sung the father’s side if I couldn’t have understood it, too?"
Stevie Wonder, “Isn’t She Lovely”
Unlike most songs written about fathers or from the perspective of fathers, Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” is an upbeat, contagiously happy song. The musician wrote this sweet tune to celebrate the birth of his daughter, Aisha. The song opens up exclaiming, “Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wonderful? Isn’t she precious, less than one minute old.” The song beautifully captures the joy of becoming a father.
Harry Chapin, “Cats in the Cradle”
This heart-wrenching song emphasizes the importance of fathers spending time with their kids and not letting careers stand in the way of forming meaningful relationships. “Cats in the Cradle” sings of a father who has missed out on his child’s first steps, first words and opportunities to play ball. Despite this constant neglect, his son still admires him and tells him “I’m gonna be like you.”
The years slip by, and his son has now returned home from college. But when the father expresses how proud he is of his son and that he wishes to spend some time with him, his son says he doesn’t have the time. And that’s when the father comes to this tragic realization: “He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”
Bob Carlisle, "Butterfly Kisses"
Perhaps the No. 1 daddy-daughter dance song at weddings, Bob Carlisle’s “Butterfly Kisses” explores the tender relationship between father and daughter. Carlisle sings of his deep love for his daughter, who he watches transform from a little girl to a makeup-wearing 16-year-old to a grown woman and bride that he walks down the aisle. Although a little over the top in sappiness, “Butterfly Kisses” is a sweet song about cherishing all of life’s precious moments.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Teach Your Children Well”
Another classic folk song, “Teach Your Children Well,” encourages parents and children to approach each other with understanding as each generation has its own problems that they handle differently. The song explains that parents and children can learn from each other and that in spite of the differences, there always exists a deep, underlying love between parent and child.
John Mayer, “Daughters”
In this Grammy-winning single from his 2003 album “Heavier Things,” Mayer sings of the long-lasting influence fathers have on their children — an influence that extends well into adulthood. He issues an admonition to fathers to “be good” to their daughters because it is this relationship that can have the most profound effect on how they approach other relationships.
Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”
Written by author and poet Shel Silverstein, and made popular by Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue” is an unconventionally heartwarming song about a father and son. The song centers on a young man’s quest to get revenge on his father who abandoned him at the age of 3 and left him with nothing but the name Sue — a name that caused him a great deal of humiliation and abuse from his peers. Sue eventually finds his father and the man’s years of pent up anger transform into a vicious brawl. As the fight winds down, Sue’s father tells him the “world is rough, and if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough … and it’s the name that helped to make you strong.”
After hearing this point of view, Sue is able to make peace and reconcile with his father — although he still vows to name his future son anything but Sue.
Paolo Nutini, “Simple Things”
Nutini, a 30-year-old pop and folk rock artist hailing from Paisley, Scotland, sings a short and sweet tribute to his father, who runs a family fish and chip shop business in Nutini's hometown. In "Simple Things," the singer shares his deep admiration for his father’s hard work ethic: getting up each morning at 5, driving to work, preparing and serving food to the town and not once complaining about his long days.
But what Nutini loves most about his father is that he is “a wealthy self-made man” whose wealth stems not from material items but from having “a family who are his biggest fans” — something the singer expresses he one day hopes to have.