“Hey, don’t just drink that!” My Dad said as I took a swig of soda from my can.
“Remember how I told you I used to live in Chicago? I lived next to all these soda can factories. They had soda cans stacked all over the place, and-‘
‘-yea, it was cool, but listen...so, there were all these stacks of soda cans, and what runs on top of soda cans?”
“What? No. Rats. Rats run on top of soda cans. But what do rats drag under them?”
“Their tails, but also, their balls. They drag their balls across the top of those cans. So you’ve always got to wipe the top of your can before you drink it”
“Whoa...I never thought of that...crap, Dad, I don’t think I wiped this one.”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you.’ my Dad took a swig of his soda, ‘rats dragged their balls on that can, bro. I’d toss it out, you’re sucking on rat balls.”
We’re back with the most requested song of this series, “Father of Mine” by Everclear.
If you don’t know the song, it’s insanely catchy. Art Alexakis, the man behind the hugely successful 90s alt-rock band Everclear, really grabbed a lot of people with this song. There was a summer when you turned on any Alternative station and you’d hear this it over and over again.
It’s easily the most requested song for this blog. I’ve heard lot of people tell me that this song is their story, or how it’s a song they relate too.
And, honestly, it’s been haunting me since I started writing these. I’m certainly not naive enough to think that this subject, “Songs About Dads” is going to all be about Dads who were good influences or who wanted the best for their kids. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty easy to surmise that a lot of people reading this had crumby Dads themselves. So, honestly, I wanted to get to this song because I wanted to address that elephant in the room. You can’t talk about Dads without talking about Dads who were terrible, or arguably worse, Dads who simply were not there.
And man...so far as that subject goes, this song really nails it. It’s a genuine heartbreaker. Telling the story of Arts relationship with his Dad, it really connected with a lot of people.
Honestly, I wasn’t surprised when it became a huge hit. Besides being insanely catchy (Everclear specialized in this kinda chuggy sound they used on all their songs to tremendous success ), lyrically its so so raw. If you were someone who even remotely related to this song, it’s going to grab you. Even if you had a Dad who was around but absent emotionally or just not really in your life, the sentiment is still relatable. To be honest, I’m really surprised that more people have not written another song like it. Even just to make money, it’s a subject that so many people relate to and feel so deeply you’re bound to write a hit addressing it. (Please don’t take my advice on this and write a song about Dads just to make money).
It also occurred to me that some readers may not know me or my family. Going into a song about absent Dads, I ought to point out that I had a great Dad and a great childhood. My Dad was involved in everything I did. He coached me in several sports, he helped out at the church youth group, I even worked with him for years. There was a lot I picked up from my Dad that I do now as a Dad. For instance, when my kids are in the bathtub, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll swing the door open and scream as loud as I can for the sole purpose of freaking them out. I may have even done it last night. They may have jumped and screamed in terror. It may have been hilarious. I may be passing down a long storied family tradition.
I share that I grew up with a really involved Dad to say that I am going into this blog honestly understanding that this song addresses emotions and feelings and hurts that I can very much empathize with, but that I understand I can never truly know or relate to. I’m going to try and speak to the pain and lend my thoughts as much as I can, but with respect to those who have experiences I haven’t. The goal is to tell the story about each song with as much honor to the artist and subject as possible. I’m not going to try to say anything that songs are not saying, I want to be as true to the lyrics and artists intent as possible.
So! Here we go!
Father of mine/Tell me where have you been/You know I just closed my eyes/My whole world disappeared/Father of mine/Take me back to the day/When I was still your golden boy/Back before you went away
I remember the blue skies/Walking the block/I loved it when you held me high/I loved to hear you talk/You would take me to the movies/You would take me to the beach/You would take me to a place inside/That is so hard to reach
Because this song was such a huge hit in the 90s, I’ve probably heard it several thousand times, but somehow I always missed this first section. I had always assumed the whole song was about how Arts Dad was never there. But it’s not, it’s actually much worse. It’s about how Art used to have a Dad who he adored, but his Dad one day up and left him.
And, man, that’s devastating.
Kind of like how Kanye described his Dad as a “champion” despite their being poor and having a tough time growing up, Art is just describing how much he loved just being with his Dad. Just having them there was special...again, us Dads, we have it so easy! It has been hitting me as I’ve been writing this blog over the last few weeks, our kids just want to adore us. They just want to love their Dads. Our relationships with our kids are really ours to ruin.
Like I’ve said above, the chorus is insanely catchy, to the point where I imagine a lot of people found themselves humming it to themselves before they even realized how heavy the lyrics they were humming even were:
My Daddy gave me a name/and he walked away
Art really pulls off the perfect trick of writing a poppy song with dark lyrics, especially because these lyrics are his childhood and a shared experience with millions of people who found that chorus relating perfectly to their lives. It’s so brutally short and succinct and to the point. It’s one of those songs start that tells a story thats so personal, and yet, he’s describing a shared situation that so many people can relate to.
I will never be safe/I will never be sane/ I will always be weird inside/I will always be lame
My first instinct is to say that this can’t possibly be true, because it’s hard to hear. But Art is writing from his experience. It’s not fair for me to try and deny what he’s saying because its hard to for me to hear.
His growing up with out a Dad is going to affect him. His Dad stole something from his childhood. Art may be able to over come it to become successful in life, but that childhood loss is the kind of wound that will leave a mark.
And of course he’s right. Kids need Dads. Or if not their Dads they need father figures. Their is a need for this larger than life person be louder and stronger than they can imagine and to carry them and wrestle with them and to be gentle despite their strength and to teach them to throw and to pee outside and to give them advice about not drinking soda cans with rat balls dragged all over them...
Often their are, thank God, wonderful people who can stand in when that is missing. Step Dads, coaches, uncles, brothers, grandparents, even strong Moms and Grandmothers (there is a special reward in heaven for single Moms and Grandmothers, I’m convinced there are no stronger people on this earth). Lord willing, and, depending on circumstances they can help fill in pieces of what is missing and can all be the ones to tell you to not drink rat balls soda.
Now I am a grown man/with a child of my own/and I swear he’s never going to know/all the pain I have known
The song ends with Art promising he will never be anything like his Dad.
Anything in life is harder to do when you don’t have an example. But of course, it’s fully possible to be an amazing Dad, even if you didn’t have one growing up.
And just his determination to be there, that’s what’s going to make him a great Dad. Look, we all screw up and we all blow it as Dads (trust me, I’ve got plenty of regrets), but we just have to keep showing up, and keep trying, and insisting that we’re in it with our kids. Just don’t give up or leave. It may seem like I’m boiling it down too much, but just being there for our kids is so much of the battle. If we’re determined to do that, then we can keep working on the rest if it, and hopefully we can give our kids a childhood they enjoy.
Finally, I’m not going to force any sort of reconciliation narrative into these songs where it’s not in the lyrics. Art doesn’t seek one with his Dad in this song and I don’t want to try and speculate that it’s possible or not. I do have some songs in mind we’ll go through that are seeking reconciliation with their abusive Dad, but most of the songs about crumby Dads are more about the pain and damage the relationship has caused for the kid (in fact, one even brutally mocks the idea of the Dad trying to make things right). As far as I could find, Art did not reconcile with his Dad. It didn’t seem to be an option if he even wanted to (I don’t know if he did or didn’t). I’m hoping he’s found it possible to take care of his kids, though. He certainly seems to be doing some cool stuff with his life.
Okay! Next week we’re looking at another strained relationship with a Dad, this time from a daughters perspective. This one is an arguably more famous song (though it’s been awhile since I’ve heard anyone mention it), so I’ll be interested if anyone can guess which one comes next.
And please, if you’ve got comments on this or any blog so far, share them! I’d love some feedback and/or more suggestions. Ok! See you next week!