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The worst dads in music, ranked

In honour of Father’s Day, here is a collection of songs about terrible dads that you probably shouldn’t play for your father


This Father’s Day, people all over the country will be celebrating the fathers or father figures that enriched their lives and made them who they are. Just to be contrary, we’ve decided to celebrate the absolute worst dads to ever exist. From dads who walk out, to dads who prioritise work over family, to dads who ruin Christmas, this is a collection of songs to make you say: “Thank god he’s not that bad.” Here’s our ranking of the worst fathers in music.

Madonna - Papa Don't Preach (Official Video) [HD]

‘Papa Don’t Preach’ – Madonna

The ‘papa’ in this classic Madonna track may need a little time to come around, but he really isn’t so bad after all. His daughter is clearly nervous to tell him that she isn’t his “little girl” anymore, but it’s clear that he loves her. “You always taught me right from wrong,” sings Madonna, before petitioning him for his advice. This is by far the healthiest paternal relationship on this list.

Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)

‘Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)’ – Rodney Atkins

In the most aggressively American song of all time (seriously, the very first lyric is “The Declaration of Independence”) Atkins explains his method for intimidating his daughter’s boyfriends. Whilst what he describes isn’t an outright threat, it’s definitely a little dodgy, although Atkins fondly remembers similar talks with his girlfriends’ fathers when he was a teenager. He comes off as fairly possessive but it’s obviously all born out of a love for his daughter. And a love for guns.

Cats in the Cradle

‘Cat’s In The Cradle’ – Harry Chapin

This track about a father-son relationship gone sour is pretty devastating, but this dad is nowhere near as bad as some others on this list. Although he fails to prioritise his son and makes promises he can’t keep, he does seem to be working hard to provide for his family, even if he’s neglecting to do any emotional labour. The distance that eventually arises between the two of them is deserved, but it’s also a little gutting.

Poppa Was a Playa (Explicit)

‘Poppa Was a Playa’ – Nas

The dad in this track is a pretty poor husband, cheating on his wife regularly and making his kids complicit in keeping the secret when they find out. However, he’s apparently a far better father than Nas knows, opting to stay with his family and help raise the kids rather than walking out like so many of Nas’ friends’ fathers have. Nas is angry at his dad for the way he treated his mother, but grateful that he never abandoned them.

Adam Raised a Cain

‘Adam Raised A Cain’ – Bruce Springsteen

The father and son that Springsteen describes do love each other, but they still have an angry and bitter relationship. Unable to communicate, tensions between them only grow worse over time, and the father passes on his toxicity to his son. The son resents his father for this, but also seems to understand his father’s shortcomings.

Get tickets for Bruce Springsteen here.

AJJ - Who Are You?

‘Who Are You?’ – AJJ

Lead singer Sean Bonnette finds ways to be grateful for a father that was never around. Despite never getting to know his father, Bonnette has been told enough about him to recognise that his problems would have made him “an awful dad”. He’s hurt and angry at his father for leaving, but also manages to thank him for passing on his musical genes that would lay the foundation for Bonnette’s career.

‘Had A Dad’ – Jane’s Addiction

We don’t know exactly what happens to the dad in this angry track, but we can assume he walked out. He appears to have been a decent father before he disappeared – “He was the one/Who made me what I am today,” sings Perry Farrell – but his departure has left the family in disarray.

Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole

‘Bloody Mother F****** A*****’ – Martha Wainwright

You know a track’s angry when the title has that many asterisks. We don’t ever hear exactly what Wainwright’s father did, but we do know exactly how it’s made her feel, especially thanks to the outro in which she repeats the titular phrase several times. Singer-songwriter London Wainwright III doesn’t just have one musician child writing scathing songs about him – he also has Rufus Wainwright, who released the more melancholy but equally damning ‘Dinner At Eight’.

Frank Turner - "Father's Day"

‘Father’s Day’ – Frank Turner

The dad in this track doesn’t just cheat on Turner’s mother, but also screams at Turner for cutting a mohawk. Turner stays calm in the face of all this anger, knowing that, of the two of them, his dad has more to answer for. He’s also mature enough to recognise that this behaviour is stemming from his dad’s midlife crisis. Still, it’s never nice to yell at your child over a haircut. Or cheat on your wife.

Get tickets for Frank Turner here.

Sufjan Stevens - That Was the Worst Christmas Ever! [OFFICIAL AUDIO]

‘That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!’ – Surfjan Stevens

A dad who throws his children’s Christmas presents in the fire? That’s a bad dad.

‘Styrofoam Plates’ – Death Cab For Cutie

After abandoning his family, never paying child support and forcing his kids and their mother to live in poverty, the father in this song still made it his son’s responsibility to scatter his ashes. “You’re a disgrace to the concept of family,” sings Ben Gibbard.

Papa Was A Rollin' Stone

‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ – The Temptations

The son in this track has no relationship with his father and only ever hears bad things about him until the day the man dies. His mother explains that his dad was a ‘rolling stone’, never staying in one place for long, as an excuse for his walking out on them. It comes to light that the man may have had, according to rumour, a whole other family that he also abandoned.

Kelly Clarkson - Piece by Piece (Official Music Video)

‘Piece By Piece’ – Kelly Clarkson

Clarkson’s dad walks out on them when she’s six years old in this powerful ballad, only returning years later when Clarkson becomes rich and famous to ask her for money. Although the toxic relationship has had an effect on her, Clarkson asserts that she will raise her daughter differently with a father who she trusts to stick around.

Lindsay Lohan - Confessions Of A Broken Heart (Daughter To Father) (Official Music Video)

‘Confessions Of A Broken Heart (Daughter To Father)’ – Lindsay Lohan

Lohan sings of trust broken and a family in crisis in this tear-jerking track. After her father leaves them, she dresses in his old clothes to feel near to him and waits for letters from him that never come. It’s a heartbreaker.

Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod

‘Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod?’ – The Mountain Goats

A son tiptoes around the house trying not to awake his drunk, angry father in this track from indie folk band the Mountain Goats. When the father is eventually woken up, he is immediately confrontational, storming into the son’s room. “Hoping you don’t break my stereo/Because it’s the one thing that I couldn’t live without,” comes the mournful lyric.

Carrie Underwood - Blown Away (Official Video)

‘Blown Away’ – Carrie Underwood

Left alone with a terrible dad after the death of her mum, a young girl prays for a tornado to rip her house out of the ground. When her wish is granted, she leaves her dad passed out on the sofa and locks himself in the storm cellar. The house is torn apart and the dad carried off in a surprisingly satisfying ending.

Genesis - No Son Of Mine (Official Music Video)

‘No Son Of Mine’ – Genesis

Raised in an abusive household, the protagonist leaves as soon as he can. When he returns to visit, his father disowns him for having left in the first place. It’s all incredibly unhealthy.

Get tickets for Genesis here.

Johnny Cash - A Boy Named Sue (Live at San Quentin, 1969)

‘A Boy Named Sue’ – Johnny Cash

Here’s our winner. The father in this Cash track walks out on his wife and three-year-old child, but not before naming the boy ‘Sue’ as a joke. The boy endures a lifetime of abuse and bullying due to his name. When he grows up he decides to go looking for his dad to enact his revenge. Upon finding him, he punches his father in the face. His dad retaliates by taking out a knife and cutting off a part of his son’s ear. A fight breaks out that ends with Sue drawing a gun on his father. And then – here’s the kicker – the father claims that he named his son Sue deliberately so that he’d have to learn to be tough. Truly the most terrible of terrible dads.