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Song Spotlight: “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine”

  • Mood: Wistful, Thoughtful
  • Themes: Parenting, Mistakes, Forgiveness/Atonement
  • Tempo: Moderate
  • Genre/style: Country

With Father’s Day coming up this Sunday, I wanted to share my favorite song for this holiday. “That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine” was a song I learned in my first year as a music therapist on the special request of a client in hospice care. It is a song with great potential to spur deep, meaningful conversations about relationships among family members, and it can inspire more lighthearted conversations as well.

First, some history. “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine” was written by The Singing Cowboy himself, Gene Autry, along with Jimmy Long, in 1935. This song became his first hit, and it went on to sell over a million copies. After this first success, Autry continued with many more musical hits, recording songs such as “Back in the Saddle,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” He was the first of the singing cowboys to appear in film (before Roy Rogers – trivia alert!), and for more than a decade, he had a popular weekly radio show, Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch (1940-1956). As for his first hit, “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine” has been recorded by many more artists since Gene Autry, including Jim Reeves, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, and Simon and Garfunkel.

Here are the standout lyrics in this song:

If I could recall all the heartaches
Dear old Daddy, I’ve caused you to bear
If I could erase those lines from your face
And bring back the gold to your hair

If God would but grant me the power
Just to turn back the pages of time
I’d give all I own if I could but atone
To that silver haired Daddy of mine.

These are paired with a standard country chord progression at a moderate tempo. Not exactly somber, this song does evoke the twilight of a person’s life from the perspective of that man’s adult child, who wishes he could make up for the troubles he caused his father. Beyond that sketch, though, the song leaves a lot of room for imagining the details of the relationship. For example, we don’t know whether the singer is referring to the normal trials and tribulations a child causes his father, or whether something more serious has happened. We also don’t know the state of the father-son relationship now, even whether or not they are in communication with each other. For therapists, this song can function as a projective tool. For family members and caregivers, this song leaves room for people to talk about their own relationships with their fathers and children. Forgiveness may especially be an important topic for people near the end of life.

As recorded, this song is definitely on the thoughtful, wistful side. It is possible to lighten it up when the situation call for a less serious musical experience, though. To do this, I kick up the tempo a bit and play the guitar in a more jaunty style. Then, you can ask questions like, “what did your kids do to give you gray hair?” with a wink and a nod for a lighter Father’s Day discussion.

What do you think? Do you have any other favorite songs for Father’s Day? Let us all know in the comment section below!

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.

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