I sway in the dark, cradling my infant son like a little football on my left forearm.
I stare into his eyes, and he stares back, unblinking and pissed. I keep staring, hoping that I hypnotize him or something. He sucks angrily at his index finger… this is not going well.
I have a healthy pour of bourbon sitting in the kitchen, but Mr. Staring Contest demands a tribute before I can retire to the couch and collapse into a cloud of exhaustion and booze.
I consider walking him out to the living room, dipping my pinky finger into my glass, and giving him just a little taste of what Daddy’s drinkin’. At a time like this, most parents would sing a lullaby.
But with my mind soaked in the whiskey I couldn’t drink, my mind drifts into a dusty dive bar, and all I can hear is George Jones.
“The bars are all closed…. It’s four innnnnnn the mornin’….”
Is it actually four in the morning? I don’t even know anymore. I should sing, but I can’t sing like Jones. Maybe a whisper will work, like the world’s quietest honky tonk hero…
Well, lucky for my son, I’ve been packing my memory with slow, sad country songs ever since he crawled into this world and sent my former life to pieces. Country is perfect for a lullaby. The low tones and steady cadence soothe the screaming baby, while the themes of depression, loss, and alcohol dependence speak truth to the withered, pandemic-era parent.
“At least I’m not that guy,” we think, as we put our babies and any hopes and dreams of ever being in a bar again to bed. For all the derelict parents out there like me, here are ten songs to add to your Spotify playlists.
Commit them to memory. You’ll need them soon enough; probably tonight at four in the morning.
“The Bottle Let Me Down” (Merle Haggard)
This one is best used early in the night, when you’re in a more playful mood.
I always imagine my kid is thinking the same thing about his bottle of Similac: “Tonight the bottle let me down…” so I’m still awake. Yes you are, son. It let me down too…
“Whiskey and You” (Chris Stapleton)
Another, darker song about a bottle for when dusk descends into night. The bottle’s empty in this one.
And the protagonist is on the floor, like me as I plot my escape from this room. He’s asleep, right? Time to make a run for it…
“Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” (Johnny Cash)
Repetition is helpful for kids as they are exposed to music, and this Cash classic has a steady, easy rhythm and five trips through the haunting chorus about young Billie Joe’s poor decision. It’s also helpful to reinforce non-violence at an early age.
“The Grand Tour” (George Jones)
It’s helpful to point out things in the room as you soothe a baby to sleep. “There’s your bed. There’s your bear. There’s my freedom, slipping away into the darkness.”
The GOAT of country music walks you through his depressing home in this one. Hopefully your nursery is a little cheerier than Jones’….
“Cover Me Up” (Jason Isbell)
There’s a bedtime theme in this one: the cozy bed that Isbell plans to lie in all day sounds as good to me as it should to my kid. Please, just go the f*ck to sleep…
“The Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning” (Willie Nelson)
Willie describes a series of unfortunate events that plague him on a particularly bad day. There’s no mention of a kid waking him up at 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 am though, which is the last thing I needed today.
If Willie added a parenting verse here, he’d be smoking something a little bit stronger….
“Even If I Wanted To” (Jason Aldean)
“I’m on the brink… I can barely think” is how the song starts. Aldean’s oldest kid was two when this song was released in 2005. Coincidence? All I know is that I can’t leave my kid’s room right now, even if I wanted to…
“Whiskey Lullaby” (Brad Paisley feat. Alison Krauss)
Finally a real lullaby! Except this one is about two lovers whose broken relationship drives each to drink themselves to death… literally.
Infants don’t actually hear the words, right?
“Hello Walls” (Faron Young)
The “Goodnight Moon” of country songs, Young says “Hello” to the walls, window, and ceiling in his room. I’ll admit I had a few conversations with inanimate objects tonight too. I’m losing it.
“Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Alan Jackson)
And just when I’m thinking that becoming a parent was a huge mistake, I cap off my lullaby set with this tear-jerker from Alan Jackson.
What, you don’t cry when you hear this song? Maybe the sleep deprivation and crushing pressure of being a modern parent finally caught up to me during song number ten. But the memories are all worth it, right Alan?
Man, I love being a dad. And I really need some sleep, because now I’m crying in the dark, talking to Alan Jackson. Wait… he’s asleep…. where’s that whiskey?