27: He Didn’t Have to Be

27: He Didn’t Have to Be

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

He Didn’t Have to Be

Story by Kelley Lovelace

Song written by Kelley Lovelace and Brad Paisley

Recorded by Brad Paisley

I met Brad Paisley while we were both students at Belmont University in Nashville. We became friends before we ever started collaborating and had written several songs before we wrote “He Didn’t Have to Be.” Then Brad got his record deal with Arista Records around 1999. On his first album, Who Needs Pictures?, he recorded another song that I had written called, “It Never Would’ve Worked Out Anyway,” which was a funny song about a guy being rejected time after time.

Brad came over to our apartment in Bellevue, just west of Nashville, and had dinner my wife Karen and me one night. I remember we had pot roast and mashed potatoes. After dinner, we went out on the screened-in porch to write something. While we were sitting there, my stepson McCain came and hugged me and Brad said, “You really love that little guy, don’t you?” Then he said, “Let’s write a song about him. Let’s write a song that will make Karen cry.”

I started thinking about what I would like my stepson to say about me when he’s grown. So then we decided to write the song from his point of view. Since there are a lot of blended families in our nation right now, we thought that a lot of people would be able to relate to the song, at least the ones that had good stepfathers. And I was thinking about my wife when I wrote “When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new / It always winds up feeling more like a job interview.” We pretty much wrote the song in one sitting that night.

The rest of the song is pretty autobiographical. When I started dating my wife, McCain usually came along with us. He was five when we got married and the kid in the song is five, too.

The next night, Karen heard it all the way through for the first time when Brad played it at producer Frank Rogers’ house. She got pretty teary.

The publisher wanted to pitch it to George Strait, who was in the process of cutting a new album, but he passed on it because he didn’t want to record anything sad. At this point, Brad was all set to release Who Needs Pictures? But then we were somewhere in town, it may have been the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, and Brad played the song live. There were a lot of tears in the room that night and Arista President Tim DuBois came up to him later and said, “Mister, you need to cut that song.” They actually held up the album so they could add this song to it. It would have been a strong debut either way, but it’s nice that this song really broke Brad’s career open. It was his first #1 as an artist and my first #1 as a writer.

I remember watching it inch up the charts every week, first to the Top 40 and then 30 and then 20 and then 10. And by that time, you start thinking, okay if it can get this far, maybe it can hit #1. And it did.

McCain was a little out of control for a few weeks when the song became a hit, of course. Then he accompanied Brad to the 2000 Academy of Country Music Awards, where it was nominated for Song of the Year.

We heard reports from DJs all over the country saying that people were pulling off the road and crying when they heard it on the radio.

We got a lot of letters from fans. Almost everyone who wrote either had a story about themselves, or knew of a person who was affected by the song. That was really great, and very validating to see that something that was so close and personal to me and my wife was able to move so many people emotionally.

He Didn’t Have to Be

When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new

It always winds up feeling more like a job interview

My momma used to wonder if she’d ever meet someone

Who wouldn’t find out about me and then turn around and run

I met the man I call my dad when I was five years old

He took my mom out to a movie and for once I got to go

A few months later I remember lying there in bed

I overheard him pop the question and I prayed that she’d say yes

And then all of a sudden

Oh, it seemed so strange to me

How we went from something’s missing

To a family

Lookin’ back all I can say about

All the things he did for me

Is I hope I’m at least half the dad

That he didn’t have to be

I met the girl that’s now my wife about three years ago

We had the perfect marriage but we wanted somethin’ more

Now here I stand surrounded by our family and friends

Crowded ’round the nursery window as they bring the baby in

And now all of a sudden

It seems so strange to me

How we’ve gone from something’s missing

To a family

Lookin’ through the glass I think about the man

That’s standin’ next to me

And I hope I’m at least half the dad

That he didn’t have to be

Lookin’ back all I can say about

All the things he did for me

Is I hope I’m at least half the dad

That he didn’t have to be

Yeah, I hope I’m at least half the dad

That he didn’t have to be

Because he didn’t have to be

You know he didn’t have to be

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