Brad Paisley looked to a songwriter friend's real-life circumstances while co-writing his first No. 1 hit, 1999's "He Didn't Have to Be."
The song from Paisley's major label debut album, Who Needs Pictures, was co-written with regular Paisley collaborator Kelley Lovelace. The Paisley-Lovelace songwriting team also brought us such chart-topping country songs as "Ticks" (along with co-writer Tim Owens) and "I'm Still a Guy" (along with Lee Thomas Miller).
It tells the story of a single mother with a man in her life who's willing to put her son on a pedestal. It mirrored Lovelace's relationship with his stepson, McCain Merren.
Per an interview with USA Weekend magazine, Paisley pitched the general idea to Lovelace by saying, "Let's make a song about you two that will make your wife cry."
Read More: Our Playlist of Tim McGraw's 10 Best Songs
The end result introduced a new talent to country radio listeners.
"'He Didn't Have to Be' was probably the most life-changing three minutes that I've ever written, because I really believe we wouldn't be sitting here anymore talking," Paisley said (as quoted by SongFacts). "Maybe we'd be sitting here with me having written a #1 song for somebody else, but I don't think I'd still have a record deal without that song. It broke the ice for me with radio. It was like you could see potential in it, and that's an important thing. I was really lucky, it wasn't like we knew what we were doing. I just happened [to write] that with my best friend from the bottom of my heart about his situation."
The music video really does a number on country music fans, as it follows the story of how a stepdad's love prepared the narrator to become a father.
"He Didn't Have to Be" Lyrics
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 something 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, oh 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 standing next to me
And I hope I'm at least half the dad that he didn't have to be
And looking back all I can say about all the things he did for me
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