Walker Hayes is a hands-on dad, in part because his father wasn’t. The 43-year-old grew up in a household where words of affirmation and affection were rarely offered by his own father, Charles Hayes. A workaholic real estate agent, Charles rarely had time for Hayes, the only child of his father’s second marriage, which had a blended family of nine children together.
Aside from breakfast together, Hayes hardly ever spent time with his dad, unless it was for his dad to dole out punishment for one infraction or another.
“As a kid, it was damaging,” Hayes tells The Tennessean. “As an older child, I probably vanished so I don’t have to deal with anger or mood swings. That stuff sticks with you. When you’re wounded as a child, there’s a part of you that doesn’t grow. I’m a 40-year-old man, and someone can hit a nerve that brings up shame, and man, it sets me off. I imagine you heal from damage like that the rest of your life.”
Charles passed away in 2021, right before the viral success of “Fancy Like.” Before he passed away, Hayes tried to have a meaningful conversation with his father, hoping for in many ways their first heart-to-heart talk. Hayes was riding with Charles in the car, and rehearsed in his mind over and over what he would say. But when the words finally were spoken, his father was immune to them.
“I just want you to know, you’re doing great. I’m so proud of you,” Hayes remembers saying. As soon as the words were out, Charles’ phone rang, and he answered it, all but ignoring what his son spent a lifetime getting the courage to utter.
“This crushed me,” Hayes concedes. “If he only knew how long I’d prepared that speech.”
Still, although damaging, the Alabama native has grace, at least now, for why his father could not receive the well-intentioned words.
“My dad for his entire life wasn’t prepared to accept words of affirmation. He was trained to get up and get busy; his addiction was work,” Hayes says. “So my speech there, well, that’s like talking to a drunk when he’s drunk.”
Since the success of “Fancy Like,” Hayes’ life has been a whirlwind of music, tours, awards shows and more. But because of the way he was raised, the father of six is determined to give his children an entirely different childhood than the one he experienced.
“I spend a crazy amount of time with my kids,” Hayes, who brings his family on the road with him, says. “I spend every waking moment I can. I have zero hobbies. I’d never play golf on a Saturday because I look at my children and think I’d rather spend four hours with them.”
Nothing better ♥️ pic.twitter.com/GmrUS2Xf5t
— Walker Hayes (@walkerhayes) June 15, 2023
Because of his own hectic life, Hayes now has grace for the way he was raised, in spite of the wounds he is still trying to heal decades later.
“As a father now, knowing all the aspects of life I’m juggling, I have so much mercy and forgiveness for my father. Now I know how difficult it is. I’m just a kid myself trying to raise kids,” he acknowledges. “But just sitting with my kids and paying attention, I bet it’s the biggest gift we can give them.”
“My dad called me — he never called me — and I answered, and he was crying,” Hayes remembers. “He said, ‘Walker, this is the best thing you ever wrote.'”
Hayes may not have had the idyllic childhood he is trying to give his own children, but he is grateful for the lessons his father did impart on him, even if he never had the relationship with him that he desperately wanted.
“Did he look me in the eye? Did we have those deep father-son moments with each other? No. That would’ve been great,” Hayes says. “But I’m so grateful for the example he set in how he treated other people and how he loved his job despite circumstances. I saw resilience and persistence every day.”