Newman told Mojo magazine September 2008 that this song, in which an elderly man is offered cruel but truthful comfort by his son, turned out to be closer to reality than he thought. He explained that he didn't tell his father on his deathbed in 1990 "that this was the way you raised me so this is what you get. I saw him every day, but he took a while dying. I wanted to show more, somehow, and later I thought about that song." Newman added that though his father was physically affectionate, "I don't know whether in his head he was particularly affectionate. I thought of him hearing 'Old Man,' if he ever listened to it."
The third verse of "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by Crash Test Dummies ("they shook and lurched all over the church floor...") was inspired by girl whose parents would speak in tongues at their Pentecostal service.