Dolly Parton Had an ‘Awkward and Strange’ Relationship With Her Half-Brother

Dolly Parton grew up with a large family who she frequently welcomed into her world of performance. As it turns out, however, Parton’s family was more expansive than it initially seemed. She explained that her father had several children outside of his marriage. Parton said that her relationship with one of her half-brothers was slightly uncomfortable.

A black and white photo of Dolly Parton wearing a white shirt and sitting in front of a fence and trees.
Dolly Parton | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dolly Parton was one of twelve children

Parton was the fourth of twelve children born to her mother, Avie Lee Owens, and father, Lee Parton. Both parents were extremely busy, with Lee working as a farmer and Avie Lee consistently pregnant and raising infants. Because of this, the Parton children had to care for one another.

“Mom and Dad loved us but didn’t have time for all of us,” Parton said, per the book Smart Blonde: The Life of Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller. “We only got picked up when we were being nursed or to have our butts whipped.”

Avie Lee was primarily occupied with the youngest child, so the older Parton children cared for their younger siblings

“There were so many of us that we, each older one, had to take care of the others,” Parton said on Home & Family. “Mom was just having one baby. There was only 18 months to two years difference in our ages. So as the kids started multiplying mom would say, ‘Well this one’s going to be your baby.’”

She described her relationship with her half-brother as awkward

As a way to “blow off his own steam,” as Parton’s sister Stella put it, Lee Parton would often go to town to drink on the weekends. In town, he sometimes met with other women.

“Daddy, he often ran around and he had some children outside of us, but he was a good father and a good husband,” Parton told Interview Magazine. “He always came home. He was just a little wild, and I can certainly understand that, because I’m a combination of both of them. But he always loved Mama and always treated us good.”

According to Miller, one of these children was a boy roughly Parton’s age, and the two went to the same school. He reportedly had no idea that he was her half-brother.

“He had a thing for me, he had this feeling for me,” she explained. 

While she found this “awkward and strange,” Parton did not feel that it was her place to tell him they were related. 

Dolly Parton reportedly wrote the song ‘Robert’ about her half-brother

Years later, Parton wrote the song “Robert” about a similar situation. In it, the narrator describes a rich man who is interested in her without knowing that they share the same father.

“Robert, oh, Robert if you only knew/ The same blood is flowing in both me and you/ That rich boy’s your father, but he’s also mine/ And my mamma is the poor girl that he left behind.”

While the roles are reversed, with the narrator living with the mother instead of the father, it tells a similar story to Parton’s real life.

RELATED: Dolly Parton Dished on Her First Kiss, Saying She Was Happy It Was With ‘One of the Cute Boys’