Danny Riley, a cousin of Johnson's wife, was diagnosed with brain cancer while in high school. Some time after graduation, he went to live with Johnson and his family. While attending college in Santa Barbara, Caifornia, he succumbed to the disease at age 19. A year later, Johnson released this song, which juxtaposed coming to grips with Riley's death and watching his own son grow and learn to tread water for the first time. "It's about learning to let go of someone you love," he told Rolling Stone, "watching them swim away."