The term “daddy” was widely used in the 1970s gay leather scene (think “leather daddy”), but it has since evolved. Leather daddies are still around, no doubt, but now the simplified “daddies” can reference contemporary celebrities like Anderson Cooper, Jon Hamm, and Idris Elba. What ties them all together isn’t their dress—now you can be a daddy in a suit, not just leather chaps!—but their age. If you’re past a certain birthday, then you’re dad material.
But perusing apps like Scruff or Grindr tell a very different story. You’ll now find guys in their 20s and 30s who identify as daddies, as if the goal posts for this archetype have been pulled forward a generation or two. Today, does age really have anything to do with being a daddy?
According to Oly Innes, the co-founder of Daddy Issues party, it does not. It has nothing to do with having kids, either.
“It’s just a vibe, a look, a way you dress,” Innes says. “You can literally have on a baseball cap and if you haven’t bent the peak, it’s a dad hat… If something is a little bit accidentally not cool, I guess, then it’s kind of dad-ish because you just look like you’ve been dressed by your wife.”
Daddy Issues party happens across the globe, from London to Los Angeles, and is an irreverent take on the fetish, claiming to cater more to the “daddy’s boy” rather than the daddies themselves. Two-and-half years ago, Innes had noticed that millennials had started using the term daddy, which became the impetus for the party. That, and he was actually called a daddy himself on Instagram back when he was just 26 years old.
Physically, Innes feels that daddies are handsome, strong, and rugged. “When someone just kind of like exudes that look or feel then they are a daddy,” he says. “Or literally if someone looks expensive or they look like they’re going to pay for dinner. You know, take you shopping, you know, that kind of thing. They’re a daddy, as well.”
Stela Furtado is the northwest regional coordinator of Women of Drummer, a kink organization for women. They are a non-binary daddy who also goes by “ma-pa.” Their definition of daddy differs from Innes’ significantly, but they agree that it has nothing to do with age. For Furtado, being a daddy or ma-pa is about taking on a dominant parental role—regardless of age. In fact, Furtado has considered being a daddy for someone older than them. It doesn’t mean being butch or a “masculine-identified dyke,” either; being a daddy transcends gender for Furtado and becomes a state of being.
Furtado tends to be a daddy within a dom/BDSM context, where they look out for the well-being of their “boi” or “girl,” have their back, and protect them. In exchange, their boi or girl would be in service to them and would be expected to do things like walk their dog, cook dinner, among other chores.
Carl Sandler, the CEO of DH Services, which owns Daddyhunt.com and the eponymous app, has a different take on things. He thinks that being a daddy can be a state of mind, but believes that most people see daddies as being older—and that the label has more of a utility by empowering the people who use it, since older men are often overlooked in a gay scene that values youth.
“It’s about validating that you can be sexy as you grow older,” Sandler says. “Whether or not you have wisdom.”
For Sandler, being a daddy means many things, including being a mentor, being in control, and being in ownership of one’s age. Sometimes, however, it just signifies an aesthetic, something physical—though he believes that it’s usually more of “a way of acting” and “a way of being in the world.”
“To be a real daddy takes a certain amount of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, confidence,” Sandler says. “You have to be very aware of the needs of the other—making sure that you’re really doing no harm and you’re taking care of others in a way.”
The daddy image has evolved enormously from the 1970s leather scene and the image of older muscle men in breeches, dominating their younger counterpart. While this archetype still exists, today’s Anderson Cooper can be a daddy alongside a 20-something club kid sporting intentionally lame denim and a baseball cap. A daddy can be playful and irrelevant, gender-defying, or someone who empowers a segment of the queer population that is otherwise overlooked. Daddies can be many things—as long as they’re sexy.