I Know We've All Moved On But I Can't Stop Thinking About 'Daddy'
In 2017, two full years after everyone finished discussing the concept of "daddy," I had to wonder: What makes someone daddy?
Collage by the author
"Cold Takes" is a new column in which we express our passionate beliefs about insignificant events and Internet discourses at least several months too late.
The word "daddy" seemed to come to the fore of our cultural consciousness in 2015. Suddenly, teens were tweeting the word at celebrities and the patriarch of the Catholic church. This also spurred a seemingly earnest, feminist debate around the term daddy—and the concept of "daddy issues."
The peak of the daddy discourse came in the summer of 2016, when the term garnered its first prominent detractors: "Don't have deep psychosexual Freudian and Oedipal trauma/dysfunction?" Shanley Kane, an embittered Twitter user and prominent voice for women in tech, infamously tweeted. "Good for you. Stop appropriating 'Daddy.'"
Now it is the fall of 2017, the worst year, and the daddy zeitgeist has long been dead. I realized this when I tweeted "what makes someone daddy" on Tuesday, genuinely hoping people would weigh in. The inquiry got one "like" and zero replies, and it became clear that I was not talking about what everyone else was talking about.
The low engagement on my tweet shamed me, and I deeply regretted that my daddy-curious phase didn't sync up with the heady days of the daddy discourse. Still, I feel it's an important question to ask: What makes someone daddy?
The answer is surprisingly elusive due to the myriad contexts of the word daddy. Oftentimes, "daddy" doesn't even denote a coherent set of traits. Justin Bieber is daddy. The Pope is daddy. Zayn Malik is daddy. Bernie Sanders is daddy. Jeremy Corbyn is daddy. Any hot guy is daddy. Any old guy is daddy. Any guy, really, is daddy. It's a joke.
Like most things in late capitalism, the word has become meaningless. "Everyone just uses 'daddy' like 'bae' now," a source who is close with teens, and has seen Jaden Smith, Malia Obama, and A$AP Rocky at parties in real life, explained.
However, daddy is also specific. "Daddies inherently have their shit together and responsibility is sexy. Experience is hot," Leighton Gray, one of the creators of the video game Dream Daddy, a dating sim in which one plays as a literal dad and attempts to seduce other dads, wrote me in an email. "Daddies are, essentially, the answer to millennial dating woes. A Daddy won't ghost you, a Daddy isn't going to conveniently forget their wallet four dates in a row, a Daddy is mature enough to not only take care of themselves (and a kid, if they have one), but to care for you, too."
"Daddies inherently have their shit together and responsibility is sexy."
"Everyone's a mom or dad the way everyone eats ass," my colleague Sara added. "But in actuality, they either are or they aren't. (They usually aren't.)"
A binary, however, is perhaps not the best way to define the term. It's possible for someone to be daddy in one scenario and decidedly not daddy in another, and the concept of "daddy" transcends gender. I realized this two weekends ago, when I found myself telling a guy I didn't know too well to "spank me, daddy." It was the first time I had directed those words to another human being. It was also my first not-quite-a-threesome. I had just broken up with my long-term boyfriend.
My friend had grabbed a riding crop she owns and presented it to the guy: "No, spank me, daddy," she instructed. (After a breakup, it's helpful to have friends who are the type to own riding crops.) He half-heartedly fulfilled the request for, like, 20 seconds tops, and then started to seem overwhelmed. After many repeated attempts to get him to resume the spanking—("Spank me, daddy." "No, spank me, daddy!")—my friend just picked up the whip and started spanking me, and I returned the favor. As we carried on, we periodically asked, "Why won't you spank us, daddy?" to no answer.
But it suddenly became obvious: The guy wasn't daddy—my friend who owns a riding crop clearly was. I didn't make the connection at first because I had never truly seen her as daddy before that night. She was certainly not daddy when we went to Italy for a week a few years ago and we haplessly slept in until 1 PM, had zero spatial awareness, made it to a grand total of one museum, chain smoked, and ate gelato everyday. (Daddy has a plan and is in control.)
"Daddy is fluid," she told me in a text. "Daddy is a vibe. Anyone can be daddy or not daddy at different times—and even daddies need daddies sometimes!"