I, Daddy: Growing Older in the Gay Community
Words by Joe Thompson and Colt Spencer
Illustration by Rob Clarke
“The guy was 23 or 24, with the most beautiful face, blue eyes, short wavy hair and a smooth, ripped body like an Abercrombie model,” says Garth, a 36-year-old publisher living in Los Angeles. He’d been out drinking at Sunset Junction, an outdoor gay-friendly event, and hit it off with the young stud. But then things changed. “Just when we got to my place he kissed me and said, ‘You’re the hottest Daddy ever!’”
Garth was floored. “I didn’t want to be lumped into a sexual subset, but there it was: Whether I liked it or not, I was officially confirmed as a Daddy by a hot stranger who thought he was giving me a compliment. In reality, all it made me think was, When did I become an old man?!
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Daddy. One simple word that provokes a variety of responses. But why?
Youth and beauty are qualities women are typically judged on, while men trade on their economic status. Thus, traditionally, heterosexual men and women each know where they stand in the dating game. But in the gay world, youth, beauty and economic status often intermingle, so it becomes particularly difficult for some gay men to not only understand their position in a relationship, but also to refrain from judging, making assumptions or growing defensive when labels such as “Daddy” are thrown around.
Sexually speaking, a lot of men don’t have a problem with the title. Marty, a 41-year-old defense attorney from Dallas, explains, “What’s going on in the throes of sex, the games you play and the language you use, that’s different. It can be a hot, fun game. It’s when people carry those roles into their daily lives that it becomes unsettling. For me there needs to be an equality, a partnership.”
Garth agrees: “When I would hear the word ‘Daddy,’ I immediately assumed the guy was looking for someone to ‘take care’ of him. And in my mind that has nothing to do with love.”
Ah, the Sugar Daddy. For straight men this role is taken for granted: You have a hot girlfriend because you’re loaded? Mazel tov! But if a gay couple’s ages vary by 10 years or more, others will let the barbs fly without hesitation. Yes, few men are as scorned as the Sugar Daddy, which is ironic because intergenerational love among gays is not uncommon.
“Studies show that one third of gay and lesbian relationships are intergenerational,” says sex therapist Winston Wilde. “If you read The Male Couple by McWhirter and Mattison, one of the biggest problems with gay male couples is competition,” he says, explaining that men of similar ages often compete over finances and success, and the negative feelings and emotions that go along with those issues only exacerbate the tension. In intergenerational couplings this kind of competitiveness doesn’t happen as often, because there are obvious differences right from the relationship’s start. “The older man is going to have more money, a much more established career, better connections,” Wilde continues. “And the younger one is going to bring vivacity, culture, contemporary awareness and all kinds of things to the relationship to keep the older one invigorated.” That being said, Sugar Daddy relationships are only successfully when the older man wants to take on that financial and emotional responsibility.
There are men who proudly consider themselves Daddies but who don’t take on anyone’s monetary needs. Wilde, for example, is 53 and embraces the sexual benefits that come with fitting into a certain preferred physical type, though he never purposely sought out younger conquests. On the contrary, they pursued him.
“All these people in their early twenties were coming on to me,” he says. “I was shocked; I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t find those guys attractive.” However, Wilde did eventually dabble with these younger men and discovered something about himself. “I realized that it’s the generation gap that turns me on, and it doesn’t really matter if the person is older or younger, as long as there is a nice big distance between us in age,” he says. “I never had that understanding until then.”
A key difference between Wilde’s self-discovery and other gay men’s experiences is that he always viewed the word Daddy as a sign of respect. So while some guys may think Daddy equals old, the truth is that the word means many different things to different people.
“Sex is supposed to be playful and fun, and if the Daddy–Boy fantasy gets guys off, then sign me up as a Daddy,” says Vince, a 44-year-old investment banker from Yonkers, N.Y.. Like Garth, he was also surprised to find himself lumped into the Daddy category but has no qualms about accepting the benefits that come with the title. “At first it was a surprise,” he says. “But I am past 40, losing my hair, getting a little gruff around the edges, and I realized that no matter how much I felt like I was still a hot muscle boy, I wasn’t.” So, rather than being offended by his new title, Vince embraced it. “I grew a goatee and mustache and shaved my head to fit the bill all the more. I still dress the same, but the ‘new look’ has gone over very well—and I find myself wondering why I didn’t do it years earlier.”
It’s not just the older guys who are claiming the Daddy title. Jeff, a 29-year-old retail clerk from New York, is more than happy to hold the moniker. “Being a Daddy is just something you find out you are, kind of like when you figure out you’re gay,” he says. “A lot of guys think you have to be older to be a Daddy, but I think it is more a state of mind. A lot of the guys that call me ‘Daddy’ are older than me, which is what I prefer. It’s not about age, just the way I feel about myself. I like to be in charge.”
GETTING A NEW DADDYTUDE
Unfortunately, for certain gay men, not even attention from young studs is enough to buffer the harsh reality that one has grown older. Falling into a new sexual niche, no longer being the hot guy at the bar, can be a harsh wake up call. However, getting older is a fact of life, and Wilde says that the issue really shouldn’t be about other people labeling you; the change in attitude is all yours.
“Is the term ‘Daddy’ truly something that can be said with any real venom?” he asks, and the answer is obvious: No. “If someone is going to call you a ‘Daddy,’ you can bet he’s using it as a come on because he finds you attractive.” So perhaps the only real way to beat the negative connotations of Daddy is to stop thinking of it as a negative title.
“Somebody once told me, you can either get bitter or get better,” says Garth, the man who was first called a Daddy by the Abercrombie stud. “So what am I going to do? Be bitter that my youth is gone and that I’m no longer a twinky boy, or embrace what the future is bringing me?”
And it’s with this attitude that Garth now looks past all the unjustified connotations attached to the term “Daddy” and has started taking advantage of the benefits that come with being a newbie to a sexual niche. “All of a sudden these hot men are interested in me, guys I would see at the gym who wouldn’t give me a look before,” he says. “What I’ve found is that being a Daddy is not necessarily who I am, but part of who I can be.”