What is a Daddy?.
Robert Dabolt

[Note: This is the second in a series of five articles originally published in the Official Folsom Fair Program for the annual San Francisco Folsom Street Fair. I have had the privilege to write for the Program for several years and I would like to thank my publishers and the Folsom Street Fair Board for allowing me to share them with you. This was published in the 2002 Program.]

At its most basic, a leather or SM relationship is a celebration of inequality. It is an exchange of power between a senior or dominant partner and a junior or submissive partner. These can take on any number of different characteristics, customizations and option packages, from Sadist/masochist, Master/slave, Dom/sub or Trainer/puppy. Just the Daddy/boy option alone can take endless forms in until the different definitions and manifestations are nearly as numerous and varied as the people who participate in them. Everybody has their own opinion.

In addition to personal relationships, there are social, political and cultural identities of "Daddy"- roles not unlike teacher, coach, activities director or tribal elder within the community. These people may or may not identify as a Daddy with partners, but they are relied on and looked to by the community as "Daddy". This year celebrates the 20th San Francisco Leather Daddy and Leather Daddy's Boy titles, the first such contests in the world to celebrate and recognize this dynamic. Since 1983, the community has looked to the San Francisco Leather Daddies for mature counsel and fundraising leadership and the titleholders have included attorneys, bankers, writers, artists, community business owners and club officers.

Many attempt to explain the popularity of Daddy/boy relationships in terms of what frequently happened to biological families when a son or daughter came out. Years ago, the first casualty of that process of self-discovery was any close relationship with one's family, followed quickly by the desertion of church and friends. "Leather families" replaced the shattered familial bonds and "chosen families" provided support when parents, church and friends had turned their backs.

The Daddy/boy structure addresses the very human need for place and belonging, along with a sense of dynastic tradition, heritage, inheritance and the passing along of something from generation to generation. The increasing mainstream acceptance of gay sons and daughters may make that less critical in the early 21st century, yet leather families continue to be popular, as an antidote to the isolation of urban life in particular.

Nothing, however, is less understood and more volatile to those who wish to discredit us. Masters and slaves fairly well speak for themselves but rabid right-wing alarmists have a field day with the incestuous and pedophiliac innuendo of "daddies" and "boys". This narrow and one-dimensional definition is as incorrect as those within the community who claim to have the one and only correct set of rules for what is orthodox daddyism and boyishness. Like any other relationship, the "correctness" or "rightness" of a Daddy/boy union must past this simple test: Does it work for those involved?
Daddies who are substantially younger than their boys, boys who are tops, boys who bring superior wealth, social status or experience to the table, Daddies who bottom, boys who are girls, Daddies who are mothers- there has been all manner of variation on the theme. Not all are SM or even leather relationships; some are not permanent roles but change with mood and season. The successful ones seem to take what works from one model and discard what doesn't.

Different Recipes

Like variations on favorite family recipes, the exchange of these different ideas can provide a rich and healthy menu of alternate methods, means and ingredients. Mix and match, season to taste and bon appetit:
"I have been a self-identified Daddy for a little over two years, but in retrospect, I have been a Daddy for far longer. I actually had a few issues with the term regarding what it meant to be a female Daddy and incest/abuse by biological or by marriage 'daddies.' My grandfather, who was the most father-like figure in my life, did some inappropriate touching when I was a young teenager; thus, my perception of 'Daddy' was colored by my own personal history and many of the women I know. 'Daddy' was not someone that could always be trusted.

Having been to most every Dyke Daddy contest, I was exposed to other women who considered themselves to be a Daddy. Plus, several books and magazine articles have come out in the last few years that have female Daddies in the stories. In addition, the Exiles have had programs on what it means to be a 'Daddy,' so the concept of being a female Daddy became more real, more of a possibility. Taking on the term/persona of Daddy may also be an outgrowth of being a butch. Since I am a butch, the female counterpart-- a Mommie (or Mom or Mother)-- does not jive with my outward appearance or how I feel inside. Daddy is much more in alignment with my butch and Top persona.
I did not grow up in a household with a 'Daddy.' When I came out I did not get taken under the wing of a 'Daddy' so I have had to create my own idea- one that is unique to me. One woman I know thinks of "Tom of Finland" as being the penultimate Daddy. That is not someone who I identify with. My 'Daddy' has elements of the 'Daddy' I fantasized about having when I was a child for example. A 'Daddy' that is strong (physically and emotionally), kind, a rock, self-assured, in control, firm and supportive.

There are probably elements of all the cultural dads I have seen on TV and in the movies, but with some added kinks. I am a sexual Daddy. I am still learning how to play as Daddy and be a Daddy and I hope to continue for a long time-it allows me to grow and keeps it interesting. One interesting venue about learning to be Daddy that I have recently started to explore is through the men's community. To me, the most essential component to being a 'Daddy' is feeling like you are one. As Daddy, I can be nurturing, evil, sadistic, a disciplinarian, indulgent, funny, goofy, and a bit old fashioned."
Vick Germany, San Francisco (SF Leather Dyke Daddy 2001)
"While every opinion is going to be different- those definitions should be determined by the Daddy and boy together. That is the key word: Together. A Daddy is the natural counterpart or balance to a boy. So, therefore, the best example of what a Daddy is, to this collared boy, is to express my opinion of what a boy is- and what I strive to always be. The motto that I go by is this: A son serves with his heart; a slave serves with his body; and, a boy serves with both."
Dan McPherson, San Francisco
"Some of the attractions of the Daddy-boy relationship are pretty obvious. There is the warmly familiar language, in terms of the words used and the psychosocial postures and non-verbal communications. There is the fact that 'straighter' friends, who are puzzled or worried by Master-slave situations can actually learn to accept, even embrace a Daddy-boy relationship. And, perhaps most importantly, there is the fact that a Daddy-boy relationship can be built to exact, personal specifications that include an almost endless variety of options.

If you want a relationship where the Top is dominant not only 'by definition', but also because of his strengths and the admiration the bottom has for him; where there is respect flowing both ways within the relationship; where only one party admits to learning and both parties are accepting growth and change; where the bottom is expected to have a will and to know when to express it and when to relinquish it, a Daddy-and-boy relationship is probably just what you want. And there is one more thing that is very usual in Daddy-boy relationships and fairly uncommon in all other leathersex situations: Daddies and their boys are almost always allowed by the parameters of their partnership to affectionately express genuine love for one another."
Joseph Bean, Maui (author of Leathersex)
"Guys at the bar I work at part-time and on my rugby team started calling me 'daddy'. I was flattered to be called that as I never considered myself one before. I guess I just look like what they think a daddy looks like.
Daddy to me means someone who is masculine and mature. Someone I could go to reliably to ask for help or to answer. I can also be daddy in the hetero sense of the word, being a father to two grown boys. Dictionary-wise, I assume it would have something to do with gender, but in reality there are all types of daddies, male and female. I don't have in a Daddy/boy relationship with my partner. We treat each others as equals. We might daddy each other sexually at times, though."
"Jim", Seattle
"I first identified as a boy in 1989 when I was 34. I believe a daddy should be more of a mentor than anything else, but to me, I don't relate to this moniker in the feminine (or any other) gender other than male. I enjoy the fraternal aspects and the camaraderie that comes from knowing my Daddy friends."
David Meyers, San Francisco (SF Leather Daddy's Boy XV)
"I think I have been identified as a Daddy from my mid-thirties. I got a lot of life experience from being on my own from my early twenties. I got a lot more experience from taking care of my partners ill from AIDS. I got a lot more experience working on community boards, then I was serious Daddy material. My role model, Alan Selby, came up to me and said it was time I take on some of the Daddy responsibility (in the community). I used him as an example and never stopped.
A Daddy is: A role model to boys and Dads, a community leader, a mentor to a boy and other Dads and a man who is willing help individuals and the community."
Steve Gaynes, San Francisco (SF Leather Daddy XII)
" I discovered a daddy-like attitude in me towards many people in my life. From biological family members to friends and sexual partners. But I'm for now at least, not at all willing to take on a role as daddy within the leather community and what, as I perceive, many people think a Leather Daddy is. I simply don't like nametags. They have the tendency to fixate people to be a certain way, whereas most people will have a hard time to fit the bill.
Having said all that, I think anything is possible in the partnership between a daddy and his boy. The Daddy being the submissive, the boy having a higher social status- whatever the people involved feel comfortable with. It might even be a great mental turn on to play around with and twist the automatic interpretation people have with words like daddy, boy, boss, rookie or even master and slave. Anything goes in the mind of men, so why clip its wings!"
Borisz Mos, Rotterdam (Mr. Leather Holland 2002)
"I guess I was first identified as a Daddy when after I won my title as American Leatherman 2000. It came with a ready-made family. The American Leatherboy immediately referred to me as 'Daddy', out of respect, to the hierarchy of the title, and I have to admit that at first I was uncomfortable with the designation. But then I began to explore what I thought a Daddy was, and found that the shoe actually fit, and nicely. My thoughts revolve around someone that can be trusted to have the knowledge of a community, and to be willing to share that knowledge with others. It doesn't have to be gender specific, because it is more of a state of mind and being, a sense of knowing what, may be the best directions to go. Being willing to stand up for the rights of others as well as yourself. It's a willingness to teach and nurture, mentor, and help in the development of a community, because a Daddy has already seen some of the pitfalls along the way. A Daddy has realized that someone has to pass down the information, someone has to share what has taken years to develop."
Dean Ogren, Chicago (American Leatherman 2000)
"For my boys, bois, puppies and slaves...I AM A DADDY. Someone that I wish I had when I was younger. A man who talks to his men/women and guides them through many of the life events that I have already dealt with and came through. Who loves to play, spank and bite, and pushes for the endorphins and love and adventure.
As a gay man I will not have biological children, so I can create a family of my own choosing. Being a Daddy has its respect implications and responsibility for my family. It is not so much what I can do for myself, but to be a bridgebuilder for those that will follow after me. It warms my heart when someone calls me Daddy and I know it is out of love. "
"Daddy Don" Aspach, Los Angeles, (Mr. LA Leather 2002)
"It is very rewarding to see the positive effects of what I do. I think that my leadership and organizational skills are the most important things that I have to offer. Nurturing and guiding people are essential to me. I believe in equal rights. The rights for anyone in society to be put in a better space."
Phillip Turner, San Francisco (SF Leather Daddy XI and late owner of Daddy's Bar)
"I considered myself a boy when I first came out in leather, almost 12 years ago. I was 21 and fresh from the twinkie bars, but when I learned about leather, daddies, boys and slaves, I knew I was a boy and sometimes slave. I've been a boy to two very special men, whom I love and care about very much.
A daddy is a person who is strong, dominant, caring, stable, knowledgeable, intelligent, stern, loving, will do what's best for their boy even if it's not what is best for the daddy. A person who is ready to take on the responsibility of having a boy in their life. Also, it is a title that is earned. I don't believe that you can just declare yourself Daddy anymore than someone can declare themselves a boy. I don't think it has anything to do with gender. He should be someone who can mentor, love, and help direct a boy's life. I think that a Daddy-type should be respected as a mentor, a very important person someone to look to for advice, love, respect. Like the saying goes anyone can be a father but it takes a special person to be a Daddy."
Joe Coloff, Michigan
Self-proclaimed or trained, tested and graduated? Are you only a Daddy when someone else calls you "Daddy" or is it an epiphany of self-realization? Tribal elder? A master with a velvet touch or some sort of überpartner? Tom of Finland or Ward Cleaver? Male, female or sexless?
Perhaps it is not so much knowing the magic formula, but to learn about as many different formulas and variations as possible and being willing to keep trying all of them until magic is achieved. And perhaps the enduring strength of the leather Daddy concept, like leather itself, is its ultimate indefinability.
The Folsom Series:
A Tale of Two Histories
What Is A Daddy?
Hell of a Run: Leather Publishing and San Francisco
A Tribute to Alan Selby
Behind Folsom Street