It seems like Daddy Issues are having their Golden Age. There’s the international Daddy Issues party. Gays have moved from animal classifications like bear and otter to Daddy, Zaddy, and Boy. There are incest scenarios pervading porn with studios like Family Dick and Gaycest. Hell, Daddy has become an exclamation of attractiveness. Is this a sign of the times? Are well being infantilized with our comic book movies and adult coloring books? Is it collective self-awareness? It is worth exploring if we are working to heal our parental issues when we sleep with older/younger men. Or are we adding to them? Are our daddy issues becoming subscriptions?
When you think of daddy issues your first go-to is maybe a girl taking up the stripper’s pole because of her crappy dad. But in the LGBTQ community, it’s not unheard of for gay men to date men who are significantly older/younger…or take to the stripper’s pole. This age disparity is often glossed over. With straight couples, there’s at least the occasional question of misogyny. But we rarely explore Gay/December relationships. At least not deeply. Sure, there’s Call Me By Your Name and the trope in movies. But notably lacking from the conversation is are these two men peers? Are they equal if they’re 10, 20, or more years apart? Also, let’s not even get started on potential predators taking advantage of youthful exuberance. Did someone say, Kevin Spacey?
I’ve always wondered if a relationship between an older man and a younger man could work long term. It always seems, from the outside, like it’s not equal. Shouldn’t relationships be between equals? One person will always be older with more means, experience, and knowledge. Similarly, someone younger will always have more potential for new life experiences, other guys, and even growing out of the relationship. This could work for the better or the worse. Bear in mind, I am not yucking anyone’s yum. As long as it’s consensual, do you. Live your best life. Daddy it up like nobody’s watching.
Why, Daddy, Why?
There’s plenty of reasons someone might have daddy issues. Like with the Oedipal Complex, it’s possible baby gays might develop a “crush” on their dad. After all, he’s the first male relationship in your life. Little straight girls “fall in love” with their dads, too. Finding someone like your parents is not unheard of. If you add to that the overwhelming lack of intimacy some men have with their fathers it makes sense. Physical touch is a love language. Being cut off from physical contact with a man as important as your father can cause a whole bunch of unresolved feelings of shame, rejection, and a hunger for intimacy from a father figure. And that’s not even counting people with traumatic childhoods.
Some LGBTQ people get thrown out of the house. They lose relationships with their fathers when they come out. Or they might have always had a tense, non-physical, even cold relationship with their dads. Worse, they might have had a father who only touched them to beat them. If you came from an abusive home you may be less likely to want to date guys older than you. It can create a subconscious fear of being vulnerable, sexual or intimate around someone who could physically dominate you. Or someone who reminds you of the person who hurt you. Similarly, physical bullying by peers might cause you to be wary of guys your own age. This could be why some guys become “daddies” and seek out younger partners. But is this fear a block to the intimacy we need to move forward in our personal growth? Is this fear holding us back from the vulnerability we need to have the relationships and the lives we want?
On the flip side, some guys may have been abused sexually by an older man. This could leave them with an affinity for that experience. Or they find themselves subconsciously seeking out abusive or neglectful father figures to relive those relationships romantically. There could be a complex emotional association with someone older or younger. Either way, all of these emotions seem personal and individual rather than part of a relationship. If you are projecting onto another person is that responsible? Is this projecting keeping you from seeing the relationship in front of you? Are you holding the other person back from having the relationship they want or deserve?
Some relationships are reparative. You could be looking for a “daddy” who is better than your real dad. Or you could be working your issues out by being that man for someone else. These reparative relationships can be therapeutic. They can provide opportunities for growth and collective healing. You can work through old emotions by forming new positive associations. If two people have complementary issues does that mean they’re codependent or on the path to healing? Honestly, it’s dependent on your honesty with yourself and awareness of the situation. In all relationships, we should remain self-aware. We should be aware of our personal growth and how that coincides with our partner’s own journey. Relationships grow like people.
I went through a period where I dated older guys. Guys my age never seemed to value my pop culture references, intelligence or wit. I was always reminded of what I didn’t have vs. what I did. But I can’t know if this lack of attention from guys my own age was caused by my own emotional walls and a chip on my shoulder. My father wasn’t around much. When he was it didn’t leave me with a loving feeling. On some level, I enjoyed the attention from these older men. And it was easy. My youth made me above reproach. My ability to converse with them on their level seemed superhuman. I had a want for attention I wasn’t getting from my father or my peers. And if I was being lavished on just because I was young was that so bad?
To poorly paraphrase Britney Spears, I’m not a boy, not yet a daddy. Being in this in-between space has given me some perspective. In retrospect, my dalliances with these daddies seemed transactional. I was too proud and mad at my father to accept gifts or free meals. But the attention was nice at the time. The sex seemed like an added bonus. But these years later, I do wonder if they were taking advantage. I gave away my time, attention, and sometimes my body and it didn’t go anywhere. I am not sure I learned anything or grew from these experiences. I’ll never know if their excitement about me was because of who I was as a person or solely because I was young and willing. On some level, I do think they benefitted from my hubris. I regret some of these choices and do feel, as older men, they should have known better. But being gay doesn’t bring a guidebook.
But now the shoe is on the other foot. I can empathize with those older guys. I’m sometimes confronted with younger men expressing an aggressive interest in me. I feel a tug-of-war between wanting to mentor them and spare them the indignities I suffered or sleep with them. After all, I am not their father and they are consenting adults. Mentoring without consent is equally problematic. I also see how these younger men are less burdened by the issues I grew up with. They’re more aware of how they are feeling and quick to discuss it. It’s easier to have an honest emotional conversation and establish boundaries. They’re refreshingly upfront about what they want. I am learning more about myself, my feelings and what I want in a relationship. But again, I question if I should know better? Should I be the person to shift from sleeping with someone to exploring other forms of intimacy?
Being in the weird middle space has offered me some insight. I notice how conflicted I feel when I get propositioned by older men. Notably lacking in their approach is a question of if I’m even interested. It’s often just a proposition of sex. I can’t tell if this boldness is attributed to loneliness, privilege, or casual sex cold-calling. It does feel like an outdated holdover of rape culture. These older men trying to assert themselves into my bedroom and onto my body can feel uncomfortable and even violating. I often reflect on this if I am ever overeager with a younger man.
But I also remember a time where gay men could only express intimacy sexually. Our hunger for homosocial physical contact was reserved for the bedroom. I remember what it was like when the only way to show affection for someone I liked were the moments when we were alone. While I can empathize I don’t necessarily agree. I have done a lot of emotional work in therapy and in life to break down my emotional barriers. If I want intimacy, I seek it out. I’ve found friendships can be as rewarding as sexual encounters. I’ve found my want for sex can often be attributed to boredom or a lack of human contact. I’m the guy who reaches for my date’s hand. I don’t need or want to splinter myself off or sex my way out of feeling feelings.
I believe the key is not just to be upfront and honest like these older men propositioning sex. There are also younger men who flat out ask to be taken out to dinner or lavished with gifts. While honesty is refreshing, it doesn’t feel authentic. We have to be honest with ourselves. We must figure out what we ultimately want and what serves our highest good. But we also have to do the work to get there.
I have seen it all. I’ve dated older guys and younger guys. I’ve had friends who have dated older guys and let them support them. I have a friend who supports his older boyfriend and calls him Daddy in front of his father. Love is love. The only part of these daddy issues I challenge is are we exploring how our age, social status, and shortcomings factor into these relationships. I am reminded of what my straight female friend said when she started dating a younger man. “Younger men are like campsites. You should leave them better than you found them.” So regardless of who we are, older or younger, as long as we are having a relationship with respect, mutual growth, emotional awareness and understanding we should all end up better off.
Christian Cintron is a writer, actor, and stand-up comedian. He has written about entertainment and gay culture for Edge Publications, Queerty and DNA Magazine. He’s also a regular contributor to Backstage.com.