In 2023, it feels like almost everybody has daddy issues — but in this case, no expensive family counselling or friends staging sombre interventions are necessary. Instead, the rise of daddy refers to something rather more benign; the practice of referring to certain people — usually celebs, but the definitions are quite loose; daddy is not a binary — as a strange, quasi-parental figure.
The practice of declaring select figures to be adoptive parents has been floating around for a while, and arguably took root as an internet phenomenon when pop star Lorde commented “mom” below Kim Kardashian’s now infamous Paper magazine cover shoot back in 2014. “Call me daddy,” Christine and The Queens jokingly urged a fan on Twitter, three years later. In subsequent years, countless people have been bestowed with the honourable title. Thanks to her much-celebrated “silky daddy suit”, Rachel Weisz has obviously made the cut, as has Cate Blanchett and her leather trousers. Thanks to his side hustle as a DJ (not to mention a role in a film which is literally called Daddy’s Little Girls) Idris “Daddy” Elba is also a leading name, as is Penn Badgley thanks to his innovative use of TikTok.
The question is, what on earth is daddy?
First off, daddy has absolutely nothing to do with parenthood; a person does not need to be an actual dad, or even a man, in order to be daddy. A phenomenon that effortlessly transcends finite things such as “age” and “gender”, daddy is more of an aura.
As actor Pedro Pascal — who heartily embraced his role as a “cool, slutty daddy” by wearing a pair of Valentino shorts to the Met Gala — has pointed out, daddy is a “state of mind”. After the Chilean-American actor played a pair of roles that involved a great deal of leadership and gravitas — The Mandalorian’s title character and The Last of Us’s gruff protagonist Joel — he was swiftly labelled with the term, and rose to the occasion. “It seems a little role-related,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “There was a period where the Mandalorian is very daddy to baby Grogu, and Joel is very daddy to Ellie. These are daddy parts. That’s what it is.”
Draw a Venn diagram with two circles — one for “incredibly responsible” and one for “hot” — and daddy sits bang in the middle of the intersection. It’s a person who seems gifted at normally enraging things like assembling flat-pack furniture, and yet feels no need to boast about it. It usually emits a slightly confusing kind of sexiness.
As a term of endearment, daddy has been kicking about for years — its most obvious use is as a completely straightforward nickname, but it’s also a mainstay of queer slang. Though it was originally used to describe relationships with a hefty age gap in the gay community, the definitions have blurred and it has become a catch-all for any person who emits a quiet and mildly sexual air of competency.
It has become a catch-all for any person who emits a quiet and mildly sexual air of competency
And now we’re officially in daddy season. Traipsing across Worthy Farm this summer, one item rose above the rest as Glastonbury’s It garment — a piece from the always-excellent merch desk of pop musician Self Esteem, bearing the slogan “6 Music Daddy”. Poking gentle fun at the notion of a 6 Music Dad — usually a middle-aged bloke who pours admirable amounts of energy into perusing new music playlists, and frequents gigs by acts like Fontaines DC, Jockstrap, and, well, Self Esteem — her most popular variation of the hat takes the loveable trope and daddy-fies it. In a highly scientific survey conducted at the festival, I spotted 32 different 6 Music Daddy baseball caps, not including my own.
An important thing to note is that one does not simply choose to be a daddy; the lifestyle chooses you. As with the previous internet phenomenon of BDE (or “big dick energy”) it is profoundly undignified and bordering on unchic to go about declaring yourself a daddy.
This is why Channing Tatum’s recent slogan T-shirt, as worn by the actor as he took his 10-year-old daughter to see Taylor Swift, does not actually make him daddy by default. At one of the singer’s LA dates, Tatum wore a home-made tee bearing the slogan, “It’s me, hi. I’m the daddy, it’s me”. The glitter-encrusted garment is a nod to Swift’s song Anti-Hero, from her most recent album Midnights — but while it’s a fitting and quite amusing tribute to his role as doting gig dad, it does not necessarily elevate him to legendary daddy status.
Those who strive plainly to become daddy will rarely make the cut; it is a title that is bequeathed rather than chosen for oneself. Do you have what it takes to be a daddy? It looks like you’ll just have to hope you’re in possession of the elusive essence required to join these prestigious ranks.