Of all the role-playing scenarios that excite the gay male imagination (master/slave, coach/athlete, cop/civilian, doctor/patient, big brother/little brother), surely none is more potent than daddy/boy. The energy that gets activated between two men when one of them says “Show Daddy your butthole” is so deep, profound, and erotic that we can only call it mythological. The interplay of strong, protective daddy with adoring, obedient boy uniquely combines love, power, and masculinity in a way that Carl Jung, visiting his local leather bar, would call archetypal, meaning that it goes with the territory of being human. It’s not that everybody is turned on by daddy/boy fantasies, but we can all locate ourselves along the spectrum of being, having, or wanting a good Daddy.

What does it mean to engage in daddy/boy fantasies? And how does that dynamic play itself out in gay male relationships? As a psychotherapist who mainly works with single gay men and couples, I can make a few observations. 

For one thing, it’s a mistake to assume that all daddy/boy relationships are alike. For some, daddy/boy is confined to sexual situations, and those can range from playful verbal banter to heavy-duty power-exchange and everything in between. For others, the daddy/boy energy carries over into other emotional and social arenas. While some gay men have memories or fantasies (happy or unhappy) about sex with their biological fathers, most daddy/boy erotic play has nothing whatsoever to do with real-life incestuous desires. 
It’s not unusual for men to have mixed feelings about their daddy/boy fantasies. Neil*, a magazine editor in his mid-thirties, is drawn to sturdy, butch men who radiate competence, confidence, and self-assurance, qualities he would like more of himself. (*Names and identifying details have been altered throughout this article to preserve confidentiality.) His rational mind is reluctant to name the object of his desire as Daddy, because the thought of sex with his own father is repulsive. And he wants to be seen as an equal partner in relationships, not some kind of “kept boy.” Nevertheless, he can’t deny that his strongest sexual arousal kicks in when he receives praise for being a “good boy” while pleasuring a partner he’s dared to call “Daddy.”

“Daddy” and “boy” name states of mind and don’t necessarily signify age difference. Likewise, not all intergenerational relationships operate on a daddy/boy basis. Still, there is a big connection between the two. In his 1975 study The Homosexual Matrix, psychologist Clarence Tripp offered an astute analysis of relationships, asserting that the emotional side requires rapport (similarity) and the sexual requires contrast (difference). Men and women are sufficiently different to give heterosexual relationships an automatic charge; gay relationships often thrive when sharp variations in age, race, background, or social level create what Tripp calls “the frictions that whip up erotic intensity.”

Jake and Joe are a classic example. Jake was a tall, lithe, 23-year-old dancer when he met Joe, a closeted 40-year-old businessman. For the first several years they were together, the contrast gave their connection a red-hot intensity. Joe was Jake’s erotic ideal: a big, hairy, ethnic Italian “straight” guy who liked to sit back and get taken care of. And the more codified their talk and touch was, the better. Boy got a lot out of pleasing Daddy, and Daddy got to bestow a blessing by affirming Boy’s sexuality. 

Perhaps inevitably, things shifted as Jake got older, more successful professionally, and beefier physically while Joe stayed the same. Jake began to chafe at the narrow strictures of their sexplay and longed for more erotic reciprocation than Joe was equipped to provide. Now they face the challenge of discovering a new sexual dynamic that satisfies them both. Interestingly, it’s not just Joe who struggles to allow more flexibility into the daddy/boy dynamic. Jake is so used to Joe being Old Reliable that it’s hard for him to believe it when Joe asserts his interest in trying something new. 

Getting stuck in rigid role-playing is one liability of daddy/boy relationships. It’s understandable, if erroneous, to assume that in every team of lovers, Daddy is the designated Top and the boy is the Bottom. In power dynamics, yes. In terms of sexual position, not necessarily. As Gordon – a 42-year-old landscape architect who has been an active leather top for twenty years – once memorably put it, “Sometimes Daddy like to get his kitty punched.”
Frank is an experienced player in the BDSM world of power-exchange, and Ernesto, his boyfriend of five years, is an enthusiastic newcomer. Their age difference – Frank is 62, Ernesto 42 – heightens their daddy/boy dynamic. Frank loves to tie up and dominate his boy; Ernesto loves to earn his daddy’s love by submitting. This works well when they make use of what they know about creating ritual space where clearly defined intentions and roles amplify both sexual excitement and emotional connection. But when you’re living together as a couple, the lines can get blurry. Problems emerge when Frank’s pleasure in controlling Ernesto strays outside of sexual settings – demanding that he go to a certain movie or eat a specific food. Then Ernesto feels manipulated and rebellious. Obversely, sometimes Frank feels vulnerable and wants some nurturing that his boy hasn’t developed the capacity to offer, and Ernesto feels like a failure. 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The shadow side of the boy’s reverence for the masculine ideal can manifest as a tendency to locate that masculine essence as exclusively outside of oneself and letting sexual competence (Sucking Daddy Off) substitute for healthy development in new directions, professionally or emotionally. 

As Pat Califia points out in the introduction to the erotic anthology Doing It for Daddy, Daddy-boy relationships are a form of mentoring. “Too many young men still have to struggle alone with the question What does it mean to love or want another man? What kind of person does that make me? What will it do to the rest of my life?” And the rewards of mentoring go both ways. The advantage for the designated boy centers on the opportunity to receive the particular masculine love that a tender and nurturing Daddy can offer. For the daddy figure, receiving attention from younger men by modeling the virtues of stability, caring, and perseverance gives new value to the experience of aging. 

This trade-off echoes the basic concept of imago therapy, a widespread form of couples counseling created by Harville Hendrix (author of the classic volume Getting the Love You Want), which is that we instinctly choose our partners for a reason. Usually, it has to do with making up for something we didn’t get from our parents. But here’s the deal: the healing comes not just in, say, getting from your partner what you didn’t get from your biological father but also in developing inside yourself whatever qualities you need to achieve your full potential as a human being. And – as daddy/boy enthusiasts know -- not just because it’s good for you, but because it’s hot.

Commissioned by Unzipped Magazine, published by Daily, August 20, 2010 * see online version here