Daddies and littles


by Randall S. Frederick

My friend Sara and I talk about almost everything, especially sex. I think our entire friendship is, in some sense, always coming back to sex because when we first met, we were playing that curious game of Shock where you trade stories, always trying to shock one another until one of you concedes. Wow. I can’t top that. Ever since then, we’ve had a very open friendship, judging one another’s dates and life choices, sexual encounters, often making each other dinner while we share about our lives, free of judgment or the ever present temptation to reduce someone to the things they have done or experienced. “You’re out of bread” is said in the same way we might say an ex-lover seemed so boring. “Time to go get another one.”

But occasionally, there are experiences that give us pause. Like the time she got back together with “the German” – a doctoral student with a condescending attitude toward her. Or the time I told her about “this daddy thing that’s been happening.”

For several years there, it seems my relationships had a “daddy” quality to them. The women I would date or have sex with all tended to fit a pattern: very strong, very opinionated, very intelligent and creative in public, who in private were very low-key, very cuddly, and spoiled – all of which, looking back, I encouraged. It’s part of my nature to take care of others. Sometimes, these women called me “daddy.” They would cautiously test it out on me at first, either in bed or sneaking behind me in the kitchen when I was in the middle of making their favorite food, their cautious tone indicating they weren’t sure if I would be okay with being called that. Or the the responsibility that came with it. Usually, they would call me daddy and quickly offer, “just kidding.” This was a test. They wanted to see how I would take their “joke,” if I would respond affirmatively, if I would be encouraging as they explored a new tone to whatever it was we were doing. Although, yes. One or two had “daddy issues,” problems with their father during childhood or even during their twenties, I never felt like that was where their use of the affectionate expression came from. They had “issues with their dad” not “daddy issues.” As one redditor put it, “Umm, I don’t know. I enjoyed calling my ex-SO ‘Daddy’ because I thought it sounded hot. I don’t have a father, and I don’t have ‘daddy issues.'” In every instance, the women in my life liked being treated with attention and soft care. That’s not an indicator of “an issue.” I was – at least then – eager to pamper them and make them feel special. “Daddy” was how they would primarily refer to me in private. And again, at the time this seemed normal. I didn’t really question it. It was one of those things I could roll my eyes at in the dark of a bedroom or when I turned away to grab a skillet in the kitchen. Here we go again, always taking care of someone.

It began, in some sense, when I was in college. In a long train of events, I took care of my mother and little brother while mom went back to college herself and eventually graduated with a graduate degree. Around that same time, my father went through a very profound series of setbacks. A friend died. Another friend’s marriage was overhauled and almost came to divorce. I felt I was always taking care of someone, but no one was taking care of me – always giving, always “daddying,” always having to be the responsible one. Then a girlfriend of mine had practically moved in. One afternoon she went to visit her family and, a bit later, rushed back to “our” apartment in heavy tears, bawling that her father “always ignored her” and loved her sister more than her. “It’s like he knows how to be a dad with her, but with me, I’m just this weird thing he feels obligated towards.” Crying out years of abandonment, she finally said that she felt I was more of a dad to her than her own father – I was “the only man” who had ever loved her and took care of her the way she needed to be taken care of. “I feel sometimes like you love me more than even God does.” I felt a great amount of pride at that – I was both boyfriend and the one who took care of her, a man she could quite literally run to when she felt frustrated or disappointed, a man who could stoically absorb it all, give her advice, cuddle her, encourage her, and help re-energize her to go back out there to the world and act like an adult for a few hours until she came back. But I also felt very alone, that our relationship was one-sided after her confession.

As you can guess, that relationship ended terribly. But the pattern remained. I took in stray girls like they were kittens – feeding them, clothing them, nurturing them, “daddying” them until they got over whatever you might call that phase between early and late twenties. Looking back, it was a difficult time for me relationally because I felt like I was giving someone what they needed but would seal myself off from them – they could ask for what they wanted or needed, but I couldn’t. I was above that, or at least I was supposed to be. Instead, I was always “on”, always giving. When I took, I was selfish or mean because the attention was no longer on my lover. The most telling moment was when a girlfriend made a pear tart for my birthday and proceeded to give it away to her mother, grandmother, and two of our friends. When she asked in a baby voice if I was going to say thank you, I was genuinely confused. Why would I? She had given my birthday present away to everyone except me – on my birthday. This genuinely seemed to confuse her and, of course, she wanted me to discipline her.

After we would have sex, I would “reward” these women in some way and go through the motions of hugging them, feeding them and making sure they drank a glass of water, rubbing their backs as they fell asleep, but then I would lay awake looking out the window at the moon or skyline and wonder “Is this all there is?” I think, again looking back, that I came to accept that when those first signs began to show themselves, the relationship would expire within a few months. “Little girls” grow up and one day no longer need their “daddies.” I felt unloved and unlovable. That was the phrase I started to use in therapy at the time, “unloved and unlovable.” My family relied on me, and I was ready to help to them. My sexual, even relational, partners relied on me and again I was ready to help. I was a caretaker. The responsible one. The one they could rely on. But I was never fully human to them. I accepted against my therapist’s advice that, for whatever reason, some people – family members, sexual partners, business clients – would need me for a short period because I could help them in some way. But they never really wanted me, not the real me, the complete and complex version. They just needed an emotional filler, someone to take care of them and help them move on. Daddy, Papa, Sir, Mister, I went by many names quietly, under the radar and suspicion of friends, classmates, work colleagues, outside of the loose exchanges of infrequent connections. I’m aware that I began to smile less, even though I had more reasons to smile than ever before.

One night, in the midst of winding down another Daddyship, I told everything to Sara. “It sounds like you need to just stop for a while,” she said. “Stop caring about other people so much, and take time to care for yourself.” The next night, I quietly (almost at the point of tears) told the girl who was coming around for emotional support to “Get out of my apartment. Now. I can’t be some kind of ‘daddy’ to you anymore. I’m me. And you don’t seem to really want me.” I felt like I wasn’t just saying it to her. In that moment, I felt like I was saying it to several girls, several women, who I could no longer support. It would take another six months before I was able to explain that to her.

After that, I spent a lot of time reading up on the dynamic I had found myself in, Daddy Doms and little submissives (abbreviated DD/lg or ls on message boards and porn searches). I wanted to understand what had been happening and what it was about me that kept repeating the pattern. I may not have loved these girls more than their fathers – but I did care for them very much. In these kind of relational dynamics, Daddies are generally “in charge of their little” to some measure mutually agreed on, though sometimes not explicit. While the Daddy does not seek to replace a father, they do have a tendency to take on a parental role. It works for both genders, Daddies and Mommies alike, though the prevalence of the male/patriarchal figure accompanied by a submissive female (the “little girl” or “little submissive”) often makes it seem that there are more “Daddies” than “Mommies.” Regardless, the authoritative role is to take care of, guide, nurture, protect, and love the little. Unlike other dynamics within BDSM where there exist qualities of dominance and submission, the DD/lg is a relationship built on genuine care and nurturing. Directions, orders, chores, and instructions are intended to help the “little” have rules and boundaries in pursuit of what is best for them, or even to achieve a goal, whether personal or professional, individual or relational. To this end, sometimes disciple will be used – another part of the BDSM axes – but again, the dynamic prioritizes care and assistance, nurturing and safety, more than sadism or capricious dominance. As Bethy Squires writes,

The general consensus… [is] that women call their partners “Daddy” because they are into submitting to male authority figures. “Sir/Master just doesn’t have that same affectionate tone to it, know what I mean?” says one redditor. “Some girls want to call their man Daddy in a way that has nothing to do with their father but as a way that communicates she is submissive to your masculinity,” says another. The most extreme version of this mindset is the DDlg kink community. DDlg stands for Daddy Dom/little girl, usually with only the Daddy getting capitalization. With this kink, men take care of their “littles,” providing toys and discipline. The littles, in turn, bring a joyful innocence to the relationship. The DDlg community thrives on Tumblr, where different blogs are set up for DDlg secrets, personals, and blogs for women who describe themselves as being “Mentally age 3-6, physically all grown up.”

Last year, a girl very directly propositioned me. “I want you to be my daddy.” None of the strays I had been with had ever been so direct at the outset, so intentional about what they wanted. They had, more or less, eased into an unspoken dynamic with me. Nothing really came of that particular proposition, but when a young woman can so directly name what she wants and asks for it, it certainly gets my attention. To help explain the dynamic from a “little’s” perspective, I recently put some questions to her. Charli is a 21yo woman, “from a small town in Louisiana. A town where everybody knows everyone and everyone’s business.” In February of last year, she moved to Baton Rouge to start her professional life and work for Hilton Hotels.

Q: What was your first experience(s) like with the daddy/little dynamic? How did you get into the scene, were you always kinky like this or did it evolve?

A: I think deep down I was always into the whole Daddy/little relationship, but I never knew how to explain it or I didn’t know that other people were into it or what even to call it. I always knew that I was into certain things that other people didn’t understand and thought was weird or people just never spoke about it. I have always been attracted to older men. I never found anyone I went to school with attractive rather I found my male teachers and my friends fathers attractive.

I lost my virginity to a 38yo man, and I “fell in love” (now that I’m older I know that was complete bullshit). I was 18 at the time, so it was legal. When we started to have sex regularly, I always wanted to push the boundaries, so to speak. Always try something different. I started to call him “Daddy” as a joke, because he was so much older than me. I started to actually like calling him “Daddy” and I started doing it during sex. After we broke up, I was having sex with other gentlemen and calling them “Daddy” was always my thing.

Q: Are you currently in a DD/ls relationship? If so, please talk about that a bit. If not, please talk about why not – are there challenges to talking about it with a partner, for example? What has been your experience?

A: My boyfriend is a few years older than me, but we are not in a Daddy/little relationship. When we first got together, we tried it, but I felt a different connection with him, and we decided not to continue… but to [have] more of a normal (whatever that means) kind of relationship. My boyfriend and I are in more of an equal relationship (which kills me a little, because you know, control freak over here) which we both make decisions involving money, bills, work, life and everything. When we have sex, it’s more personal. I feel 100% connected and committed to him. We have an amazing sex life, and I don’t feel the need to have this fantasy/role play with him.

Still, when we’re out, jokingly, I will say – well, just the other day, I said, “Wow, that guy is attractive. I would totally call him ‘Daddy,’” and he gets bothered. He said, “You shouldn’t say things like that.” I did that a few days ago and he got really upset about it. So that affects it. I’ll think, Okay, I shouldn’t be saying that. And sometimes I’m joking and sometimes I’m not and he still gets really upset.

Q: Is the Daddy/little dynamic more of a scene for you, or more of a lifestyle – just for sex, or affecting other areas of your life and relationships? Where is that line, in your life?

A: That’s kind of a difficult question. I’m able to separate myself from “little girl” to Charli. When I’m at work, or with family, I’m appropriate. I don’t speak of my sex life, not because I’m embarrassed because it’s no ones business. If someone would ask, I would tell them about daddy/little girl truthfully and explain to them what it is. Before I met my boyfriend, when I was looking for a relationship/sex, I would be controlling, I would tell these men what I like, and what I want to be called. I guess I had a “secret life.” So it doesn’t really affect any aspects of my life because I kept it separate.

Q: Right, that sounds like your social relationships. I’m talking about your partnered relationship, the person you’re having sex with – how does the sexual dynamic between you affect your non-sexual relationship?

A: I’m only like that when we’re having sex. I don’t think it affects it at all. I think it’s because I separate myself; I’m very controlling. Like, when my boyfriend and I are watching TV, I’m like, “We’re only going to watch what I want to watch” and he’ll be like, “No. We can’t do everything your way.” I’m very controlling. I can be a control freak. But I feel like I’m a completely different person when I’m in the bedroom. I’m not… I don’t know… I’m not that person anymore. I’m really sweet. I’ll separate myself. The only thing is, when I’m not in the bedroom, I’m a controlling person. I’m a completely different person in and out of the bedroom. I’m not me.

Q: What do you feel this expression of kink provides you that other psychosocial-sexual dynamics do not?

A: I’m a control freak. At work, with friends/family, and of course, in bed. When you’re a little, you like to please, and do whatever fantasy your daddy wants. But really as a little, you control the shots. Let’s say you like to be gagged, but you can only take it so much. So when you get to the point where you need to stop, all you have to do is say or do something. It’s all about the little. The little decides what continues to go and what stops. If you’re not comfortable doing a certain thing, then you’re not going to do it. Like, I’ve had guys ask to pee on me and I’m not comfortable doing that so I’ll tell them that and they’ll go, “Okay. We’re not going to do that.” I’ll only go to a certain extent. This is kind of how I view it: A little is supposed to pleasure the Daddy. But the little is in control, they say where it stops.

Or pleasure. It makes me feel good knowing that I’ve pleasured someone. I like having sex with men who have never had someone want to do the daddy/little thing with them, and I teach them or tell them how to do it. It’s great to see someone open up like that. And [for those she introduces to the dynamic], it’s kind of like they become, not addicted, but text me over and over asking when we hang out again, so it feels good. I just taught them how to do something; I just taught something that they like. Obviously. I pleasured them. I might say, “There are things I won’t do, but I’ll do whatever I can to please you.”

Another aspect is confidence. That comes into play as well. Having a daddy makes me feel beautiful, and loved. I had a lot of body issues growing up and when I became sexual, I started to love myself more.

Q: What kind of satisfaction do you get out of all of this – besides the obvious?

A: Knowing that I got someone off. Knowing that they will remember me. They will always remember the girl that taught them about being a Daddy – that’s what gets me off, knowing that I pleasured them and they are always going to remember me. That’s basically what it’s about, is teaching somebody and they like you. They didn’t know they were going to like something like this and now they’ll remember me. To this day, it’s been almost a year, and I will still get messages. They will still call me or message me on Facebook and want to get together.

I’m from a small town. In that small town most people are closed minded, very religious, and many people believe that sex should just happened on your wedding night, and things in that matter. I think being in a daddy/little relationship expresses my female sexuality. If I want to have sex, I should be able to have sex and do whatever I want in that sexual relationship without being judged. If I don’t want to just stick to one sexual relationship, then I shouldn’t have to.

Q: Some people are a bit curious about this genre of sex and relationships. There are all kinds of websites, social groups, and cultural experiences which show a renewed interest in this area. Why do you think that is? What do you see happening in culture-at- large that makes this genre so interesting right now?

A: I believe many people are interested but never came out and said it because of what people think. People think it needs to be this taboo-hush- hush-thing, but it really doesn’t. Some people think it’s weird or strange, but it’s not. It’s just different. And it’s a good thing, not bad. But it’s 2016, I think more people are coming out of their sexual shell and adventuring out.

I feel like Fifty Shades of Grey started it. People started reading it go on Facebook, Google, wherever, talk to their friends, and be like, “Oh my God, this book is really hot,” you know? They would be jokey about it but at the same time say, “This is really hot. This is something I would be really interested in and they would do it with their partner and realize it’s something they do enjoy. I feel like, also, the last two or three years have been about body positivity and people and people coming out in their sexuality and stuff. Feminism has been a big deal. So I think all of that combined and talking about things that they’re into sexually has started. People are more accepting now.

Q: What would you say to someone who is interested in exploring this genre? Someone curious and exploring, but hesitant?

A: I would tell them to do whatever you’re comfortable with, and to have fun. If you’re hesitant, that’s okay. Everyone has been nervous. I would tell them to find someone they’re comfortable with and who they trust. Maybe do some research online; there’s a million articles and message boards online! Make sure you tell your future “daddy” what you’re okay with doing and what you’re not okay with doing.

Charli’s depiction of the dynamic is actually very challenging. For Charli, being a little is a scene, not a lifestyle. It’s about role-play, not relationship. This is a very important distinction to make, and one that many find confusing or challenging about different BDSM dynamics. My experiences, as described, were more of a lifestyle, a relationship, where most of the Daddy/little dynamics with my partners were lived outside of the bedroom and not compartmentalized to merely a sexual encounter. Charli’s was more of a “scene” involving role-play elements in a brief sexual encounter or series of encounters. In her experiences, these “scenes” were mainly with partners where a sustained or prior relationship did not exist. However, as she pointed out, she got what she wanted.

It’s also important to note that most littles are not focused on controlling their Dom like Charli describes. She excused this incongruence by saying “Yeah, it kind of makes me a brat” but there is a very sharp distinction to be made between a little acting like “a brat” (a willful little who needs to be punished) and a little intentionally subverting the entire dynamic of the Daddy/little relationship which would be similar to a submissive telling their Dominant what to do. It’s just not (typically) done that way.

While all littles (should) have a degree of control to protect themselves from harm, in most instances, the little is primarily submissive to the control of the Dominant. Again, Charli’s examples were “scenes” existing in sexual encounters. As she said, once the sex ended, she returned to her normal life where being a little affected neither her relationship with the sexual partner or any other aspect of her life. My experiences were more about a lifestyle and relationship. This is a primary reason why, though we both enjoyed the DD/lg dynamic, Charli and I were exceptionally incompatible. And that’s okay. Even within the same kink, potential partners do not have to agree and can go their separate ways. These differences, though, provide a great deal of insight into not only the DD/lg dynamic but other forms of BDSM and relational structures as well. Every relationship is unique to the parties involved. Because of these differences, it’s hard to determine why someone becomes either a Daddy or little except for their individual and unique preferences in sex, relationships, and personality, which is really what makes sex so interesting. There’s so much diversity and opportunity for new experiences with partners because of what makes them who they are.

Often, a Daddy will admit to enjoying the regression that their little evidences, doting on them as a caregiver as much as they enjoy the little’s more mature adult qualities, but again, Daddies do not seek to replace the little’s actual father.

“I’ve heard from a fair amount of men who were turned off by it, and were worried that it was an indicator of ‘daddy issues,'” says sex therapist Vanessa Marin. “Yes, ‘daddy’ can mean ‘father,’ but we also use the word to indicate when someone is the boss, in charge, a protector, or doing a good job. That’s usually the meaning women are going for in the bedroom. It’s a bit of a 70s porn cliche. I’ve never run across a woman who called her partner ‘daddy’ because she genuinely liked fantasizing that he was her father.”

I asked my friend *Robert (obviously not his real name since we share friends who will inevitably read this) to help flesh this out a little more, to really look at all the angles on why someone would call their partner “Daddy.”

Robert, a gay man in Los Angeles, says he prefers to call his partner “Papi.” While the name was initially a cute pet name for his lover, “Calling him that, it became this whole other thing where I just really think it says everything about us. He’s my Papi, my man; I would just do whatever he says now. It’s not like a cute name anymore, you know?” Robert went on to say that, for he and his partner, “I’m a bottom. Completely. He just controls everything and babies me. He’s the responsible one, I’d say. I like being babied. I mean, I know I’m pretty and I get that, but it goes beyond that. I feel like I’m loved, really, on this crazy level where I don’t just do what he says, I want to do what he says. I want him to tell me what to do – and not just sexually. He tells me something and it’s Yes, Papi.” 

He also added that, for many gay men, there is a mentor quality that goes unspoken. “I would totally say that when I hear girls talk about their ‘Daddies,’ what they don’t say, but maybe gay or queer men will say, is that this person, the Daddy, is really responsible for helping you. Mentoring you. Helping you [with] kind of, I don’t know, whatever you’re doing with your life. They really invest in you, especially if you’re a baby (a newly out person), and help you meet people, talk you through whatever it going on, or tell you who to stay away from. So, it’s also about mentoring.” In other words, the dynamic includes sex and the relationship between partners but it also extends to friend circles, society, even business. “Papi didn’t do that for me, necessarily, because he wasn’t the first guy I was with… but there have been times where he’ll tell me something about someone that I didn’t know but needed to or he’ll help me understand what it’s like for someone else, take their side and explain it, but still be there for me. All me. He just takes care of me and I really need that. I’m his little boy and that’s it.” The way Robert explains it, his Papi “owns” him. He does whatever Papi tells him, in and out of the bedroom because of the level of trust between them. “It wasn’t always like that. Papi was even really careful with me, and made a point of telling me that he didn’t want to rush it in our relationship. Papis [and Daddies] earn their little’s respect and trust.”

In discussing this dynamic with friends and colleagues, one of the most frequent things that has come up is how hard it is to understand why people want to experience this version of dominance and submission. For their part, littles deeply enjoy being doted on, cared for, and lavished with attention. As Miya Yamanouchi writes, littles do not receive as much attention when discussing the Daddy/little dynamic.

This kind of submissive enjoys being treated like a child by her lover, most commonly calling her partner “daddy” both in and out of the bedroom. She’s fully integrated with her inner child, not play-acting the character of a young girl in her relationship. Actually, this is no role play scenario for her at all. For a submissive, being a child feels entirely natural, authentic and effortless whereas playing the role of a “grown-up” feels conversely like a forced and falsified act… This kind of BDSM dynamic involves the submissive being treated as both princess and juvenile, being pampered and spoiled for her good behaviors and scolded and punished for her not so good ones. The daddy issues rules and guidelines for his little girl to follow such as curfews, and dress-codes. He administers punishments for rules not abided by, including writing out lines, time in the naughty corner, groundings, lectures, and spankings. Rewards are given to the submissive in this dynamic with equal regulation, from “treats” like chocolates, sweets and presents, to even a simple pat on the forehead with a verbal acknowledgment that she’s been “a good girl.”

The payoff for the Little submissive in this alternative relationship dynamic is that she gets spoiled, babied and adored 24/7. She receives all the affection, adoration, support and encouragement a girl of any age could ever want and coupled with an endless source of quasi-paternal love and care. Meanwhile, the Daddy dominant benefits from having a totally complaint and reliant endearing woman-child forever doting on him, looking up to him, and surrendering herself to him—body, mind and soul.

Individuals get into this kink because it is deeply rewarding, not just sexually but emotionally, relationally, even socially. There is a high degree of satisfaction to be derived from taking care of a loved one, even submitting oneself totally to the care of another. The question then is not why someone enjoys this, but why we as a culture are not able to admit we are already participating in dynamics like these to some degree – we care for our loved ones, our lovers, even our friends. We enjoy taking care of the people who mean something to us. We dote. But very often, there are residual issues – like the ones I experienced – when relationships become somehow unbalanced. Perhaps our aversion has more to do with discomfort with assumptions about what a “healthy” relationship looks like, or should look like. When we see someone else doing things differently in their relationship, it makes us question our own. Or, worst of all, we see someone loving their partner too much and judge ourselves as not enough.

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