The dilemma with ‘daddy’: The erotic myth of the interesting, mature man that stuns Pedro Pascal, David Harbor and Idris Elba

They’re around 50-years-old, they have gray hair, their bodies aren’t sculpted and their attractiveness is as physical as it is emotional and intellectual. The erotic myth of the fascinating older man has been reborn on TikTok

Pedro Pascal poses with fans during a premier in Madrid, Spain.
Pedro Pascal poses with fans during a premier in Madrid, Spain.Getty Images / Blanca López
Guillermo Alonso

As has happened with so many other things, it turns out that historically discriminated social groups had already invented the concept of a “daddy” long before the masses adopted it. In this case, we should recognize that African Americans and queer people came to it first. A “daddy” — that is, is a man of legal age, with an attractive but not typically muscular physique — is a serene and decisive character who, when in a relationship with a younger person, acts as a protector, mentor and patron… in addition to a sexual partner.

References to a “daddy” as a romantic partner already appear in jazz and blues songs from the 1910s, sung by Black artists. For example, in the classic I’m Crazy About Your Lovin — dated around 1919 — the following line was sung: “I have a loving daddy… and the truth is that he loves without equal.” Another popular verse from the early-1920s was, “How can I be your sweet momma, if you’re already someone else’s daddy?”

In the 1970s, the gay community saw that there were many things it could borrow from the African-American community, such as disco music. When it was still forbidden for people of the same sex to dance together in many parts of the world, LGBTQ individuals discovered dance music, which didn’t require couples to jive. The adoption of the term daddy would soon follow. It started in leather subcultures (leather daddy) and was subsequently used in more difficult environments. In prison, for instance, the term “jailhouse daddy” was used to describe the partner who defended you in fights, but also had intercourse with you. This is what the history books say, at least.

The psychologist Gabriel J. Martín points to another more mundane reason for the shared use of this term: belonging to the ghetto. “One of the implications that occurred is that we shared the same spaces for socializing. It was easy to find a 25-year-old boy in the same bar where a 40-year-old man was having a beer.” Among lesbian women, couples with large age differences are also very common. The case of Sarah Paulson, 48, and her 80-year-old girlfriend, Holland Taylor, is a favorite on the internet.

Thus, it seems appropriate to start a trend with an act of justice. The term daddy — like so many other terms — has been borrowed from historically disadvantaged groups. “The upper classes have always had a certain inaccessibility… Their leisure usually involves more paraphernalia,” explained María Bastarós, art historian, cultural manager and author of Herstory: An Illustrated History of Women and Sexbook: An Illustrated History of Sexuality.

“Think of the opera, for example. On the other hand, the leisure of the popular classes is more open to participation, more visible and also more liberated in everything that has to do with bodily and sexual expressiveness. It’s normal for us to adopt twerking, for example, for which you only need music and a body, instead of regattas, for which you need several sailboats,” she went on.

 Sarah Paulson and Holland Taylor at a Louis Vuitton show during Fashion Week in Paris, circa March 2023.
Sarah Paulson and Holland Taylor at a Louis Vuitton show during Fashion Week in Paris, circa March 2023.Stephane Cardinale - Corbis (Corbis via Getty Images)

The masses would take a while to adopt the daddy trend, despite the fact that, in 1968, there was a small flash. The Zombies sang, in Time of the Season, one of the defining verses of psychedelia: “What’s your name? Who’s your daddy? Is he rich like me?” In 1978, Christine McVie wrote Oh Daddy, one of Fleetwood Mac’s most unclassifiable love songs.

In 1987, George Michael sang in the poignant and somewhat haunting Father Figure: “I’ll be your father figure / put your little hand on mine / I’ll be your preacher, your teacher / I’ll be your daddy.” Father Figure — which was number one in the United States and one of the most successful songs of that year — is included in an album that sold 20 million copies. Long before social media idealized and celebrated the interesting gentleman with gray hair, there were already millions of people screaming in their rooms: “I’ll be your daddy.” Michael would not come out of the closet until 1998, although only Americans seemed surprised when he did.

The term has intrigued the public since the beginning of this century. In a 2002 episode of Sex and the City, a man immediately stops having sex when his younger lover calls him “daddy.” In 2005, The Washington Post dedicated a long article to the word and, in 2018, The New York Times dubbed that year “the year of daddy.”

Latinos use the word with special zeal. Lorna sang Papi Chulo in 2003, while Maluma titled an album Papi Juancho in 2020. And there certainly have been many papis in recent popular culture: Idris Elba, David Harbour, Jeff Goldblum, Oscar Isaac, Christopher Meloni or John Krasinski are great examples. All of them are men between the ages of 40 and 60 ( although Goldblum is already 70). They proudly show gray hair and some wrinkles and don’t have gym-sculpted bodies. What they have simply can’t be bought. While these men are sexually attractive, they’re also intellectual, paternal, empathetic and romantic.

In 2014, the Disneyland DILFS (“Dads I would like to f**k”) Instagram profile was created. Today, the page has nearly half-a-million followers, and the title doesn’t lie. There are photos of gorgeous fathers walking around Disneyland. “The happiest place on Instagram” is slyly announced in the header. Oftentimes, the men are actually good-looking, but they’re mainly attractive to their followers for the simple reason that they’re parents.

David Harbour poses for EL PAÍS in Los Angeles, circa 2020.
David Harbour poses for EL PAÍS in Los Angeles, circa 2020.Charlie Gray

It is thanks largely in part to the actor Pedro Pascal for making the term ubiquitous. His role in The Last of Us has largely contributed to this: he plays a father tormented by the loss of his daughter. He remains attractive throughout the series, despite the fact that he goes for several days without showering or changing his clothes as he crosses a desolate, zombie-ridden country.

But TikTok has had a lot to do with his association with the trend. The search words “Pedro Pascal Daddy” pull up videos that, combined, have almost 750 million views. And even Pascal — who is always solicitous and kind to the press — seems to have had enough. Earlier this month, he was walking the red carpet at the season three premiere of The Mandalorian when an Access Hollywood reporter asked him to read out some risqué tweets about him. After reading them, Pascal politely smiled and replied, “No.”

Pascal is now trying to stop a game that he gladly played along with for a while, perhaps thinking that it was innocent and that it would benefit his career and popularity. In January of this year, at the premiere of The Last of Us, a reporter shouted “You know you’re the internet daddy?” She then asked him to read a fan tweet that read, “I refer to Pedro Pascal as a DILF and he’s my hot and cool daddy.” Giving into the wishes of his fan (and the entire internet community), he looked into the camera and said, “Yes, I’m your hot and cool daddy.”

It’s possible that Pascal himself fears that he’s becoming a fetish, being reified as other famous men and women have been before, reduced to sex symbols. Bastarós confirmed that the obsession with daddy is simply another fetish. “Perhaps it’s not as violent as others, because the desiring subject — the young girl — is the one who remains in the supposedly subordinate role and not the other way around. I also think that it’s a fetish that’s very easy to understand, since it’s only a translation of how society understands us as individuals and of what erotic capital it grants us: man provides materially and intellectually, brings wisdom, experience, and protection against threats. And the woman offers youth, freshness, beauty, fertility…”

“I think [this fetish] can even lead to self-infantilization that limits personal growth. Putting another in the role of provider, protector, or teacher puts you in the role of a child. But then again, I also liked my professors at university,” Bastarós added.

Gabriel J. Martín also warned of the toxic dynamics that can sometimes occur in this type of relationship: “There are gentlemen who are 20 years older than their boyfriends, or who are dedicated to looking for boys who are 20 years younger than them because they find them sexually more appealing or, above all, more manipulable, because they have much less life experience and are very easy to convince to do what they want with them. And there are also young boys who take advantage of the hold they have over mature men… [they lack] self-esteem to [want to] have a person who is in charge of solving all their problems and subsidizing all their whims. I have treated [both sides of these cases] in consultation: victims of older manipulators and victims of brats who wanted to get money out of them.”

 Jeff Goldblum walks the red carpet at the 75th Venice Film Festival.
Jeff Goldblum walks the red carpet at the 75th Venice Film Festival.Eamonn M. McCormack (Getty Images)

In any case, the enormous popularity of the term daddy or papi has made it lose part of its original meaning, instead becoming a synonym for hot guy, since it’s now being applied to men who have neither gray hair, nor strong bodies, nor the age or worn looks to be considered daddies, as is the case with Zayn Malik, Ryan Gosling, or Drake.

Could this phenomenon happen with a woman? The MILF (“mother I would like to f**k”) constantly reoccurs in American cinema, from The Graduate to American Pie. MILF was the third most searched term on PornHub in 2022, according to its annual report (stepmother was the seventh). But could there be a mommy with the connotations of a daddy, who, apart from sexual power, exhibits a protective and intellectual influence?

Bastarós fears not. “I think that the woman as a provider doesn’t have erotic capital. Another thing is that there’s a sugar mommy, but that’s an economic pact. [There aren’t] enough examples of relationships between a young man and an older woman for us to speak of mommies. There are some famous examples, like that of Emmanuel Macron. But he met his wife, Brigitte, when he was 15 and she was 39. A mind-blowing case in many ways, but not exactly the eroticization of an older woman. There’s also [the case] of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. They got married when she was an absolute babe and he was rich, independent and famous, so the provider-protector role didn’t prevail on her end.”

Pascal may be a visionary in wanting to step away from his daddy role. “The figure of man as a provider and protector is in decline,” according to Bastarós. “With the massive incorporation of women into the labor market — and even more so with the explosion of feminism — a more critical look has been taking place towards men who are with much younger women, as is happening with Leonardo DiCaprio, although this is still within the norm”.

DiCaprio, by the way, back in 2015, was the first person to be described as having a dad bod, after the paparazzi took photos of him on a yacht with his belly hanging out. Only then did the world seem to accept that someone without abs could also be desirable.

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