Who’s Your Daddy?

The first time I found myself smitten with a Daddy was back in the 90s. But was it the first time? I didn’t yet know what I knew.

I talked to my friend on the phone. She wasn’t just another sociologist, she was one of my significant mentors. “Why is this Daddy-thing hot though?” I asked. “I mean, it’s fascinating and I’m in it to figure it out, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t totally hot. It doesn’t make sense though.”

I continued musing: “The stuff we play out is not even fresh. The scripts are recycled. Highly gendered power games based on ownership, upholding patriarchal themes about strength and frailty, purity and goodness. Daddy is a hack. And it’s totally hot nonetheless.”

She listened, but I could tell she didn’t know what to do with this. We were both dykes, for one thing. (Sometimes I forget that’s salient because it both is and it isn’t.) She was normally interested in my social curiosities, but what could she do with this?

“Well,” she said, “you can’t be a sociologist all the time.” 

Dark is the author of The Daddies, a book exploring how patriarchy shapes our relationships.

I don’t remember if I said it, but I know I thought about it a lot over the years that followed: I can’t not be a sociologist all the time. This is how we think. Whether or not we can unsee the ways in which power relationships and patterned interactions scaffold the social world, there are definitely themes that are unwelcome for discussion in academic and polite company.

Intellectual and creative freedom being higher on my list of life goals than employment and acceptability, I started inquiring and cataloging. Who’s your Daddy? Who’s my Daddy? And what do we all mean when we utter that phrase that had gained cultural cache in the 90s, though it’s been around a long time? (Spoiler alert: We mean a whole lot of things, depending on who’s talking and who’s listening.) 

The thing is, I had met Daddy before—I just didn’t remember at first. I’d been taught, like everyone in my culture, to salivate on cue, to recoil on cue, to vote on cue, to love on cue.

Socially, we’ve made a pact to ignore our Pavlovian responses to patriarchy. Feminism taught us we should only have negative responses to patriarchy—when the truth is, we have a range of responses embedded in our desires and behaviors, and some of those responses are ecstatic and operate like need or hunger. Even when consciously, we want to dismantle systems that harm us all. Even when consciously, we want to turn our children into soldiers for causes that are destroying the planet and rendering the wisdom of our bodies mute, or at least indecipherable.

In order to dismantle patriarchy, and still nurture the vital human force of masculinity, we have to understand our draw and repulsion to Daddy: the nurturer, the dominator, the destroyer, the lover. I had the tools to do that.

As a sociologist—and, in particular, as a qualitative researcher, an auto-ethnographer and a poet—I had the tools to do that. I also became keenly aware over the following decade that the academy, including the universities and faculty themselves, were one type of Daddy, and that self-analysis was not his thing, so I took the tools sociology gave me out into other parts of the world.

I study what I want—including gender and sexuality and how power exists and is recreated in intimate interactions and then patterned back out into social structures. Including Daddy. 

When we have greater understanding, we have greater choices.

About

Kimberly Dark is a writer, mother, performer and professor. She is the author of five award-winning solo performance scripts and Campus Pride named her one of America's 25 "best of the best" artists and speakers on college campuses. She teaches in Cal State San Marcos' graduate program in Sociological Practice. Kimberly's work focuses on the contours of privilege and oppression in everyday life, from race and gender to beauty and body diversity. She uses humor and intimacy to help audiences remember and celebrate their power as cultural creators.