The first time Sarah called me “daddy,” we were drinking gin and tonics on the roof of our Brooklyn apartment, and she slid it in at the end of a sentence asking for a refill. Like it was nothing. Like it was something she called me every day.
I played it cool: taking her glass, wearing a little half-smile smirk, hoping my sunglasses obscured my wide eyes, swallowing the saliva now pooled in my mouth. But inside, my heart was dancing, blood pumping like a flooded river, every inch of my skin sizzling and ignited. I’d called her “baby” since we started dating — it’s a common enough thing to call a lover, particularly one who liked being cooed over and coddled — but this, her slipping in that little word in reference to me, was different. It felt old fashioned, somehow; more ’50s daddy-o than fatherly, more Eartha Kitt than George Michael — but it evoked power and sexiness and the electric connection between us.
“Coming right up,” I managed to say back, after too long a pause while I took stock in my body and realized she was still waiting for me to say something, waiting for a response, my half-full glass and her empty one now both in my hands, but I was just standing there, like I was waiting for something. Waiting, I suppose, to trust that my knees would work again, and that they wouldn’t just turn to mush when I tried to take a step.
What was it doing to me? Just that one, simple little word — a word I hadn’t even been sure that I liked, and certainly wasn’t sure applied to me. “We already have the dynamic,” Sarah said later, when we talked about it. “We just don’t use that particular word. You’re this nurturing, caretaking masculine figure, you’re older than me, you’re bigger than me. I feel little around you, in the best way, all sweet and protected, and you already call me your pretty girl and things like that. It just… fits.”
I mixed her drink in the shaker we’d brought up to the roof, the tonic bottle almost empty, the gin still half full, the ice melting in the oppressive summer heat. She was wearing that red dress with the white stripes I loved, the one with the wide full skirt that she sometimes wore with a crinoline under it, the bodice almost like a corset, the sweetheart neckline, the straps that tied behind her neck. And those big, oversized sunglasses, and those espadrilles that laced up her ankles. I sneaked looks at her over my shoulder while I shook her drink until my arm was tired, the way she gazed out over the skyline of the city, shrugging her shoulders, crossing her arms over her chest like she was cold, even though it was still at least ninety and getting dark. I’d taken off my button-down and was wearing just a white tee shirt and black work slacks, hair slicked back with pomade, wingtip shoes — making me feel even more the part of a ’50s greaser daddy-o. Not like her parent. More like: an older boyfriend with one thing on my mind. More like: grateful to have been allowed into this woman’s inner world for one night, let alone the last year. More like: someone she encouraged to take advantage of her whenever I felt the desire to do so.
When I handed her full glass back to her, she looked at me a little quizzically, even sliding her sunglasses down her nose to inspect me more closely. The sun was behind her, her face in the shade, but I could see the curl up of her red lips.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re blushing,” she said, and took a sip of her drink, still watching me.
I don’t know how to tell you how much it means to me that you see me that way, as an adult masculine person, as someone able to nurture and nourish, as someone you trust to hold you. I don’t know how to tell you how vulnerable it is to be seen, really seen, in ways that I never feel like anyone sees me, maybe nobody has seen me like that until you, until now. I don’t know how to tell you that I loved how you called me that and I just want you to call me that again and again, and I’m not even sure I can say it so I’ll just keep saying “that,” because that word is so loaded, so potent. I don’t know how to explain how hot it made me, and how fucking conflicted I am because of how this culture glorifies masculinity and degrades femininity, about how incest isn’t sexy, about how I have feminist guilt for liking such a fetish. I don’t know how to resolve the awe I feel when I hear you talking about how much you like it, too, and how you forgive me my feminist guilt, and you have your own. I don’t know how to explain the effect it had on me to hear that word come out of your mouth, and know that it was meant for me, and only me. I couldn’t say anything. I smiled and took a sip of my drink, too, knowing that quiet stoicism sometimes stood in for my most vulnerable expressions of feeling.
It took longer to feel comfortable with me as a leather daddy, and longer to play with the role-play versions of daddy and girl, but the ’50s daddy-o and the nurturing masculine daddy-will-make-everything-better came easily with me and Sarah. It was bright and big and encompassed my whole self, all these different ways of being, from office-worker me to butch-boyfriend me to aspiring-stud-lover me to poet-writer me to swing-dancer me. Somehow, she saw all those different threads, different versions that I show in different contexts, and she wove them all together, just with that one word. I wanted to hear her say it again. I wanted her to say it while we fucked, while I was inside her, while she kissed me, while she came. It felt right, it felt extraordinary, it felt entirely new. Miles of new terrain opened up in front of me.
“Nah,” I replied. “It’s just the sun.”