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Why Do Some Grown Men Still Call Their Fathers ‘Daddy’?

The same goes for Beyoncé and Elizabeth Warren

In our modern times, the shorthand/slang for “father” holds very different meanings. Dads, for example, are the very men who helped bring you into the world, and whom you have genuine (and completely innocent) affection for. Meanwhile, daddies are typically older, attractive men, regardless of how many progeny they’ve spawned. And zaddies are daddies who are almost always down to fuck.

Basically, think of it like this:

  • Dad = nonsexual
  • Daddy = gets you wet
  • Zaddy = pants already off

Still, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, until not so long ago, “daddy” and its derivative “deddy” were just like “dad” is today — literally one’s father and said with the utmost respect and not the least bit of horniness. And so, for many adults, kicking that usage has been difficult, even with its very modern, very internet-influenced, very not-so-family friendly connotations.

“I’m a typical masculine, heterosexual man, yet I still call my father ‘daddy,’” says Rahmaan “Roc” Mwongozi, a 42-year-old data analyst, motivational speaker and author of Inner Demons. He’s never called his 67-year-old father, Rudi, by any other name out of respect. As a self-proclaimed wordsmith, Mwongozi gives praise to his father through the title “daddy.” It’s an honorific nickname, similar to president, king or even “The Dude.” No matter how old Mwongozi gets, he’ll never cease to bend a knee to his first idol. “When I call him ‘daddy,’ it’s to remind him I’m always his baby boy,” he adds.

“I don’t give a fuck. This is how I want to address my parents,” adds Scottie, a 26-year-old photographer and artist known as EYEOFSCOTTIE from Raleigh, North Carolina. Neither his father nor his step-dad were around often, but “daddy” — “subliminal infliction of ‘I love you’” — was what he called both of them. To change now, just because of the sexual reference, he believes would be catering to societal standards — the same that already consider black men such as himself as isolated and unemotional.

That said, Scottie admittedly catches himself using the no-explanation-needed “dad” in public, and Mwongozi’s 15-year-old daughter, Yasmine, calls him “dad.” On the latter count, Mwongozi chalks that up to their different upbringings. Growing up in Oakland, “Everyone I knew up until the first grade was black.” Indeed, black residents account for 24.3 percent of the city. The word “dad”? That was for “people who grew up in the suburbs: white people.” That includes his daughter Yasmine. Though she’s not white, she was raised in the mostly non-black state of Oklahoma.

Not that Oklahoma is a total Daddy Free Zone. After all, Democratic presidential candidate and Yasmine’s fellow Oklahoman Elizabeth Warren also calls her father “daddy” — not that Warren hasn’t caught shit for it:

Not to mention, the Census Bureau considers Oklahoma part of the South (though, that’s a fact contested by many), a region known as another “daddy” for “dads” holdout. Now if you’re really from the South — like the Yeehaw South — you might call your father, “Deddy.” It holds roughly the same meaning as “daddy,” it’s just said more slowly and with more breathiness, like Teddy but with a big D. Its reputation, though, isn’t much better. Aside from the incestual overtones, it’s also denigrated as country bumpkin slang. Plus: “It sounds like ‘dead,’ which is kind of strange,” says Sarah Johnson, a college student from northern Georgia.

Nonetheless, everyone on Johnson’s maternal side still calls their fathers “deddy.” It wasn’t until Johnson started grade school with kids from neighboring towns that she realized few of her other classmates did the same. At first, she felt self-conscious, but she quickly got over it. “I didn’t know why I was saying it that way, but I didn’t want to stop saying it that way either,” says Johnson.

And she never has. Johnson, now in her early 20s, still calls her own father “deddy.” To further keep the term in circulation — as well as to show the pretentious academics at her school that her intellect isn’t dependent on meeting “pompous” English diction — she frequently utters it on her college campus, too. “It’s not wrong to speak the way you speak or write the way you naturally write,” explains Johnson, an English major. Deddy is “beautiful in its own Southern hillbilly way.”

Of course, there can be no discussion about the origin of “daddy” without mentioning Cher Horowitz. The Clueless character doesn’t just have a wealthy lawyer for a father — she has a “daddy” (non-sexual edition), someone to whom she’s innocent, passive and indebted.

This is quite possibly the most popular “daddy” trope: the name for a powerful, commanding father. Think Valley Girls, Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf and even — dare I say — Beyoncé? She does check all three “daddy” boxes:

  1. She grew up in Houston’s historic and largely black Third Ward.
  2. Her father, Matthew Knowles, is a businessman turned successful talent manager who is heralded for launching Destiny’s Child and the first half of Beyoncé’s solo career.
  3. On her debut album Dangerously in Love, she secretly slips in a hidden track and ode to her father, “Daddy,” singing, “There is no one else like my daddy / No one else replace my daddy / Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy.”

And even though she and Knowles had a major falling out (allegedly because he cheated on her mother — mommy? — Tina Knowles), he was still “daddy” on Beyoncé’s “visual album” Lemonade. The key lyrics from the song “Daddy Lessons”: “When trouble comes to town / And men like me come around / Oh, my daddy said shoot / Oh, my daddy said shoot.”

So maybe our discomfort with adult children referring to their actual fathers as “daddy” is more of a reflection on us than them. Because as Mwongozi asks, “Why does it make you more comfortable if I call my father ‘dad,’ versus ‘daddy’? What does it mean to you?”