This essay is part of an ongoing series by the author about issues facing older gay men. If you’ve got a “Daddy Issue,” I want to hear about it. -DRT
I was walking down Eighth Avenue last week wondering why I was still alive—something I typically do every time I stroll the streets of Chelsea—a thought that makes me feel oddly younger than my 53 years. I’m a child again when I’m there, because my life has been reborn.
True, the stores and restaurants and crowds have almost all changed, and the people are mostly younger than I am, but I’m like that ghost who haunts his old neighborhood and who can’t let go and who has a permanent existence no matter the strife or wars or natural illnesses that wipe away citizens.
I wonder why I’m alive among mere mortals, living in a fountain of second youth, because, by all accounts, I was supposed to die. We all were. If the 20th Century couldn’t kill me, what can?
In another time, before hook-up apps and same-sex marriage and mainstream visibility and anti-bullying efforts and children and the military and rainbow-colored White Houses and presidential acceptance and TV and movie might, the predominant divinity was AIDS. It was a cruel deity and most of us were god-fearing.
Everyone died back then: Survivors were the odd men out. If you lived, miraculously, you ended up, like me, with no male role models, few gay friends, fear of sex, fear of falling in love, fear that your cock—your sexual identity—was poisonous, fear of someone hearing you cough.
But I did, we did, anyone reading this who’s over 50 did, and we’re the millennium Peter Pans—and not just because we get the reference.
After the era of G.A.Y. (Got Aids Yet), we’re living in a world that we dreamed about and fought for, and sometimes kicks us in the ass for surviving at all. The conundrum of gay life after a certain age is that we killed ourselves to get here yet we are often punished for daring to grow older.
Since we weren’t intended to live, there are times when it seems apparent no universal plans were constructed. No metaphorical insurance policies, no retirement visions, no husbands and homes to invest in—lab at the side, picket fence home, kids running around the Christmas tree—no plans beyond the Saturday night club, sex, and the Sunday night recovery. Monday only meant four borrowed time days until Friday. More puzzling, we’re reminded on a daily basis by younger men that we “missed the boat” and should stop acting like children when we were born with so many alternative options. And they were?
And, well I’ll be darned, we now have to deal with trivial life-threatening issues, like cancer and heart disease and a multitude of other killers. That’s just plain unfair when we spent our youth getting past the only one that mattered. We didn’t go to our annual physical worried about cholesterol levels.
The men of the eighties and nineties are the unwitting Lost Boys—missing children from Peter Pan and the vampire movie of the same title and castaways from that island TV show, with overlapping puzzles about an inexplicable crash survival circling forward and never quite latching on to a logical seat belt.
But men of a certain—and uncertain—age certainly aren’t just AIDS leftovers (remnants of the sudden departure from another Damon Lindelof series). We’re the last generation of gay men with no societal structure. We have no scripture except the one that told us we were all going to Hell. To all the men who ask me now if I want kids or marriage, nonchalantly, like they’re asking if I’d like fries with my burger, I always wonder if they know that, just a generation back, none of those options were seriously on the table. They were still in the political ether, as was the idea of conformity and integration and publications like this one.
Our gay fathers were busy identifying themselves amid the underground world of fabulousness—and often the carried-over self-loathing mirror. They needed to know who they were before thinking about what they could achieve, and my generation is on the cusp of both worlds. We’ve lived long enough to wear holocaust tattoos and we’re young enough to start a spanking-new family. Being a Daddy has so many connotations.
Since our own muddled bookkeeping, along with divinity’s bounced check, left us without a comprehensive road map, we’re still making things up as we go along. And that’s where it gets exciting. We might be illegals, but our experience makes up for lack of home.
We’re vastly unrepresented in the media and publishing (the two general over-40 gay algorithm articles sent to me are variations on HIV treatments and “Photos of Hot Older Guys That Prove Narcissism Is Just a Number”), because, apparently, we’re only good for finding cheaper ways to stay alive and looking good while we do so. But we’re also the leaders, the role models, the Greatest Gay Generation. No, we weren’t the first to die for gay survival, but we’re the last one’s still here. If there’s another war, we’ll serve as the blueprint. We’ll scream from the sidelines.
Why some young gay men don’t understand this, and often disrespect aging, is beyond my comprehension, but it’s no surprise Daddy has become synonymous with sex appeal and strength. Who’s above us? Sure, I know 30-year-old bottom-leaning porn performers who get labeled “daddies”—I guess scruff and a strong jaw are qualifiers—but that’s in huge part because of our need to label everyone something, anything—we’re nothing without you.
This recurring blog is meant to explore issues relevant to those of us young enough to know homosexuality as a mainstream experiment, old enough to know that, if Grindr existed when our sexuality bloomed, it would be a Hollywood Squares checked-off box of red-ribbon and pink triangle thumbnails and all the latest memorial updates.
As for the title, when I was in my 20s, the sexiest older man I wanted to know worked at now-dismissed Food/Bar on Eighth Avenue. Everyone knew the guy, as he was an owner/partner/paid model of the restaurant who’d stand out front in a T-shirt and matching glass of wine, and the stories of his own New York demise are now legendary. I have no idea if he’s still alive.
I thought that man was the hunkiest thing on two walk-over-water feet. He knew it, he loved it, he ignored it, practically stepping over me at the Chelsea Gym to do his daily jump rope session. He wore the same Mr. Bubbles workout Tee for every workout.
I couldn’t blame the guy for dismissing me because he had suitors for days, and I was merely queerly mortal. I finally confessed my lust for Joe to a shocked friend, who responded that he was nice-looking “for a Daddy,” and then did his circle around the room for more age-appropriate men.
I didn’t understand my friend then and I don’t understand the sentiment now. Hotness has no number.
We older men have lived it, lived, and have the beautiful scars to prove it. There’s something profusely sexy about, not just the man in the convertible, but the souped-up convertible itself. I’m thrilled to be of the generation that provided the transportation. So, if you wish, call me Daddy. I have no issues with it.