Summer Clayton may have no children in real life, but he is a “proud father” to TikTok’s 2.8 million people.
Every week, she would sit down to dinner and almost chat with her “kids.” He looked at the camera with empathy and told them he was proud of them. He taught them how to shave and reminded them that it’s okay to feel pain when life is painful. Some days he prayed with them.
“All right, how was your day?” she said in a recent video after placing a plate of birria tacos and soup for her virtual child. “Tell me a good thing happened and a hard thing happened. »
He paused, giving time for an answer.
“Okay … I’ll see you. Nindot gyud…. I will definitely celebrate! OK, what is the challenge you have to overcome now? “he asked.
“Well, I’m sorry you had to go through that,” he continued. “But I hope you keep telling people how you feel. I love you I love you. Let’s eat! »
Clayton, a civilian trainer at Columbus Air Force Base in northeastern Mississippi, is not a therapist or a life coach. He was only 26 years old and had no children.
For others, his one-part conversations seem silly. But his compassion and charisma shines through in the TikTok videos, which attract people who need a father’s number – or just someone who seems to be listening to their issues.
“There are a lot of good memories I get from my childhood, but there are also these flaws that I don’t want others to know about, whether it’s the feeling of being alone sitting on the school yard as a child. me or not. having a relationship with my father that I want, ”Clayton said of his approach to the videos.
“It allows me to practice what it means to be non -judgmental and kind.»
HE GOT THE IDEA FOR ‘DAD’ FROM ONE OF HIS FIRST FOLLOWERS
Clayton is a health enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in corporate fitness and a master’s degree in kinesiology. When she’s not working at the base or making her videos, she likes to lift weights, take photos and cook.
He started posting on TikTok in late 2020 with inspirational and how-to videos, prompting ridicule followers to call him “daddy”. His first video went viral as a shaving tutorial-response to a follower who messaged him asking, “Hey Daddy, can you teach me how to shave? »
The video exploded, gaining him tens of thousands of new fans within hours.
Now he is called “yourprouddad” on TikTok and Instagram, where he has an additional 68,000 followers.
“I could have been called‘ your proud brother ’or‘ your uncle ’or something like that. I think ‘your proud dad’ persisted because one of my followers commented on one of my posts and said, ‘Hey dad,’ he said. “And I said,‘ Well, I think I’m kind of taking on that role.
From there, his videos became various recurring series, including his famous “Dinner With Dad,” in which Clayton placed two plates of food – one for himself and one for his virtual “ child. ” With a big smile, he quickly detailed what was on the plate. Sometimes he blesses the food. At other times, he was involved. Almost always, he would ask, “How was your day?”
Clayton is part of a growing group of surrogate fathers online, including Rob Kenney in “Dad, How Do I?” A YouTube series by Bo Petterson and DadAdviceFromBo on TikTok, which gives dad advice, how -to, moral support and dad’s jokes.
In a recent video, Clayton discusses the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. He lost his characteristic smile. No plate either.
“Hey, you know, today is a little sad day for a lot of people. A lot of people wake up without a family member,” he said. “It’s normal to be sad … Like I can only say that. “I love you all, okay? I hope you have a good day today.»
While Clayton worked to build a better relationship with his own father, it wasn’t always, he said. He tried to show his followers unconditional love and ask them if he wanted someone to ask him when he was young.
“If you look at my content, you can think about how you’re treated and you can say,‘ I want to be better for my kids or for me, ’” she said. “And maybe that little bit of empathy or reflection can make you a better person for others.
FANS SAY HIS VIDEOS HAVE SEEN THE REAL NEED AROUND THE WORLD
Clayton’s relatives come from all ages. Many of her “children” are old enough to be her parents – something she says doesn’t bother her.
“Advice is advice, you get it from an old person or a young person,” Clayton said. “There are young people that I absolutely admire. I was like, ‘Man, you’re smart beyond your age. I would be happy to follow some of your advice. ‘ »
Clayton’s youth doesn’t seem to bother most of his fans either.
At age 58, Sarah D’Imperio may not be like Clayton’s target audience. But the New York woman thinks it speaks to the extent of the appeal of her videos.
“It’s a great idea … especially for young men or women of color who don’t have a father model to listen to or have time to listen to,” he said. “It’s just inspiring to see someone trying to fill a small part of that role for anyone. »
Jess Brunelle of Portland, Oregon says Clayton’s messages resonate because they respond to a real global need.
“I’m a mental health therapist myself and a specialist in multigenerational trauma.… There’s so much trauma in the world and there are a lot of people who don’t have a family system or even an adult behind them,” said Brunelle, 47 .
“I know a lot of adults who are still trying to figure out how to navigate a healthy adult relationship without knowing what it looks like.»
In addition, he said, “This world is often as negative, divided and ugly. Its essence is very simple, sweet and positive.”
Andrea Harvey of Chicago echoes a similar sentiment. She said she wasn’t very close to her dad, which made the virtual conversation with Clayton more meaningful.
“I love the content of it because it forces you to stop and answer these questions for yourself,” said Harvey, 40. “I’m sincere in answering his questions and smiling at his answers. »
Bogar Lopez, 33, of Fullerton, Calif., Found Clayton’s account two months ago. Now he receives notifications to make sure he doesn’t miss any future messages. Lopez has a 16-year-old daughter, and she starts asking him the same questions Clayton asks.
“His videos almost always make me cry,” Lopez said. “And it’s not because I don’t have a good relationship with my father. I really see that he is a wonderful person. Everytime he posts a video and we chat, go one-on-one, ask questions, and listen to us, I feel like he’s fair in front of me, that he cares about me. »
HE KNOWS HOW MUCH HE CAN DO TO HELP PEOPLE
As his audience grew, Clayton said he found it difficult to help people as much as he could.
Recently, he said his inbox had nearly 3,000 direct messages from subscribers telling him about their lives and asking for advice – father and if not – on a variety of issues, from cleanliness to how to manage a separation.
Many messages come from young people who don’t have parental support in their lives, he said.
Clayton said he tries to respond to as many messages as possible. But he said he also needs to learn not to drink too much.
“It’s hard to let go of this thought that I need to be there for everyone,” he said. “While these messages come, there isn’t enough time in the day to access them. And that tore me apart at first, because sometimes I get … these heavy messages and I’m like, ‘Man , what if I miss someone or something? ‘
“It took some conversations with therapists and close friends so I realized that first of all, I was blessed to have it. But as much as I wish I could … I’m not there for everyone. I can barely go on my own sometimes. »
Clayton, who wants to have a child one day, also recognizes that the responsibilities of a real father are nowhere near that of a real father.
“I can’t replace someone’s real biological father or fill that void, but maybe in my heart I can take a little snapshot (of a father’s number) and let him have a little option, “he said.
And give her digital children emotional support. And life skills. And a virtual meal.
And what about the extra plate of food? When the video was over, most of the time he swallowed it.