Father’s Day: Summer Clayton is a ‘proud dad’ to 3 million people on TikTok



CNN

Summer Clayton may not have children in real life, but he is a “proud father” to 2.8 million people on TikTok.

Every week, he sits down to dinner and virtual chatting with his “kids”. He looks at the camera sympathetically and tells them that he is proud of them. He teaches them how to shave and reminds them that it’s OK to feel pain when life hurts. Some days he prays with them.

“well, how was your day?” He says in one of his recent videos after placing a plate of birria tacos and soup for his virtual child. “Tell me one good thing that happened and one hard thing that happened.”

Pause, allowing time to respond.

“Okay see you. That’s really cool…. I’m definitely going to celebrate that! Well, what challenge did you have to overcome today?” he asked.

Another pause.

He continues, “Well, I’m sorry you had to go through this.” “But I hope you keep talking to people about how you feel. I love you, I love you. Let’s eat!”

Clayton, a civilian fitness trainer at Columbus Air Force Base in northeastern Mississippi, is not a therapist or life coach. He is only 26 years old and has no children.

To some, his one-way conversations may seem ridiculous. But his empathy and charisma are shown in TikTok videos, which have struck a chord between people who need a father figure – or just someone who seems to listen to their problems.

“There are a lot of great memories that I shed from my childhood, but there are also shortcomings that I don’t want others to experience, whether it was the feeling of sitting alone in the schoolyard when I was younger or not having it,” Clayton said of his approach to the videos. .

“It allows me to practice what it means to be non-judgmental and to be kind.”

Clayton is a health buff with a bachelor’s degree in corporate fitness and a master’s in kinesiology. When he’s not working on base or making his videos, he loves lifting weights, taking pictures, and cooking.

He started posting on TikTok in late 2020 with how-to and inspiring videos, leading followers to jokingly call him “Dad”. The first video he posted online was How to Shave – in response to a follower who texted him asking, “Hey Dad, can you teach me how to shave?”

The video exploded, gaining tens of thousands of new fans in a matter of hours.

Now he goes by “yourprouddad” on TikTok and on Instagram, where he has an additional 68,000 followers.

“I could have really called your ‘proud brother’ or ‘uncle’ or something like that. I think your ‘proud dad’ stuck because someone following me commented on one of my posts and said, ‘Hi Dad.’ And I said, ‘” Well, I guess I’m kind of taking on that role.”

From there, his videos turned into several recurring series, including the popular “Dinner with Dad,” where Clayton puts out two plates of food – one for him and one for his virtual “baby.” With a big smile, he gives a quick breakdown of what’s on the dinner plate. Sometimes, the food blesses. Other times, he digs deeper. He always asks: “How was your day?”

Clayton is part of a growing cadre of surrogate dads online, including Rob Kinney from “Dad, How Do I Do?” YouTube and DadAdviceFromBo series of Bo Peterson on TikTok, who provide parenting tips, how-tos, moral support and parenting jokes.

In one recent video, Clayton addressed the school shooting in Ovaldi, Texas. His commercial smile was missing. There was no dinner plate either.

“Hey, you know, today is a bit of a sad day for a lot of people. A lot of people are waking up without family members around,” he said. “It’s okay to feel sad… I just wanted to say that. I love you all. I hope you have a good day today.”

While Clayton is working to build a better relationship with his father, that wasn’t always the case, he says. He tries to show his followers unconditional love and asks them questions he wishes someone had asked when he was younger.

He says, “When you look at my content, maybe you can think about how I treat you, and you can say, ‘I want the best for my children, or for myself.’ And maybe a little empathy or thought allows you to be a better person for someone else.”

The extended Clayton family comes in all ages. Many of his “children” are old enough to be his parents – something he says doesn’t bother him.

“Advice is advice, whether you’re getting it from someone older or younger,” Clayton says. “There are some young men that I absolutely admire. I’m like, man, you are wise beyond your years. I would gladly take advantage of some of your advice.”

Clayton’s youth doesn’t seem to bother many of his fans either.

At 58 years old, Sarah Di Emperio may not look like Clayton’s target audience. But the New York City woman thinks this addresses the breadth of appeal of his videos.

“It’s a great idea…especially for young people or women of color who may not have a father role model who listens or has time to listen,” she says. “It’s a pleasure to see someone trying to fill such a small part of this role for anyone.”

Jess Brunel of Portland, Oregon, says Clayton’s publications resonate because they address a real-world need.

“I myself am a mental health therapist and I specialize in multigenerational trauma. There are a lot of trauma in the world and there are a lot of people who don’t have a family system or even a single adult to support them,” says Brunel, 47.

“I know a lot of adults who are still trying to figure out how to handle a healthy adult relationship without even knowing what it looks like.”

She also says, “This world feels negative, divisive, and often ugly…its content is so simple, cute, and positive.”

Andrea Harvey of Chicago echoes the same sentiment. She says she’s not too close to her dad, which makes virtual conversations with Clayton all the more meaningful.

Clayton saw his following explode after he posted a video on how to shave.

“I love its content because it forces you to stop and answer these questions on your own,” says Harvey, 40. “I honestly answer his questions, and smile at his responses.”

Bogar Lopez, 33, of Fullerton, California, came across Clayton’s account two months ago. He now receives notifications to make sure he doesn’t miss any future posts. Lopez has a 16-year-old daughter, and he has started asking her the same questions that Clayton asks.

“His videos often make me cry,” Lopez says. “It’s not because I have a bad relationship with my dad. I just can honestly see that he’s an amazing person. When he posts a video and talks to us, has one-on-one, asks questions and listens to us, I feel like he’s right in front of me, and he cares about me.”

As his following grows, Clayton says he struggles with the desire to help people as much as he can.

On a recent day, he said his inbox contained about 3,000 direct messages from followers telling him about their lives and asking for advice — parenting and otherwise — on a range of issues, from hygiene to how to deal with a romantic breakup.

He says many of the messages come from young people who don’t have a supportive father figure in their lives.

Clayton says he tries to respond to as many messages as possible. But he says he also had to learn not to put up with too much.

“It was hard to let go of this idea that I should be there for everyone,” he says. “With these messages coming in, there isn’t enough time in the day to get to them. And it tore me down at first, because sometimes I would get… these heavy messages and I would say, ‘Man, what if I miss someone or something?’” ”

“It took some conversations with therapists and close friends for me to realize first and foremost, that I am fortunate to have this. But however much I wish… I can’t be there for everyone. I can hardly be there for myself sometimes.”

Clayton, who wants to have a baby someday, also realizes that the responsibilities of a virtual father figure are nowhere near those of a real father.

“I can never really replace someone’s biological father or fill that void, but maybe with my own content I can just create a little snapshot (of the father figure) and let them have a little choice,” he says.

And give his digital kids some emotional support. and life skills. And a virtual meal.

And what does he do with the extra food dish? Once the video is over, most days he eats it.

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