He pauses, permitting time for a response.
“OK … I see you. That is actually cool …. I might undoubtedly rejoice that! OK, what’s one problem that you simply needed to overcome at present?” he asks.
One other pause.
“Nicely, I am sorry you needed to undergo that,” he continues. “However I hope that you simply hold speaking to individuals about how you are feeling. I like you, I do. Let’s eat!”
Clayton, a civilian health coach at Columbus Air Pressure Base in northeastern Mississippi, just isn’t a therapist or a life coach. He is additionally solely 26 and has no youngsters.
To some, his one-way conversations could appear foolish. However his compassion and charisma come by means of within the TikTok movies, which have struck a chord amongst individuals who want a father determine — or simply somebody who seems to take heed to their troubles.
“There’s numerous nice recollections that I pull from in my childhood, however there’s additionally these deficits that I do not need different individuals to expertise, whether or not it is the sensation of sitting alone within the schoolyard once I was youthful or simply not having that relationship with my dad that I wished,” Clayton says about his strategy to the movies.
“It permits me to follow what it means to be nonjudgmental and to be variety.”
He acquired the ‘dad’ concept from considered one of his early followers
Clayton is a well being buff who has a bachelor’s diploma in company health and a grasp’s in kinesiology. When he is not working on the base or making his movies, he loves lifting weights, taking images and cooking.
The video blew up, incomes him tens of hundreds of recent followers inside hours.
“I actually might have been known as ‘your proud brother’ or ‘your uncle’ or something like that. I believe ‘your proud dad’ caught as a result of one of many individuals who observe me commented on considered one of my posts and mentioned, ‘hey, dad,'” he says. “And I mentioned, ‘Nicely, I suppose I am sort of taking up this position.’
From there, his movies have morphed into numerous recurring sequence, together with his standard “Dinner With Dad,” through which Clayton units down two plates of meals — one for him and one for his digital “child.” With an enormous smile, he offers a fast breakdown of what is on the dinner plate. Typically, he blesses the meals. Different occasions, he digs proper in. Virtually all the time, he asks, “How was your day?”
“Hey, you understand, at present is kinda a tragic day for lots of people. Lots of people are waking up with out a member of the family there,” he mentioned. “It is OK to really feel unhappy … I simply wished to say that. I like you all, OK? I hope you will have an OK day at present.”
Whereas Clayton is engaged on constructing a greater relationship together with his personal father, it wasn’t all the time that method, he says. He tries to indicate his followers unconditional love and ask them questions he needs somebody had requested him when he was youthful.
“Once you take a look at my content material, possibly you’ll be able to assume again to the way you have been handled and you may say, ‘I need higher for my youngsters, or for myself,'” he says. “And possibly that little little bit of empathy or reflection could permit you to be a greater individual for another person.
Followers say his movies deal with an actual want on the earth
Clayton’s prolonged household is available in all ages. A lot of his “youngsters” are sufficiently old to be his mum or dad — one thing he says does not trouble him.
“Recommendation is recommendation, whether or not you are getting it from an older individual or a youthful individual,” Clayton says. “There’s some youthful individuals who I fully admire. I am like, ‘Man, you’re smart past your years. I’ll gladly take a few of your recommendation.'”
Clayton’s youth does not appear to trouble lots of his followers, both.
At 58, Sarah D’Imperio could not look like Clayton’s audience. However the New York Metropolis girl believes that speaks to the breadth of his movies’ enchantment.
“It is a good concept … particularly for younger males or girls of colour who could not have a paternal position mannequin that listens or has time to hear,” she says. “It is simply heartwarming to see somebody making an attempt to fill a small a part of that position for anybody.”
Jess Brunelle of Portland, Oregon, says Clayton’s posts resonate as a result of they deal with an actual want on the earth.
“I’m a psychological well being therapist myself and I focus on multigenerational trauma. … There’s a lot trauma on the earth and there are such a lot of individuals who haven’t got a household system and even one grownup that has their again,” says Brunelle, 47.
“I do know so many adults who’re nonetheless making an attempt to determine the right way to navigate a wholesome grownup relationship with out realizing what that even seems like.”
Additionally, she says, “This world feels so adverse and divided and ugly numerous occasions … His content material is so easy and candy and optimistic.”
Andrea Harvey of Chicago echoes the same sentiment. She says she’s not very near her father, which makes the digital conversations with Clayton extra significant.
“I like his content material as a result of it forces you to pause and reply these questions for your self,” says Harvey, 40. “I genuinely reply his questions, and smile at his responses.”
Bogar Lopez, 33, of Fullerton, California, got here throughout Clayton’s account two months in the past. Now he will get notifications to ensure he does not miss any future posts. Lopez has a 16-year-old daughter, and he is began asking her the identical questions that Clayton asks.
“His movies nearly all the time convey me to tears,” Lopez says. “And it is not as a result of I’ve a nasty relationship with my dad. I simply can genuinely see that he’s an incredible individual. Every time he posts a video and he is speaking to us, having a one on one, asking questions and listening to us, I really feel like he is proper in entrance of me, caring about me.”
He struggles with how a lot he can do to assist individuals
As his following has grown, Clayton says he struggles with wanting to assist individuals as a lot as he can.
On a current day, he mentioned his inbox had about 3,000 direct messages from followers telling him about their lives and asking for recommendation — fatherly and in any other case — on a spread of points, from hygiene to the right way to deal with a romantic breakup.
Most of the messages come from younger individuals who haven’t got a supportive parental determine of their lives, he says.
Clayton says he tries to reply to as many messages as he can. However he says he additionally needed to be taught to not tackle an excessive amount of.
“It was arduous to let go of this thought that I needed to be there for everybody,” he says. “As these messages are coming in, there’s not sufficient time within the day to get to them. And that tore me up at first, as a result of generally I might get … these heavy messages and I might be like, ‘Man, what if I miss somebody or one thing?’
“It took some conversations with people who find themselves therapists and shut buddies for me to comprehend that initially, I’m blessed to have this. However nevertheless a lot I want I might … I am unable to be there for each individual. I can barely be there for myself generally.”
Clayton, who needs to have a baby of his personal in the future, additionally acknowledges that the obligations of a digital father determine do not come near these of an actual dad.
“I can by no means exchange somebody’s precise organic father or fill that void, however possibly all through my content material, I can create just a bit snapshot (of a father determine) and permit them to have a bit little bit of a alternative,” he says.
And provides his digital youngsters some emotional assist. And life expertise. And a digital meal.
And what does he do with the additional plate of meals? As quickly because the video’s over, on most days he chows it down.