He is a ‘proud father’ to 3 million people

He pauses, giving time to react.

“Okay… I see you. That’s really cool…. I’ll definitely celebrate it! Okay, what’s a challenge for you today?” he asks.

One more break.

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

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

Some may find their one-sided conversations silly. But his compassion and charisma come through in the TikTok videos, which have struck a chord among those in need of a father figure – or just someone who listens to their troubles.

“There are a lot of great memories that I draw from my childhood, but there are also shortcomings that I don’t want other people to experience, whether it’s the feeling of sitting alone on the school grounds when I was younger or just like that.” Wasn’t having the relationship with my father that I wanted,” Clayton says of his approach to the video.

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

He got the idea of ​​’father’ from one of his early followers

Clayton is a health savvy with a bachelor’s degree in corporate fitness and a master’s in kinesiology. When he’s not working on the base or making videos, he enjoys lifting weights, taking photos, and cooking.

He began posting on TikTok in late 2020 with inspirational and how-to videos, prompting followers to jokingly call him “dad”. His first video to go viral was a how to shave – Response from a follower who sent him a message asking, ‘Hey dad, can you teach me how to shave?

The video became a rage, earning it thousands of new fans in a matter of hours.

Now he goes by “yourprouddad” on tiktok And on InstagramWhere he has an additional 68,000 followers.

“I could actually be called ‘your proud brother’ or ‘your uncle’ or anything like that. I think ‘your proud father’ stuck because one of the people I follow commented on one of my posts And said, ‘Hey, Dad,’ he says. “And I said, ‘Well, I guess I kind of play the role.’

From there, his videos have adapted into various recurring series, including his popular “Dinner with Dad”, in which Clayton sets out two plates of food—one for him and one for his virtual “baby.” With a big smile, he gives a quick description of what’s on the dinner plate. Sometimes, he blesses the food. Other times, he digs right in. Almost always, he asks, “How was your day?”

Clayton Online is part of a growing cadre of surrogate dads, which includes Rob Kenny “Dad, how am I?” youtube series and Bo Peterson DadAdviceFromBo On TikTok, who provide dad advice, how-to instructions, moral support and dad jokes.
in a recent video, Clayton addresses the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. His trademark grin was missing. There was not even a plate of food.

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

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

“When you look at my stuff, you might think about how you were treated and you might say, ‘I want better for my kids, or for myself,'” he says. “And maybe a little empathy or reflection will allow you to be a better person to someone else.

Fans say his videos address a real need in the world

Clayton’s extended family comes at every age. Many of his “children” are old enough to be his parents – nothing he says doesn’t bother him.

“Advice is advice, whether you’re getting it from an older person or a younger person,” Clayton says. “There are some young people I totally admire. I’m like, ‘Man, you’re wise beyond your years. I’ll gladly take some of your advice.'”

Clayton’s youth doesn’t even bother his many fans.

At 58 years old, Sara D’Imperio may not sound like Clayton’s target audience. But the New York City woman believes the breadth of her video’s appeal speaks volumes.

“It’s a brilliant idea … especially for young men or women of color who may not have a paternal role model who listens or has the time to listen,” she says. “It’s heartwarming to see someone try to fill a small part of that role for someone.”

Jess Brunel of Portland, Oregon, says Clayton’s posts resonate because they address a real need in the world.

“I am a mental health therapist myself and I specialize in multi-generational trauma. … There is a lot of trauma in the world and there are so many people who don’t have a family system or even an adult. who has a back,” says Brunelle, 47.

“I know many adults who are still trying to figure out how to navigate a healthy adult relationship without even knowing what that looks like.”

At the same time, she says, “this world feels so negative and divided and ugly at times… her stuff is so simple and sweet and positive.”

Chicago’s Andrea Harvey has a similar sentiment. She says she isn’t very close to her father, which makes the virtual conversation with Clayton all the more meaningful.

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

“I love their material because it forces you to stop and answer those questions for yourself,” says Harvey, 40. “I actually answer their questions, and smile at their responses.”

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

“His videos almost always bring me to tears,” Lopez says. “And it’s not because I have a bad relationship with my dad. I can really see that he’s an amazing person. Whenever he posts a video and he’s talking to us, one by one Asking questions and listening to us, I feel like he’s right in front of me, taking care of me.”

He struggles with how much he can do to help people

As his following grows, Clayton says he wants to help as many people as he can.

In a recent day, he said his inbox had nearly 3,000 direct messages from followers telling him about his life and asking for advice – fatherly and otherwise – from cleanliness to how to handle a romantic breakup.

They say that many messages come from young people who do not have parental support in their lives.

Clayton says he tries to respond to as many messages as he can. But he says he also had to learn not to take in too much.

"I can never take the place of someone's real biological father,"  Clayton says.  "But maybe throughout my content, I can just make a small snapshot (similar to a father figure)."

“It was hard to let go of the idea that I had to be there for everyone,” he says. “As these messages are coming in, there’s not enough time in the day to get them. And it bothered me at first, because sometimes I used to get these heavy messages and I would be like, ‘Dude, what if Am I missing someone or something?’

“It took me a few conversations with therapists and close friends to realize that, first of all, I’m blessed to have it. But as much as I want to… I can’t be for every person. I can be difficult at times.” than could be for himself.”

Clayton, who wants to have his own child one day, also believes that the responsibilities of a virtual father don’t come close to those of a real father.

“I can never take the place of someone’s actual biological father or fill that void, but maybe throughout my content, I can just make a little snapshot (of a father figure) and see them Let me choose a little bit,” he says.

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

And what does that do with the extra plate of food? On most days he knocks it down as soon as the video ends.