When a TikTok follower called him “Dad” after watching one of his inspirational videos, Summer Clayton decided to create more videos for kids who yearned for a father to teach them life lessons, share victories, and overcome challenges.
The Inspiration That Started It All
Summer Clayton smiled as he read the comments about the feel-good video that he had posted one day in the fall of 2020. But then one message stopped him. “Thanks, Dad,” it read.
The 26-year-old Columbus, Mississippi, personal trainer wasn’t a dad. But the comment got him thinking. His messages offered exactly the kind of love and support he had gotten from his own father. And, he realized, not all kids have a father figure around to teach them practical things or to say, “I’m proud of you.”
Hmm…maybe I could fill that gap, even just a little, Summer thought.
Becoming TikTok’s Dad
The next morning, Summer stood at his bathroom mirror, turned on his computer camera and made his first @yourprouddad TikTok video. “I’m about to shave. Why don’t you join me?” he said. And as he demonstrated how to handle a razor, he shared uplifting thoughts.
Summer began regularly posting “how-to” videos on things like tying a tie and jumpstarting a car, adding motivational commentary.
But for Summer, some of the most memorable moments he had shared with his dad were during family dinners. And he got another idea: He would host virtual dinners with his followers.
Summer sets out two plates of food so his guests feel like they are with him. Then as they eat, he asks them to share about their day.
Comments roll in from people of all ages. “I got a hit in baseball today. I’m so proud of myself.” “I’m getting adopted. After five years in foster care, I’m going to have a real family!” “I earned my master’s degree!”
Some messages reduce Summer to tears. “My dad passed away six years ago, so thank you for letting me experience what it would be like to have my dad back.” “I’m sitting here, on my floor, in tears ’cause I finally have someone to talk to.”
When Summer started, he had 1,000 followers. Today, he is a virtual dad to more than three million young people and adults. Summer is thrilled, but he understands there is only so much he can do from a computer screen.
“That’s why I always ask, ‘Did you meet someone new or interesting today?’ and encourage everyone to build a real-life support network,” he says. “And I tell them that when they do, be sure to share the news with me, ‘Your Proud Dad.’”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.