José Rolón of @nycgaydad On Being a Single Parent, Letting People see You in All your Crazy Glory and Looking for Love
Choosing a cover is always fun here at New York Family, and we’ve wanted to feature a dad for quite some time. We have, of course, had dads on our covers, but the pandemic, as we all know, threw us a few curveballs. Finally, after a year plus of catching up on canceled photoshoots, we were ready for our dad.
There is no top-secret system for choosing a cover parent. They happen pretty naturally — but I knew I wanted a New York dad. José Rolón came into the mix one day while on a walk in Paris (I know this part sounds rather dreamy); with Alexis Barad-Cutler (of @notsafeformomgroup and former NYF cover mom).
Alexis reminded me of her friend José. José, a wedding planner, became a single father when his husband, Tim, suddenly passed away. Not only did he lose his partner and become a widower overnight, he became a single father to then eight-month-old Avery, with twins via surrogate on the way!
Now nine years in on this parenting journey, José is known for sharing his life with his three kids Avery, now age 9, and twins Lilah and London, ages 8, via his IG media handle @nycgaydad.
He is also known worldwide for his TikTok fame; He started sharing videos at the height of the pandemic as a relief from the grind of homeschooling and running a business.
What I admire most about José and his influencer fame is how he reframes and shows thousands (almost 400,000 followers!) what parenting looks like as a single, LGBTQ Latinx dad raising three kids. Hint, it is not so different from what it looks like for you or me— just perhaps with more humor, a reminder to all us parents that we can use a slice of daily comedy.
If you haven’t checked out @nycgaydad, please do! It is gold, and it is something we all didn’t know we needed.
When your late husband Tim passed away -you became a single father overnight with your surrogate pregnant with 11-week twins. How the heck did you get through those early years?
Honestly, by saying yes to anyone who offered help. Every. Single. Time. We already had our incredible nanny, Leti, who was truly our savior, but because I had announced we were 11 weeks pregnant while giving Tim’s eulogy right away, we gained a strong support system.
Here’s what I have found as I have this conversation often. I find single mothers have a lot of trouble asking for help. This is partly because in our society, women have the pressure of high expectations that they should innately know what to do, when the truth is, it’s hard no matter which way you slice it.
Me as a single father, nobody, assumed I knew what I was doing. This worked to my benefit. I believe we’ve had a bigger support system than most two-parent households.
The problem with us parents, moms in particular, is we often don’t want people in because we don’t want them to see the house is a mess or see us yelling. After all, we’re supposed to have it together.
I’d say put your ego and pride aside, let them in — see you in all your crazy glory. We need to stop trying to be superheroes. Parenting burnout is real. So whatever we can do to minimize the gaps between those moments, the better.
As a fellow Latino, I fully get “machismo.” How have you reversed this cultural trait in your life; how are you parenting differently as a single dad?
My father, a firefighter and a marine was the epitome of machismo. Strict in every way, never talked about his feelings, and tried to enforce on what a man should be and how I should act. Clearly, this didn’t work on me. For me, it’s important to show a lot of love and affection to my kids.
Talking about feelings is incredibly important. They’ve seen me cry and understand what a happy cry looks like. With the world constantly changing politically, it’s important to model what it means to be compassionate, respectful, and empathetic. In my mind, this is what the modern dad should teach and emulate.
LGBTQ community is important to you. How has the community helped you in parenting?
It has helped me! More specifically, dads within the LGBTQ community. Sometimes I get the question, “why do you have to be a gay dad, why can’t you just be a dad?” referencing my username, @nycgaydad. You know being dad without labels is the goal, but we’re not there yet. The current climate with bills being passed in states like Florida where kids of the LGBTQ community can’t even bring in a family photo proves just that.
When I scored the username nine years ago, I did this (and used hashtags like #gaydads) as a way to find and be easily found by other gay dads because I had only known a small handful. It’s unbelievable how many of us have discovered each other. I started a brunch for Father’s Day 6 years ago for other gay dads as a way to say thank you for the community that gave so much back to me. We are now 100+ every year now.
What does your support system look like?
My current support system is beautiful and plentiful. Almost everyone close in our lives is an uncle or titi, or cousin, but Uncle Ryan, Uncle Dave, and Titi Christine are consistent mainstays who keep me in check at my best and worst. PS8 in Brooklyn Heights, where we live, has been a phenomenal support system for my children.
From the top-down, they’ve had our best interest at heart, making sure we feel welcomed in every way. And there’s not a single teacher my children have had I haven’t been obsessed with. Then there are the parents in our neighborhood. I’ve been in one too many unpredictable close calls that have been saved by calling a few of my neighborhood parents to bail me out.
After your cover shoot, you went on a dad-daughter date with London-how do one on one with each kid?
I did! I took London to go see Beetlejuice on Broadway. When you have three—especially twins, it’s easy to always lump them together for family outings. But they have three very different personalities and interests.
Having a one-on-one with them allows me to see them in their most authentic selves without the distraction of their siblings. And in turn, they see their papa is paying attention, meeting them where they’re at with their interests, and creating sweet memories that belong to them alone.
You’re about to tape a wedding show? Can you share what the show is about and how it is to be a single dad and be a wedding planner?
Ah, yes! I’m stoked to be hosting a new show, “Wedding Talk,” with Tara Lipinski airing on the Crackle Plus networks in October. The show celebrates all of the heartfelt, memorable, and fun moments of a wedding and features video footage from some truly inspiring real weddings from around the globe.
Being a single dad and being a wedding planner go hand in hand. I have a reputation in the industry for being calm under pressure. When you’re a single parent of three, there’s nothing the industry can throw at me that’ll phase me. Our industry also has a lot of personalities to sometimes manage, and when I’ve got three big ones at home, everyone else is a walk in the park. I love what I do. Which makes coming home even sweeter. I feel like they both feed each other in the best ways possible.
You became an influencer during the pandemic with now almost half a million followers, how was it been for you and the kids?
It’s crazy. It wasn’t intentional. It really happened in this organic way. I made silly videos with my kids during the pandemic for my own sanity. There were dark things happening (and still) in our world, and people wanted to see positive and wholesome content. So some of our videos started to go viral. Then the mainstream media got a hold of us.
I think being Latinx and LGBTQ with my own personal journey checked off a lot of boxes for them when they were looking for inspiring stories. I’ts a case of being at the right place at the right time.
The core of our message has been showing folks our family is no different than theirs… we are just a little more colorful. NYC Gay Dad is now a family business with fun projects ahead. I mean, we even have a merch store as the kids like to say. Truly unbelievable.
Lastly, you are looking for love (whoo hoo). What does the ideal partner look like for José and kids?
Ay Ay Ay. This has been a bit of a challenge. I’ve had a couple of relationships since Tim passed, so it’s possible. My schedule has been so crazy lately with these great opportunities, so dating has been more challenging than usual, but this, for me currently, is the one missing piece.
I find I’m my best self when I’m in a healthy relationship. I’m looking for someone who is OK with three things; being with a creative whose schedule is not your typical 9-5, enjoys being around three beautiful little humans, and has their mental faculties checked. Lol. If they can cook, that’s a bonus.
Most people wouldn’t guess; my happy place is being on the couch as many nights as possible after 8 PM when kids are in bed with a good show and some good Puerto Rican comfort food.