Jon-jon Rufino: A Father’s Story
Jon-jon Rufino shares the most rewarding aspects of being a gay, single dad to his twins, Lucian and Lilith.
Jon-jon Rufino has never hidden the story of how his twins Lucian and Lilith were conceived, sharing that the story of how they were made became their favorite bedtime story. “I’ve always been of the opinion that I do not want to hide anything from my children,” he tells Modern Parenting, adding that he began telling them when they were around two years old so that they would never feel at any point in their life that he hid the truth from them.
“I gave them all the elements of the story at a young age. As they understood more, I filled in more and more details. It was only at around age four when I had to explain to them that this is not how most people are born. This is unique to you,” he narrates.
The story of Lucian and Lilith
True enough, the circumstances of Lucian and Lilith’s birth, who were conceived through in-vitro fertilization (IVF), are unconventional. Even as a gay man, Jon-jon Rufino had dreams of starting a family. “It’s just one of those things where I always knew that I wanted to be a parent ever since. Obviously, it’s not common given that I am gay,” he explains.
Initially, Jon-jon wanted to wait for the ‘perfect moment’ to start trying for a family. “In my head, I always told myself, ‘Oh you know when I’m in my thirties when I’m in a stable relationship.’ You know, you imagine the perfect scenario, except reality taught me that wasn’t necessarily happening for me at age 35. Talking with some of my straight friends, who said, ‘Don’t wait too long for the perfect timing and you don’t want to be too old when your kids are adults,’ really had me thinking.”
He shares that he had a friend whose father died when he was 20 and lamented that he did not have a parent to help him navigate adulthood. “So at about 35, I decided that I was going to do this now even if I was single,” he shares.
Jon-jon’s decision was supported by his parents, particularly his mother, who was pleased by the fact that he would be able to give her grandchildren.
“When I came out to her at 24, her first question was, ‘Are you sure it’s not a phase?’ and then her second question was, ‘How are you going to give me grandchildren?’ Basically, every year she would ask me, ‘Are you gonna do it now?’ And I always said, ‘When the situation’s perfect.’ At 35, I thought, ‘It’s not gonna get more perfect than this’ and ‘I should just do it’,” he reminisces.
“[As for my father], when I told him I was going to do this, he had no reaction and through the ups and downs of the two-and-a-half-year process – the failed attempts and miscarriage – no reaction either way. When I told him I was going to do this, he said, ‘Oh Jon, that’s wonderful.’ He raised me, he’s a good dad, I thought that it just meant that his obligation to his children was done and just wanted to enjoy his life with me,” he shares.
Yet, while Jon-jon started the process at 35, it took him four IVF tries and three different surrogates before Lucian and Lilith were conceived.
When Lucian and Lilith finally arrived in the Philippines, no one was more ecstatic than their grandparents. “As soon as I brought them home from the States, [my dad] was visiting twice a day, before work and after work. He bought a van to help get them around. I think what happened then was when I first told him I was going to do this, in his head, ‘I don’t know what my crazy son is talking about.’ True enough, from Day One, he sees them more regularly than my mom. Now that they are 10 years old, he still sees them at least twice a week. Usually more if schedules allow,” he explains.
Jon-jon shares that his parents have been a fantastic support system in raising the kids. “The only thing with my parents is that I know that they’re useless with getting my kids to bed on time, so I know I have to be home by 9 p.m. to get them to bed early,” he laughs.
Twins coming into their own
While Jon-jon loves being a dad, he admits that raising two kids as a single father involves a lot of work. At 10 years old, Lucian and Lilith have developed a competitive streak, he shares. “My challenge is that the two love fighting with each other,” he muses. “[On] weeknights, they usually prefer sleeping with me in my room because my parents whine when they have to wake up early for school. I’m a bit strict with putting them to bed at about 9 p.m. But they always inevitably end up fighting each other over the blankets. And I tell them, ‘Guys, you know you’re 10 years old. You had the same fights since you were 2 years old.’”
“Every morning, they go to their rooms and dress up and charge back into my room for 10 to 15 minutes, which is wonderful for me. But it’s so clear that their love is partially competitive. They enjoy demonstrating their love to me as a contest with each other. Every morning, they fight over who gets to hug me last, and I remind them this is what they fought about yesterday and a week before, [then] I send them off,” he relates. “I keep telling them [that] my time with them is unlimited. It’s not a scarce resource.”
Meanwhile, Jon-jon’s daughter Lilith has managed to channel this competitive streak into something productive – tennis, a sport that she and Jon-jon both love. “Luckily, my daughter has decided that she’s going to be a tennis player and I am over the moon about that because I love tennis as well. She is putting in the hours, she trains two hours a day, six days a week. The only reason that it’s not seven is because I keep telling her that she is supposed to have at least one day off so she doesn’t get injured,” he explains.
While Lilith and Lucian both take the same lessons, their differences in terms of interest are beginning to show. “They’re both taking guitar lessons, but my son maybe enjoys that a little more. They’re doing okay in school so I am very happy with the situation. I would be happier if my son also enjoyed tennis, but he
doesn’t love it nor hate it,” he reflects.
Jon-jon ensures both children have an active lifestyle. “Since they were about two and a half years old, I’ve had them do tennis for an hour, twice a week because I figured it’s important for them to have exercise. I’m a fairly physical guy as well so we go hiking. I’ve taken them skiing, which they both adore,” he shares.
While both kids don’t mind being together, Jon-jon understands that Lucian and Lilith need their individuality. “They’re in separate sections [at school] which is important because otherwise, they’d get into fights. For the most part, they just avoid each other in school when they’re in a bad mood. But they also hang out with each other sometimes,” he shares.
Jon-jon also makes it a point to spend one-on-one time with Lucian and Lilith as he does not want them defined by being twins. “I used to implement something from when they were a year old. I would implement a trip where I would take one kid and leave one kid with my parents, which makes my parents happy. On the first trip, I took my son to Batanes for three days. The one-on-one time gives me time to bond with them as individuals. In fact, I share that with all my friends with more than one child. ‘If you guys can handle splitting up for one dinner a week, dad takes one kid and mom takes one kid and then swap. That way, you really get valuable individual time with the kids.’”
However, that started changing in 2022. “The kids have been resistant to that, and they said they’d rather just go together. It’s more fun together, so they do enjoy each other’s company after all. But that doesn’t change the fact that they genuinely enjoy tormenting each other.”
It’s a twinsation to meet them!
Although Lucian and Lilith share a competitive streak, Lucian’s more subdued but amiable nature balances out Lilith’s — as Jon-jon calls it — more driven but insightful personality. When asked how much and how often they “torment” each other, Lilith grins and nods as a matter of factly that they fight almost “every hour.”
“We fight daily,” Lucian deadpans. “Especially in the morning.”
“We fight hourly!” Lilith pipes up.
Morning is when they are most competitive as it is a race to Jon-jon’s room. The winner, according to them, receives the longest hug from their dad. Lucian proudly smiles and declares himself “the consistent victor of said races” although, that quip earns him a slight elbow from his twin sister, Lilith, in the process. “It’s a race to who gets the longest hug from Dad,” Lucian snickers.
What’s interesting to note about the twins is that they both recognize that they are not the eldest child in the family. Their eldest is Serena, a 12-and-a-half-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer. The two even refuse to refer to her as an “it,” insisting that they refer to Serena as a “her.”
“Before us, it was Serena. She was his practice baby,” Lilith confides. “Dad said he chose her because she used to have a heart-shaped mark on her body.”
“But the pointed part of the heart rounded out now,” Lucian adds. “Especially when she got older. So, yeah, our sister is biologically a dog.”
Despite constant bickering, which is common in most sibling relationships, it’s clear they share a great love for their father. The twins had nothing but praises for Jon-jon.
“He gives the best hugs!” starts Lucian.
“He’s the best cook in the world,” declares Lilith. “The best person, generally!”
“He’s our bed, our pillow,” Lucian lists. “He’s our chair —”
“— Our referee,” Lilith adds.
The twins, laughing, repeat “referee” over and over, showing that a big part of the love they have for each other as twins come from how well Jon-jon plays as a fair and impartial referee.
The struggles of a single dad
Like many siblings, Lucian and Lilith love to fight, which Jon-jon describes as “their joy.” Jon-jon, who is currently single, shares that not having a partner to help curtail the disagreements can be a challenge. “When my kids fight, I have to physically separate them with my hands. So, if they’re both equally involved, I have to deal with both of them. I have to separate them quickly and de-escalate the situation myself.”
Another minor struggle of not having a partner is planning logistics. But Jon-jon stresses that it’s a challenge that he can easily overcome. “If I want to do something that does not involve the children then I have to schedule something else for them or fix their schedule. It’s not really a challenge because I can do that, or I can just arrange a playdate. It’s just a matter of planning,” he shares.
One thing he does enjoy about going solo is being able to decide things easily. “It’s just me. I can decide where we are going for a break and how to deal with certain situations. But I don’t have somebody else undermining my thinking process because some parents have different perspectives, and how they treat an issue cancels out the other. Since I don’t have any of that, it’s really nice and relaxing. It’s a chill way to raise kids since I am a very chill parent. That really works out for me,” he says.
That said, Jon-jon has no bad blood with his exes. “One random thing is that I’m usually very good friends with all of my exes. That last fellow, he is very much still around. He still enjoys playing with the kids,” he reveals.
As a gay single dad, Jon-jon reflects that his struggles are no more different than any single parent. “One slight bias is that many of the school forms and government forms always favor a mother. I was just thinking about that in [our] parent Viber chat [for school], I’m the only primary responder that’s a guy. Sometimes, the dad is also in the Viber chat. But it’s always the mom that’s taking care of everything,” he reflects.
The silver lining
Ultimately, Jon-jon understands that he is fortunate that he is not in a vulnerable position where other people’s views on his unique family setup matter. “I don’t belong to a church group. I’m not in a job where there are superiors whose opinions matter. I don’t send my kids to a religious school where they might be taught that surrogacy or IVF or homosexuality is wrong. It’s not applicable to everybody but I’m saying that for me, it works. That’s not true for everybody. The only negative comments I get are when
some article about me comes out in an online forum where you can get some very opinionated
people to comment how homosexuality is wrong and it’s against the Bible. None of those people are people that I know and it doesn’t affect me in any way whatsoever,” he shares.
Jon-jon Rufino shares that whenever people would ask questions about their family setup in front of the kids, he involves Lucian and Lilith in the conversation. “[I ask them], ‘Do you feel bad that you’re being raised by a single gay dad? Would you rather that I was heterosexual and I was married?’. They would answer, ‘No, because that would mean that there is someone else who would nag us.’ But you know, I am 100% confident that they are loved and feel loved. And that, they are not feeling like they are missing out in any way.”
And to this adorable family of three, that’s all that matters!
This story about Jon-jon Rufino and his twins also came out on Modern Parenting’s special Mother’s Day-Father’s Day 2023 print issue available at sarisari.shopping.
WORDS BY Samantha Beltran and Kevyn Gohu
MAKEUP ARTIST Mary Ann Parba
HAIRSTYLIST Sharmaine Manalo
PHOTOGRAPHER Jharwin Castañeda
ASSISTANT PHOTOGRAPHER Jay Artales
ART DIRECTOR Marc Yellow
SITTINGS EDITOR Marga Tupaz