José Rolón, better known as @nycgaydad on TikTok, opens up to Parents Latina about not being afraid to be "openly vulnerable" with his kids

By Georgia Slater
June 10, 2021 10:35 AM
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TikTok dad
Credit: Heather Moore for PARENTS LATINA

TikTok star José Rolón is sharing how his kids continue to help him stay resilient after a devastating loss.

In the cover story for Parents Latina's June/July issue, Rolón, better known as the famed @nycgaydad on TikTok, gets candid about the difficulties of being a single dad to his three kids via surrogate after losing his husband Tim Merrell.

Rolón and his husband were already parents to son Avery, now 8, and expecting twin girls when Merrell died suddenly of a heart attack at age 48.

"It soon became clear, though, what I had to do next: end our pregnancy. Who was I to raise three kids on my own?" he recalls thinking at the time.

"But six days later, on the morning of Tim's funeral, I looked at Avery and thought, 'What if something were to happen to me?' I didn't want to leave him alone in this world," he says. "So I made a decision, and during Tim's eulogy, I announced to a church full of people that we had twins on the way."

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TikTok dad
Credit: Heather Moore for PARENTS LATINA

After welcoming twin daughters London and Lilah, now 6, Rolón says it was "beautiful" how his community came together to help him take care of his family.

"We never want people to see our own ugly or craziness, but unless you let them in and say yes to help, you will get overwhelmed," he says. "The pandemic is a great example of that. Suddenly all parents experienced this collective burnout."

The dad of three says this is why he began making TikTok videos: "It really just started as a way to break up the monotony of remote schooling and the stress of parenting and trying to save my business."

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The platform also helped Rolón find a community for him to talk about his experiences as a single parent. "When the kids score a goal or get a good grade, whom can I tell? It's just me, and that's the hardest part," he says. "But on TikTok we've found a community-sharing lip syncs to Celia Cruz, our attempts at making flan, and even a few tributes to Daddy Tim."

Looking back on his experience with grief, Rolón says his kids have been a big part of helping him move through the process.

"Being a modern Latino dad means I'm not afraid to be openly vulnerable. I can show my kids when I get emotional," says Rolón. "I can show them empathy and not put up walls around myself."

"When I look at all the tragedies I've been through, I just feel so lucky," he adds. "My kids are awesome human beings and so different. We walk the streets together like a posse, and my days are filled with joy again. And at some point they'll know: They saved my life."