My name is José Rolón, and I always knew I wanted to be a father.
However, when I met my late husband Tim in 2007, he expressed on date number three he didn’t. But over time, he came around to the idea completely, mostly on his own. Soon after getting married in 2010, we went for it.
We did surrogacy, and found this incredible surrogate, Natasia. We put one of each – an embryo with my sperm, one with his – and out came a beautiful boy! It was clear Avery was not biologically mine, but Tim’s.
It was really remarkable to see Tim become a father. For him, a 40-something-year-old, it was a new experience. His senses were heightened. He was incredible. I was almost envious of how amazing he was. It changed his life, and ours.
‘He said: “I think we should have another kid!”‘
When Avery was two months old, I was on the couch and Tim came out with him in his arms.
He said: ‘Babe, do you know what I’m thinking?’ I was like: ‘Pizza or Chinese?’ He said: ‘I think we should have another kid!’ I was like: ‘What the… Seriously?!’
So, we went for it again. And this time, we used my goods, right? Well, what happened next was pretty interesting…
We were clear we didn’t want two more children. We only contracted to put in one. But on the day of the procedure our kick-ass surrogate Natasia – and to be clear, our egg donor was different from the surrogate – literally had her legs in the air when the doctor comes in and says ‘OK, I’ve got them!’
I’m like: ‘What do you mean “them?” We only contracted for one!’
‘Your stuff is not in great condition,’ he replied.
I was like: ‘Clearly there’s something wrong. My stuff is amazing!’ Which is not wrong…
‘If you only put in one, there’s only a 15% chance of getting pregnant,’ he explained.
‘What are the chances of twins if we put in two?’ we asked, to which he replied: ‘Nil. No chance.’
So, fast forward 10 weeks. We fly down to Valdosta, Georgia, where our surrogate was. We found out it had resulted in twins! I was like: ‘Jesus…’ Tim was calm and I was really nervous.
‘I called and a detective came on: “Who is Timothy to you?”‘
The next week, we were back in New York City when Tim went on a business trip to Pennsylvania. It was 11 December 2013.
He was always my alarm clock wherever we were, whether in bed with me, or traveling around the world. He made the mistake of not getting in touch once; he’d gone out the night before and woken up late and ran into a conference with no reception. I was really upset with him. He said ‘I promise I’ll never do that again.’
So I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t connected. My text messages got increasingly more frustrated.
I was at a networking wedding event – I’m a wedding planner – and got the voicemail. ‘Hello, this is the police precinct down in Pennsylvania, please give us a call.’ I knew something was wrong.
I called and a detective came on. ‘Who is Timothy to you?’
‘He’s my husband,’ I answered. ‘What’s going on?’
‘I’m sorry to tell you this,’ he said, ‘but Tim passed away in his hotel room in his sleep.’ They believed it was a heart attack.
I just started screaming, ‘No, no! Tell me this is a joke! Please tell me this a joke!’ It was a crazy. I was obviously out of sorts. Out of my mind. I just couldn’t believe it. I just collapsed.
‘”I’m definitely going to abort,” I thought. “There’s just no way”‘
That period was so intense for so many reasons. In addition to just losing my husband, I only had a week to make the decision as whether to follow through with the pregnancy or not, because he passed away when we were 11 weeks. At 12 weeks, you can no longer decide. My initial thought was: ‘No fucking way.’
‘I’m definitely going to abort,’ I thought. ‘There’s just no way. Who am I to take care of three kids?’
Ultimately, there were a couple of things that made me change my mind.
One was financial. Once I looked at everything, I was like: ‘My parents had no money and I came out just fine.’
What did it for me, however, was Avery, who was eight months old at the time. I thought: ‘He just lost his father. What if something bad happens to me?’
I’ve lost both my parents, and I’m an only child. I grew up in the projects. My father was caught up in drugs, my mother was never strong enough to leave – it was a very abusive household. My father passed away in 1994 at the age of 37 when I was 18. He was HIV positive. Then my mother was 41 – the age I am now – and I was 23. It was her heart. That was in 2000.
‘I didn’t want to leave Avery alone in this world’
It became so obvious. I didn’t want to leave Avery alone in this world.
I didn’t want history to repeat itself in any way. I thought: ‘If anything does happen to me, at least Avery will have these two other human beings connected to him.’ And so I actually made the decision the morning of Tim’s service to follow through the pregnancy. In fact, I announced our pregnancy during Tim’s eulogy. Most people didn’t know we were pregnant. As you can imagine, it caused a very emotional reaction.
Of course, I was freaking out throughout. Even more so when I found out it was two girls! I was like: ‘What the fuck!? Jesus Christ!’
I had an order of preference. I’m very OK with saying that two girls was the last on that list. My first choice was a boy and a girl. The second was two boys.
There’s a stereotype in gay culture – and obviously some of it is true – that we want girls, because we can do pretty things with them. But the reality is, I only knew being a boy. Not only was I having one girl, but two.
But ultimately, when Lilah and London arrived, something calmed me. I was like: ‘OK. We’re in this together. Let’s make this work.’ And I have.
Now I can’t imagine my life without having the two girls.
‘I partly share on social media because I feel less lonely as a single parent’
I’ve been In New York City for 20 years; my city family has been my actual family, so along with our nanny, Leti, who has been with them since Avery was two months old, there’s no shortage of adopted aunts and uncles around.
These include Uncle Ryan and Uncle Dave who are not only Godparents, but without fail are here every single weekend to be a constant for them.
It’s been a great for the kids. They’re going to grow up and have all kinds of awareness. It’s going to be normal for them to have all kinds of people in their lives. They also have cousins in Massachusetts, and we try to see each other as much as possible.
Am I strict with my kids? Well, my childhood was so serious, chaotic and wild, so although I’m strict, I have a lot of flexibility within the boundaries I set. When they misbehave, sometimes I have to laugh at that shit or I’d go mad…
I do share all of this on social media. I think we’re all narcissistic to some level, but there’s healthy and unhealthy narcissism. Part of the reason I share is because I feel less lonely as a single parent.
It’s nice to feel everyone’s involved in some way. Even if it is virtual. And I get wonderful feedback, people get inspired.
‘I thought: “Who’s going to date somebody who has kids?”‘
I was a single dad for maybe a year and a half. I thought: ‘Who’s going to date somebody who has kids?!’ Then, I unexpectedly met this other incredible, amazing human being named Alex, a Scottish boy.
I was like ‘Wow. This guy is hot, smart, a humanitarian director, he thinks I’m cute…’ I really wanted it to work. But ultimately, although we were together for almost two years, it didn’t.
What was interesting was, actually, the kids ended up being the easiest part of our relationship. It was more us that ultimately weren’t compatible. It took us a while to figure that out. We tried really hard to make it work. After a few therapy sessions, we ended it. We’re now friends.
‘A guy I dated recently was like a deer caught in headlights around my children’
Right now my goal is to find someone to share my life with. I’m a romantic. I love love. I mean, Jesus Christ, my birthday’s on Valentine’s Day, and I’m a wedding planner! That’s one piece that’s missing at the moment.
I’ve been on some wonderful dates since Alex. There was one guy who I dated recently, very casually, and although we had fun and had great chemistry, he was like a deer caught in headlights when around my children. That and he didn’t think monogamy was an option. What is it with gay men?
It’s also interesting because Tim’s not an ex. That’s important. Whoever comes into the picture has to be secure in being aware that this person is no longer here. I have more than enough capacity and space for a new person, but they have to understand that it’s important for me to honor who Tim was. At the very least, for the children so they understand it was our love that got them here.
‘The reality is, it’s hard – I don’t always have my shit together’
But guys do automatically assume that, as a gay man with kids, I have my shit together. I mean, I live in Brooklyn Heights which is nice… But the reality is, it’s hard. I don’t always have my shit together.
Is juggling three kids and a full-time job stressful? Well, wedding planners have a certain reputation, but I’m a relaxed, chilled planner – at least my reviews online from clients say so. I try to adopt that attitude in my personal life too. Although not always – I am still Puerto Rican, Latin, fiery! That’s part of the reason it didn’t work out with Alex, the Scottish guy.
I am fortunate with my business, to be in a position that when couples interview me, I’m interviewing them too. I’m able to pick and choose. I do 20 weddings a year; I cap it at that so it works out as a wedding every other weekend, almost. Then, every other weekend, I’m with my children. This also works to my clients’ benefit. They’re not just a number.
I also make sure the couples I work with are couples I enjoy being with; all my clients know my family life’s important. And because it’s my business, I manage my own calendar with my team. I get to take my son to school, for instance. Tim and I’s wedding was the catalyst for me becoming a planner. I enjoyed the process of us getting married so much. I thought it was a great opportunity and Tim said ‘Go for it.’
‘I was like: “This is the reason all of this crap with my parents went down”‘
Ultimately, I felt I’d ‘made it’ when I met Tim. I was like ‘Oh, I’ve arrived. This is the reason all of this crap with my parents went down.’
People who know me are pretty amazed I’m living the life I am. Because this wasn’t meant to be my path.
When I met Tim, I genuinely didn’t take a single thing for granted. When he passed away, there wasn’t a thing I wished I’d said or done differently. There’s something really beautiful and comforting about that.
You do hear of couples getting into fights, then the husband goes to get the groceries and dies in a car accident; there’s this major guilt. I don’t have to feel that.
‘I see the blessings of our children. It’s because of Tim’
With Tim, I’m very open about the grieving part of it. My kids are very aware of who daddy Tim is. There are pictures of him around the house, and I dedicated a whole website to him. There are stories about him that other family and friends submitted, videos of him and I, lots of pictures. In the future, when the kids are ready to know more, they will have RememberingTimothyMerrell.com to go to.
There is also a children’s book a friend of his wrote that go published, called ‘Sir Timothy the Dragon Slayer: The Valiant Tales of Timothy the Brave‘. All proceeds go to the kids’ education which is so beautiful.
It’s wild how much I see Tim in Avery. If you see pictures of him and my son, he’s a little mini Tim. They even have the same smile, lips, and ears. He’s this massive blessing that Tim left behind – a beautiful legacy.
I see the blessings of our children, and it’s because of Tim – it’s kind of insane. And I refuse to take any of it for granted.
For more information about José and the kids, check out Instagram/nycgaydad. For more information about José’s wedding business, visit Instagram.com/joserolonevents and joserolonevents.com.
Interview by Jamie Tabberer