José Rolón's husband unexpectedly died in his sleep when their son was an infant—and their surrogate was 11 weeks pregnant with twins. He took that heartbreaking loss, turned his attention toward his kids, and created the popular @nycgaydad on TikTok to spread positivity through humor. Turns out, laughter really is the best medicine.

By Melissa Mills
November 17, 2020
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José Rolón, 44, a single gay dad of three—Avery, 7, and twins Lilah and London, 6—in New York City created some of your new favorite social media accounts. Not following @nycgaydad on TikTok or Instagram yet? Now's the time. Trust me, it's just the pick-me-up you need to help fight pandemic fatigue, virtual school struggles, or just to put a smile on your face.

Rolón, a wedding planner whose events have mostly been pushed to 2021 due to the pandemic, focuses his creativity on social media to showcase his loving family and all the fun they have amid everything going on in the world.

José Rolón with his son, Avery, and twin daughters, Lilah and London.
| Credit: Courtesy of José Rolón

"@Nycgaydad is a username I started on Instagram years ago as a way for me and other gay dads to find each other," Rolón explains. "I started doing the TikToks because I'm horrible at sports, can't play an instrument, and am even worse at art and crafts. But I know how to capture moments to create memories. TikTok allows me to be more creative. Seems the videos have resonated with people." 

He's definitely right there. With more than 143,000 followers on TikTok alone, Rolón's followers can't get enough of his humor, dance moves, and the representation of a gay dad on social media.

"With everything happening in the world right now, we need as much positivity as possible," says Rolón. "But not in a way that's naive. I still do videos that will point to where we are socially and politically, which is also important, but I try to do it with some humor. Somehow, even if you may not identify as a single gay man of color, people are finding the videos relatable. So this has been wonderful." 

Credit: Courtesy of José Rolón

Rolón's hysterical social presence—and the all-too-real videos of life during the coronavirus pandemic—resonates with his followers, but it didn't happen overnight; it's the product of years of coming together as a family following tragedy. Let's rewind a bit.

Rolón met his husband, Tim Merrell, on a dating site called gaydar.com in 2007. That was "back in the day when you had to go home, turn your computer on, and log in an account to see if you had a message," Rolón remembers. "It was a magical first date. It snowed and our first kiss was on the corner of a Tribeca street where they were selling Christmas trees."

The couple married in 2010, had a baby shortly after, and decided to try for another—which turned into two—when their son was just 2 months old. But in 2013, when Avery was still an infant and a surrogate was just 11 weeks pregnant with the twins, Merrell unexpectedly died in his sleep. Rolón pushed through his fear of raising three kids alone—and announced the news of Lilah and London to family and friends while giving Merrell's eulogy.

"My children saved me," says Rolón. "I would wake up crying, but I only had 5 minutes to cry because the reason I woke up is because my son was crying in his crib. So I had to wipe my tears away and put a smile on my face. Now we were still 11 weeks pregnant with the twins when he passed, so once I made the decision to follow through the pregnancy, the anticipation of their arrival kept me focused. One day, when they're older, they'll understand how much I felt indebted to them." 

These days, it's clear to see that family is just as crucial to Rolón—and that's why his kids are at the spotlight of his social media. But it's also important to show his reality: a gay dad raising his happy, healthy children in New York.

"Although gay men have been raising kids for a long time, it's still fairly new and I find we are still very much in the forefront of this movement in the LGBTQ community," says Rolón. "If the voice of my family brings awareness and visibility, the better off the next generation will be."

After experiencing heartbreak and coming out the other side ready to inspire others, here's Rolón's advice for parents, especially at a time when stress and anxiety are at an all-time high: "Keep teaching your kids what it means to be compassionate and have empathy. Show them what it means to respect our neighbors and always be open to possibilities." 

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