(Original article written by Michael Lambert and provided to Diversity Rules Magazine by the fine folks at Project Publicity.)
José Rolón didn’t know where life would take him after husband unexpectedly died. He only knew he needed to be there for his three children. Now, the wedding planner is balancing life with a new partner while honoring Tim’s memory for himself and his children.
When José Rolón met Tim Merrell in 2007, Tim was clear he didn’t want children. “I think as soon as the third date, it came up,” José explained to GayswithKids.com, a website for gay dads. “It was hard, but I thought it was worth the sacrifice to be with him.”
Their relationship grew deeper and the two married in 2010. They built a happy life full of love, laughter and travel. But José felt like something was missing.
“I would make jokes about having kids,” he remembers. “Tim would always say, ‘You knew who you were marrying.’ And he was right.”
But after a year of marriage, everything changed.
“One day, he started talking to me about surrogacy. He said he had seen Elton John and his husband talking about it. He spent the whole night researching and was finally open to it.
“That was the thing with Tim,” remembers José. “Once he made a decision, he was 100 percent committed.”
In the spring of 2013, their son Avery was born.
“Tim immediately fell in love with Avery. All of a sudden, he was obsessed with being a dad.”
When Avery was two months old, Tim started talking about another child. The man who had initially said no to kids now was thinking about having more than just one. Soon after, the two started planning for a second surrogacy.
“At the 10-week appointment with our surrogate, we found out we were having twin girls,” José said. “I was the one freaking out. Tim was totally calm.”
After that appointment, the two dreamed of a life together as a family; but a week later, Tim died in his sleep from heart failure. He was 48 years old. When his body was discovered, his hands were tucked peacefully under his cheek.
José admits the first year after losing Tim was the hardest.
“Being a single dad was tough. There were a lot of hard days, days I didn’t want to get out of bed. But I got through it. I distracted myself in good ways, in positive ways. I had a huge, consistent support system for me and the kids.”
The power of that support system is palpable from the stories friends and family share on “Remembering Tim,” a site José hosts as a memorial to his late husband. Videos and galleries show a smiling Tim visiting Paris with José or holding Avery for the first time.
Time passed, and José started to date again. “I wanted to start fresh,” he said. “About a year after Tim passed, I finally came to a place where I realized I would not have changed anything about our relationship.”
But José worried — as a widower, as a single father — other men would be intimidated.
“A single guy with a kid is hot,” José said, laughing,
“But a single guy with three kids is a hot mess.”
After a couple of failed relationships, along came Alex Gray, José’s now-boyfriend. The two first connected over Whatsapp on José birthday in early February.
“During our first in-person date, I couldn’t quite believe it,” he said. “Here was this hot man who wasn’t even flinching at a guy with three kids.”
Alex’s biggest fear with José wasn’t the kids, but dating a widower. “I was worried how I would fit in,” he said. “But José was very supportive. He was committed to protecting Tim’s legacy for the kids but was very open with me about keeping a balance.”
Alex remembers one time he helped keep Tim’s memory alive. He, José and the kids had planned on singing happy birthday to celebrate what would have been Tim’s 50th; however, José, a wedding planner, was busy with a ceremony in upstate New York.
So Alex got the kids together, lit a candle and sang to Tim with the kids. He sent the video to José at the reception.
José and Alex find moments like that make their relationship stronger — honoring this past partner and father while still creating a family of their own.
José looks back on his life with Tim and realizes that despite the pain, there’s something truly valuable. “I’ve had two great loves in one lifetime. Not everyone can say that.”
For more stories of gay dads and their children, visit GayswithKids.com.