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From boys to men: The making of a modern dad

There are a few key moments in a boy’s life that transform him into a man. One of these moments is becoming a dad. The change becomes them.

Fatherhood can come unexpectedly or it may be planned. But for all modern dads, the ownership of time is no longer entirely theirs; it’s their children’s as well. Gone are the bachelor days. Instead, dads think of their purpose and responsibilities.

I interviewed four young dads about their transformation. In conversation, we redefine a new philosophy for fatherhood.


Buji Libarnes, Architect

‘My dad would stay with us on vacation and spend time with Pancho. Naiinggit siya sa amin on how we are very hands-on.’

All four dads I spoke to have a strong desire to spend more quality time with their kids. If anything, the pandemic has forced people to live slowly and enjoy time without distractions.

Buji was grateful for the birth of Pancho on Jan. 16, 2020, just before the first lockdown. The timing allowed him and his wife Nikki Dela Paz-Libarnes to bring back newborn Pancho from Manila to La Union. And with their business, Vessel Hostel, closed most of last year, they were able to spend time with Pancho, taking him to the beach and the river any time they liked.


Buji Libarnes, architect based in La Union, with his son Pancho


Having this quality time with his son is unlike his upbringing. His dad was a neurologist and was always in hospitals. Nowadays, even Buji’s dad notices the difference between traditional versus modern parenting.

Buji said, “Sabi niya sa akin, he regrets that he wasn’t able to experience that with us. He is really happy that we are like that with Pancho.”

I asked Buji what he hopes his son would do in the future. He admits that Pancho hasn’t surfed with them yet, being so young. But he shared a sentiment that most parents definitely feel nowadays: “Nikki loves to travel. And ako rin, I like traveling. So, yun ang isa sa gusto namin gawin, right after mag-normalize ang mundo. We want to get places. We want to go to Japan.”


James Torres, Chef

‘Once you have a child, everything will just fall into place.’

James Torres and Chessie Guerrero-Torres were married for only two years when they found out Chessie was pregnant. The instant feeling was anxiety. They had just started a restaurant and felt overwhelmed at the idea of creating a family. Their nervousness didn’t last long, as they shared the news with family and friends right away.

When asked what he felt on the day of the birth, James shared, “You know, the feeling na autopilot ka na lang. I sat down behind her. There was a curtain behind. And then sabi ng doctor, ‘One, two, three, push.’ When she was pushing, I was preparing the camera. Seconds after, the baby was out. It was so fast.”


Chef James Torres, a CCA Manila graduate, with his daughter Aliyah


The instant change for him was becoming overprotective. He also felt an instant bond. And he admitted, “Aliyah is like a best friend to Chessie and me.”

Some days, she gets them through the pandemic with her proactive energy.

James recalled one moment at The Farm at San Benito when he told Aliyah that he was sad to leave. She said to him, “It’s okay, Dad. As long as we’re together, we can still have fun at home. It’s going to be just as fun.” He realized that they didn’t need a nice vacation to enjoy quality time.

James enjoyed the last couple of years raising Aliyah. He said with pride, “She wants to be a chef, like me. She has a chef’s hat and an apron.” He sees her as an encouragement to those closest to them, but most especially to him as a father.


Paolo Laurel, Educator

‘I’m realizing that it’s not only giving gifts, but spending time, being present, and for her to be able to run to me anytime.’

Paolo Laurel was mentally prepared when he and wife Keena Vazquez-Laurel found out she was pregnant in August 2020. Paolo said his previous experience before meeting Keena primed him for his now two-month-old daughter, Lily.

“I have a firstborn son, Enzo. I had him pretty early at 18. He is now 18. I made him a groomsman in our wedding.” He shared, “One of the toughest jobs aside from being a father is being a co-parent because you have to balance the mother’s wishes, your wishes, and the child’s needs. That’s challenging. But my experience in being a co-parent, both good and bad, is helping me with Lily now.”


Paolo Laurel with daughter Lily


He was adamant about being present for Keena’s pregnancy and said, “I attended all the OB visits. And I savored it. When we were born, based on my dad and Tito’s kwento, they wouldn’t even go to OB visits. Or it would just be the mom and her mother.”

Times are changing. As Paolo explained, “It’s a mixture of how society changes. Millennial fathers want to be more active — and there’s also that whole social media pressure. But in my case, it was more intrinsic: I wanted to be there because I was not before.”

Giving birth during the pandemic is trying. The rules change daily. And so, last April 9, Araw ng Kagitingan, Paolo was not allowed inside the delivery room. It was 6:30 a.m., and he watched Keena give birth via Zoom.

During the pandemic, Paolo has spent more time at home while working at the Laurel-run Lyceum of the Philippines. Because of the time spent at home, he thought about his identity as a father, “My love for Lily is also the same as when I made ligaw Keena, not too traditional but creative.”

Pressed on what he meant, he said, “I recorded a song, a lullaby. It’s a constant battle, like an artwork. Sometimes, you look at it, and you’re not happy. There are several drafts of the lullaby version of Never Gonna Give You Up (by Rick Astley).”

When I asked him what made him record a lullaby, he said, “I want her to have these tangible memories that are not just the usual things like the graduation photo, first communion photo, or birthday photo with the family. But given my creativity, I wanted her to have these things so, if I’m not around anymore, or when it’s her time to be a mother, she can use it.”


Don Dizon, Youtube vlogger

‘Nabuo ako as a human being when I embraced fatherhood.’


Don Dizon, entrepreneur and YouTube vlogger, with children Johnkiel, Dartlee and Sabrina


Don is a single father in his 30s who recently went viral on Facebook for posting his home with the caption: “PS: Wanted: Ilaw ng tahanan, para lumiwanag na ang aking buhay at ang aming bahay.” He meant it as a joke, but he suddenly gained attention from people online.

He confessed that “I’m so happy and content with just my kids.” He became an instant dad at age 23 with twins, Johnkiel and Dartlee. And last year, he also met another child from another woman, Sabrina, who is now eight years old. He said, “Hindi ko ikinahihiya ang past ko. But, I’m a changed man.”

He was honest about the beginning of his journey to being a dad. He was still going out with his friends and drinking while his mother took care of his children. Then one day, he embraced the responsibility of being a full-time dad. He realized “It is my choice to be a father; it is not the children’s choice.”

He then decided to learn all there is to fathering, from changing diapers, bathing them, and preparing the milk. He said, “Mag-iiba talaga ang pananaw mo sa buhay. But you must be ready— physically, financially, spiritually and mentally. I am really a full-time dad.”

* * *

For sure, there are many people feeling wanderlust, especially dads that want to show their children the world. This thought reminded me of a quote that Paolo Laurel shared from his idol, Bruce Lee, the Chinese-American martial artist and actor: “Instead of buying your children all the things you never had, you should teach them all the things you were never taught. Material wears out, but knowledge stays.”

Originally published on June 20, 2021 in Philippine Star

About the author

About the author

Bea Trinidad host a podcast about smarter love - Thirsty & Thirty. She is also the official storyteller of a culinary school, CCA Manila. She can help you with writing projects like a love story gift to your special someone or telling your company’s story.

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