Johnny and Goran are life partners, and they are raising two children together with Daphne, the mother of their kids, redefining the idea of a modern, mixed Filipino family.
“He looked at our passports, look at the passengers in the car and asked me: Where did you get these people?.”
Goran*, 43, fondly recalls the funny incident with an immigration officer when their family was checked at the border in Slovenia, his motherland, for a holiday. In the car were his partner Johnny* ,46, a Filipino expat living in Amsterdam, their two children Leo and Lawin, and Daphne, 33, the children’s mother, and Johnny’s niece.
It might be an unconventional set-up but in the Dutch family system of meerouderschap, children can legally have two or more parents. Johnny, Goran and Daphne ‘s family set-up is what they call in the Netherlands, a regenbooggezin (rainbowfamily), basically a three-parent family with one or two LGBTIQ+ parents.
Johnny, an accountant and Goran, a dancer and photographer, met at the 2009 Gay Pride in Amsterdam. At that time, Johnny had already adopted Leo, the son of his niece Daphne, whom he has taken care of and supported since 2006.
When did you decide to have a family together?
Goran: I had a boyfriend before who had two daughters but then I could not really raise them because they have their own mom. Somehow I got used to having kids around. Then I met him and on our second date he said he had a child. And I said, “Oh perfect, maybe when we are ready, we can bring him (Leo) here”.
Johnny: Daphne was living in the Philippines, so we are already looking for options to have our own child here in the Netherlands. We studied the legal complexities of different set-ups and eventually we decided to ask Daphne.
Goran: We proposed to her that we would like to have Lawin. And it took her six years to agree.
The couple went to the Philippines to introduce Goran to Daphne and Leo. It took a while before three-year old Leo warmed up to his new Papa, his daddy’s partner, but they eventually developed a good bond after several more visits. When Leo turned five, the couple brought them to the Netherlands.
Johnny admits that financial reason was one of the factors that convinced Daphne to agree on the three-parent set-up. But because he is also her uncle, she trusted them that they would take care of her and the second baby the way they took care Leo.
In the beginning, Johnny and Daphne hesitated to explain the family set-up to Leo. But it did not take long before the young boy started to wonder about the complexities of his family.
Daphne: I was young when I got Leo. My boyfriend and I didn’t really live together. Leo did not know that before, and then one day he asked, “Why are you calling him uncle, but he is my daddy?” He was eight and we were in Nice that time.
Goran: He is smart. He came to me and asked, “What’s going on?”
Johnny: We wanted to talk about it, but we didn’t know the right approach. It was a heavy subject. But I was very happy when he asked. The conversation became much easier, and I was relieved.
When Daphne became pregnant with Lawin, she remembers how she tried to hide the pregnancy from friends and even some relatives to avoid gossips. Johnny’s family came from Sultan Kudarat, but they eventually settled in Davao. The society was not exactly open minded about two gay men having a child with a woman. But several years after, both have learned not to care about other people’s opinion.
Daphne got pregnant through artificial insemination. She carried the first month of her pregnancy in the Netherlands but was uncomfortable to give birth in a country with an unfamiliar health care system. She went home to give birth in the Philippines, a decision that Goran struggled with because he would not be there during his son’s birth.
Goran and Daphne are officially registered as Lawin’s parents. Three months after Lawin was born, Johnny and Goran flew to the Philippines to see the child for the very first time.
How was it like holding your child for the first time?
Goran: I was very emotional (becoming teary-eyed), holding my own child. But what was strange, when you are a couple you can talk about things, how she feels. But with her (Daphne), I didn’t know anything. She was away so we needed time to grow together as parents. I missed that but I was also happy to be with Lawin.
The children, together with Daphne eventually moved to the Netherlands. The family settled into a routine of a normal family, Johnny managing the finances, Goran taking care of the daily activities of the kids, and Daphne assisting the couple and taking care of the kids wherever necessary, while holding a job of her own.
And while the kids did not experience upfront discrimination and were even considered to be “cool” for having two fathers, the couple decided to enroll their children to a school where students came from well-off families, where parents are more open to gay partnership.
Johnny: You don’t want people bullying your kids or have a very difficult discussion about being gay that can affect him.
Goran: In Leo’s former school, parents didn’t talk to me.
What is the most challenging part of being gay parents?
Goran: Gay friends who don’t have kids, sometimes they come in and they wouldn’t notice the kids. I find it so odd. I feel that gay people are not so into children. Some friends are even bothered by the noise the kids make.
Johnny: Straight parents are more attentive in that regard.
What is your biggest fear as parents, as gay parents?
Goran: Before Lawin was born, I already wanted to have an Asian kid because I feel like I was too restricted, I was too stiff. Lawin has a lot of male and female energy. When I saw him, he is very free, he imitates both men and women. It is very confrontational.
It was my own fear. Maybe I wasn’t allowed to be more feminine because we lived in a village, so they always told me it’s bad. I think that came up on him and it was liberating.
Johnny: He can be very theatrical.
Goran: Then Johnny starts calling him bakla. I tell him, maybe it is too early. Don’t do that to my son. As a father I don’t want anyone calling him bakla. He is maybe gender fluid. I also talked to some parents on how they are dealing with that because in our household we don’t have role models, so everything is possible. It is a small fear. I don’t know why. It’s a funny feeling even though I am gay myself.
Johnny: I don’t do that in a degrading way. I mean we are bakla ourselves. He finds it a bit awkward, so I stop saying it.
Goran: The fact that my son would also be gay is so weird. I am also learning from him, to just accept him and myself. I remember when he wanted to be with boys in the playground and the boys didn’t accept him so he pushed one guy and I thought, he could stand up for himself, he is going to be fine. He can take care of himself.
Johnny: The fears that I have are general parental fears, not how they will grow up. I have confidence in Leo, he is very chill, easy going, confident. I think it is also the generation, it is different, it has changed a lot. Some of his friends come here for sleepovers and vice versa and it just ok. People are more accepting (of gay couples).
What would be your ideal life for your children in the future?
Goran: I just try to guide them with all my knowledge as an artist. In Holland life is more laidback. In Slovenia it is always about performing and performing. Johnny is also very ambitious and driven. With the kids I try not to push them too much. From Leo I am also learning that you don’t have to perform all the time, you don’t need to be the best all the time.
Johnny: I always tell Leo, you have the opportunity here, make use of it. I always push him a bit, six is not a grade good enough, to motivate them him as well. I tell him when we were studying, we needed to pay a lot of money to go to a good school or get a scholarship to go to the university. So, it will be a pity if you don’t make use of the opportunity and what you can achieve.
On the one hand, I am not afraid for his future because it is a different society. Whatever you become, it will be fine. In Holland, whatever you do, you have a certain level of comfort, not in the Philippines where it is difficult.
I want happiness for them. But I also explain to Leo that is it is difficult to be happy when you don’t have money. So, it is a good balance between finding passion and earning money. It is just the reality.
Leo seems to understand his daddy very well because when asked what he wanted to do later, he said “something that is good earning.”
What is your advice for other gay couples who wants to build a family together?
Goran: As a couple you have to have the will. When I met Johnny, and he said he had a kid, I said, good let’s do it together. If you feel that from your partner, that’s a good base already. You need to be mentally ready; you need to be mature. You need to be ready to give up certain things or put some things on the side. Do I need to be career focused still? Those things you think about.
Johnny: Maybe gay people like the idea of having kids but the practical aspect is not easy. There are a lot of legalities involved, so that’s the main drawback. It is also costly. A lot are very inspired with the way we did. But we are just lucky that it worked the way we planned.
*The surnames are not published at the request of Johnny. They are known to the editor.
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Dheza Aguilar is the Managing Editor of The Filipino Expat Magazine. She was a former Netherlands correspondent for ABS-CBN, and freelance writer for other publications. She works for a supply company in Rotterdam and is eternally juggling passion and career. She also blogs at www.girlfromthebarrio.com.