Fatherhood D to Z
Dingdong Dantes on fatherhood.
DINGDONG DANTES IS A LOT OF things. He’s a star, obviously, which is to say that he’s an actor. In fact, he’s one of local show-business’ most famous and most successful, with a list of awards and nominations and billboards and commercials to his name that’s far too long to unfurl here.
He’s the founding chairman of YesPinoy, an active nonprofit for social advocacies to do with youth and education and the environment, which tells you that he’s also a pretty stand-up guy. So stand-up and civic-minded, in fact, that he was once said to be considered for a senatorial draft in 2016 (it never pushed through, and at the time, Dingdong categorically stated that he had no such plans).
He’s an athlete, of course, because how else can you look like that if you don’t run and occasionally dabble in triathlons?
And by now, you should know that he’s a husband, too, because almost three years ago, he wed Marian Rivera—a woman of such oft-proclaimed beauty, repeatedly regarded as the most desirable in the land, making Dingdong, transitively, the most enviable.
Lastly, and at the risk of making you feel even worse about yourself, we’ll recall the obvious: that Dingdong Dantes is a classically handsome specimen of a man, with a jawline so sharp and masculine that he could very well use it chop dry wood with which to build a funeral pyre for the egos of lesser men.
But right now, none of that matters. Right now, it isn’t quite as important that he’s a star, an actor, a philanthropist, an athlete, and the husband of the Philippines’ most coveted wife. Right now, Dingdong Dantes is wearing the most important of his many hats: He’s a father, cautious not to wake his seventeenmonth-old daughter Zia from her afternoon nap.
She’s asleep, angelic, as the family of three arrives together at a posh condominium in New Manila, and Dingdong insists on allowing her just a little more time to rest before meeting us. He’s protective of her in that way, perhaps because he’s always needed to be. Ever since word broke that Dingdong and Marian were to have a child, Letizia Rivera-Dantes has been beset by expectations of stardom— fans, followers, and media have been trailing her since before she was born (fun fact: This is her second cover with Esquire—the first being an in utero appearance inside Marian Rivera’s bare belly on our November 2015 issue). Her parents, after all, are adored by millions, and often considered to be show-business’s most uncannily beautiful couple, so how could we not want to see what their babies together would look like?
So for the Rivera-Danteses, the spotlight has been, and will likely continue to be inescapable. The adoring public’s love for Dingdong and Marian—first as beautiful individuals, and then as a perfect-for-each-other couple—has carried over into their family life, and then necessarily, to Zia. And while they are, to many, the image of a perfect family, Dingdong admits that they face the same challenges as anyone: those of child-rearing in the modern age, which can prove difficult to navigate— perhaps even especially so for them. Fatherhood, it seems, is not quite so different for the man who seems to have it all, and after Zia wakes and we finish taking their portraits together, he tells us why. —MIGUEL ESCOBAR
ESQ: Can you tell us a little bit about Zia?
DD: I think she’s very much like her mom, always very lively, always happy, extremely talkative, [and] very irresistible and very charming. ESQ: What is your relationship with her like? DD: I think as she grows, my relationship with her also changes everyday, because siyempre,
she’s in a very crucial development stage when she gets to explore everything, so kapag nakikita mo ’yung interaction niya with different things and different people, may mga lumalabas na first time mo makikita. Every moment really surprises me. I get to know more about her every minute of my time with her. That’s why I make it a point na nandoon ako parati, to witness. Kasi bihira lang dumaan ’yan sa isang bata, sa isang tao. So as much as I can, I want to really be there for her. Minsan, ’yung mga words eh. She’s at this stage already na [kapag] may narinig siya, magagaya na niya ’yung words. ESQ: Can you tell us about how you and your wife split parenting duties?
DD: I must say that most of the work is really done by her. Sobrang hanga ako sa kanyang commitment to motherhood. The best that I can contribute as a father and as a husband is to really support her in her role as a mother. Until now, she’s still breastfeeding Letizia. ’Yung commitment na ’yun really is… not just courageous… Parang spiritual dedication na rin ’yan because, nakikita ko, it’s not only physical—[it’s] emotional. ’Yung buong pagkatao ni Marian, inaalay niya para sa anak namin.
So what can I contribute as a father, siyempre: the stuff na pwede kong gawin naman without [Marian], like giving [Zia] a bath, playing with her. Particularly ’yung bath time, ine-enjoy namin
ESQ: How much time do you spend with Zia? DD: Kung kaya, the whole day—every day, every minute, every second. May mga times nga na, let’s say, may break ako from work, one hour lang. Talagang lulusubin ko ’yung traffic to go home, just to see her, kahit for five minutes, and then
ESQ: What’s been the best thing about being a father so far?
DD: The moment that she was born, it was not only her birth, but it was also my rebirth as a person. So it changed so many perspectives
sa buhay ko. I had a different kind of boost of morale; I had a different level of motivation. I’m no longer doing things for myself, but for my family, for my wife, for Zia. My commitment to life itself changed a hundredfold. Kaya siguro tinatawag na “gift,” because hindi lang siya buhay na binigay kay Letizia, pero buhay na binigay sa amin as parents. Because it made us appreciate life all the more.
ESQ: Fatherhood really does have the power to change a man.
DD: Yes. And to be specific: Normally, hindi talaga ako morning person. But when Zia arrived, I committed to a healthy lifestyle. I mean, I’m in the process of trying to totally change my lifestyle into a healthy one, and I can say that I’m getting there naman. I got into running recently, a little over a year ago, sakto n’ung pinanganak siya. Kasi I think that running is [such that] you need a certain amount of commitment for you to be able to sustain it, and for you to be able to progress. Para sa akin, mahirap siyang gawin. So my motivation really is—for example, if I join the fun runs—to bring home a medal and give it to Zia eventually. I have this collection of medals. Mga 10K, 20K. Tapos pinagtatabi-tabi ko. And then one day, sasabihin ko [kay Zia] na, “You know, I never thought that matatapos ko ’tong run na ’to,
but during the last kilometers, ikaw lang iniisip ko, to win. Ikaw ang motivation ko, for me to finish, and finish strong.” Siguro, yes, benefit siya para sa akin, na magiging healthy ako, benefit para sa akin na mashahaba ang buhay ko para sa kanya. But really, it’s also a test of my character, of pushing my limits, and having a greater goal, a greater motivation, which is Zia.
ESQ: What has it been like to raise Zia in the age of social media? Have there been any challenges, specific to modern fatherhood?
DD: Well, kami, we discuss. I discussed it with my wife, and we decided not to open Zia’s own [social media] account, because we would like to give her that option later on, when she grows up. So ’yung mga pictures na nakikita [ng public], ’yun ’yung mga nilalabas namin sa aming personal feed: Candid shots or snapshots of our happy moments with her. Some, we share through social media, pero most of them we keep for ourselves.
ESQ: Why do you think that it’s important to give Zia that option?
DD: Well, growing up in a generation like this, when social media plays a very big and vital role in life, it’s going to get complicated. More so for Zia, kasi ’yung buhay niya ay alam ng ibang tao— mas may nakakaalam. There’s a public side of it. And siyempre, growing up, gugustuhin rin niya na magkaroon ng sarili niyang privacy, para she can explore in her own space. And I would like to give that to her. I think [privacy] is definitely her right, and we will do everything to protect that right.
ESQ: How about technology in other forms, apart from social media and public exposure?
DD: Alam mo, sinasabi namin dati na hindi namin [siya] pagagamitin ng tablet or cellphone. Pero may mga times na kailangan talaga. But nili-limit namin, like, binibigyan lang namin siya ng tablet na may pinapanood only when eating. That’s the only time she can hold a tablet or watch things on it.
Bukod doon, gusto namin mas makipaglaro siya sa tao. More than playing with things, mas prefer namin ’yung interaction with people. Mahalagang madevelop din ’yung social skills, ’di ba, this early,
na ma-introduce siya sa how it is to be around people, how it is to interact with other people.
Kasi, siyempre, balang araw, dadating naman siya diyan. So it’s best to prepare her for that.
ESQ: A lot of people look up to you guys as ideals of parenting. How do you guys set that example?
DD: Well, I appreciate that there’s a view like that.
Pero kami naman, we’re just really… organic. What you see is what you get. I would like to believe that all our actions are authentic, and based on a strong set of values. Kasi kapag malakas ang kapit mo sa
value system na na-establish ng mga magulang namin
in the past, if we hold on to it, hindi ka maliligaw.
And para sa amin, ’yun ang isa sa pinakamalakas na guiding principles namin. We are actually more grateful now to our parents, because again, hindi namin na-realize ’yung full understanding [ng parenthood], until dumating si Zia and we became parents ourselves. Sila naman ang nag-instill ng mga values na ’yan, and it is our duty to pass them on to her. And of course, ’yung values na ’yan, mag-eevolve naman ’yan eh. Mag-eevolve siya, iibahin namin siya na nababagay sa panahon, and in our own way. I think we are also parents struggling to find that right balance. It may appear na madali para sa amin, because siyempre, you see light things on social media, you see positive things. But hindi naman kami perfect parents. We are always on our best efforts to be the best parents to Zia.
ESQ: What have you learned about being a father from your own father?
DD: Respect. Respect humanity, respect the rules. My father taught me the value of education. He taught me how to value women. I think ’yun ’yung mga key values na na-instill niya sa akin.
ESQ: How do you intend to pass these values on to your daughter?
DD: The best way to teach a person is to live it yourself. So whatever she sees sa amin, she copies,
’di ba? Kung nakikita niya how we are towards people, most probably, ganoon din ang gagawin niya. So we make it a point to always lead her to the right example and siyempre, wake-up call din sa amin ’yan, because magiging conscious kami parati, na dapat parati ang pinapakita kay Zia ay kung ano ’yung tama. And in that process, we also remind ourselves na, ganito naman talaga dapat, ’di ba? Let’s go back to the basics, let’s go back to our values, because if these are clear, hindi tayo maliligaw.
ESQ: What has changed about fatherhood from your dad’s time, up to today?
DD: There are so many different challenges already. One would be the level of communication.
Siguro, noong mga unang panahon, mayroong clear distinction ng parent and child, na siyempre, iba ’yung manner of speaking to the parents, iba ’yung topics, limited ’yung questions, limited ’yung answers, because ’yung exposure ng bata ay limited
din. But now, you can easily access anything by your fingertips. And then once you see something or encounter something that’s interesting, you question, and therefore, lalawak at lalawak ang understanding. So ’yung level ng discourse, ng napaguusapan ngayon, mas umaangat na. Nachachallenge mo ’yung parents mo ngayon, and at the same time, for a parent, while teaching your son or daughter, natututo ka rin.
ESQ: So this freedom affects a father’s relationship with his child?
DD: Well, it’s how you use it. You have to use it in the right manner. So, for example, if you see na may interest siya sa books, expose her to good books. If you see that she’s into sports, expose her to different kinds of sports.
ESQ: And we do have more power to do that now. DD: Collaborative na ngayon, hindi na masyadong structured. ’Yung process of learning, sabay. While the child is learning, the parent is too. Whereas before, it was given that parents know [better].
ESQ: What do you hope to see in Zia’s future?
DD: I want to see her helping people. I want to see how compassionate she is, I want to see how much she loves her family, how much she respects humanity, and how she embraces her gift, regardless of what that is. Sa tingin ko naman, para sa amin, the task is to show her options, guide her to the proper options, and then support her and back her up a hundred percent.
ESQ: That’s a fairly liberal approach to parenting. DD: Filtered na ’yun, siyempre. Kumbaga, paiiralin muna namin ’yung common sense, and offer to her what we think is best. Pero maraming options. Hindi lang siya sobrang limited, na ito lang ang gagawin mo, ito ka.
ESQ: What does it mean to be a good father?
DD: To be a good father, you must fully appreciate being a son. You must fully understand your wife. You must fully understand yourself, and you must fully commit to a life that is greater than yourself.