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

to­gether ’yun.

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

ba­ba­lik ako.

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.

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