Early this month, Don Dizon Lugtu, a 34-year-old single father, posted a photo of himself and his family on Facebook. The photo also came with a snap of the fam’s new house. In his caption, Don said the house has been his longtime dream for his children who, he added, are his inspiration.
But something else caught the attention of netizens. At the end of his sentimental post, he wrote, “PS: Wanted: Ilaw ng tahanan, para lumiwanag na ang aking buhay at ang aming bahay.”
Upon his friends’ suggestion, Don reposted the pictures and caption on a public Facebook page, leaving out the part about him looking for a partner in life. His friends said the post might inspire people to dream big like Don. What the single dad got instead was a barrage of messages from strangers, among them romantic proposals, friend requests, and “referrals” for possible partners.
The original post currently has more than 6,000 likes and more than 1,700 shares.
“Natatawa ako at natutuwa,” Don, obviously amused, tells us when we ask what he thought of the internet’s response. Did he reply to any of them? He hasn’t, he says, maintaining that expressive, confident tone he exhibits throughout our interview. “Hindi naman gano’n kadali. Kaya mo naman magugustuhan ang isang tao kasi nakakasama mo muna, makakausap mo.” Right now he just wants to spend as much time with his children and focus on his business. It took a long time for him to get to this kind of peaceful state. He can’t afford to be reckless with it.
Don’s back story is unusual, a little funny, and quite inspiring. Back when he was 23, the Tarlaqueño was living the life of a happily single man. He dated around, owned a gym, worked out a lot, and often went out drinking with his friends. He was also living with his parents, who bankrolled the gym.
One day, he met a woman named Kris, then 18. Don and Kris liked each other. They went out for three months, and then went their separate ways. It wasn’t a relationship, Don says. A year later, Kris revealed to Don that she gave birth to fraternal twins. They were boys. They were his.
Don refused to believe it at first. “Ang tagal na naming nag-break,” he says. Also, he wasn’t interested in putting an end to the freedom he so loved. But once he saw the photos of the one-year-olds, he knew right away they were his children. “’Yong isa kamukha ni Mommy Kris, ’yong isa, kamukhang kamukha ko. Sabi ko, ‘Akin ’to. Sure ako.’”
The kids were named Johnkiel and Dartlee. They were born October 8, 2012 but Johnkiel was born first.
While Don was sure in his gut the boys were his sons, he wanted to go through the legal and legitimate process: he asked for a DNA test. When the results arrived, his instincts were proven right.
At the time, Kris was planning to leave the country so she decided to give custody of the children to Don. One would think such a responsibility would change a man in a heartbeat but it turns out our hero wasn’t quite ready to leave the bachelor life just yet.
“Hindi ako agad nag-focus sa mga bata,” Don recalls. “Lumalabas pa rin ako. Dumarating ako ng morning, kasi umiinom. Iniiwan ko sila sa room namin. Sila Mama muna ’yong katabi, of course, ’tapos lilipat. ’Tapos wala na silang katabi magdamag. Pagdating ko, gising na sila.” On the way home from a late night out, he would be daddy again: he’d pass by McDonald’s to buy the kids breakfast.
It took months before it would sink in that he’s taken on a new role to play. “Nahirapan ako kasi siyempre lasing ako ’tapos nagtitimpla ng gatas,” he admits. “Then, I realized kailangan na ako ng mga anak ko talaga. Kailangan ko na magbago. Kailangan ko na mag-switch from binata to father.”
The change happened but it happened slowly. After a while, Don found himself embracing fatherhood, doing everything for his twins—from changing their diapers to cleaning their bottles and everything else in between.
“Ang hindi ko lang ginawa naglalaba kasi may naglalaba,” he tells ANCX. “Lalo ’yong toddler sila. Kung saan sila pupunta, doon ako nakasunod. As in yayo. Ako nagpapakain. ’Tapos ang tigas ng ulo, lalo na dalawang boys. Tatalon kung gustong tumalon. Iiyak na lang basta-basta, laging nag-aaway.”
He asked for countless pieces of advice from as many parents he encountered, starting from his own. He spent hours online researching how-tos on raising kids, guides on modern parenting. For some reason, he didn’t hate this step in the process. “Na-enjoy ko,” he admits. “Mahirap, pero lagi ako naka-smile.”
He would bring the kids to watch movies. And the boys loved going to the beach. They also liked going to the mall. On Sundays, Don would bring them to church. This was before the pandemic, of course. His favorite part about having boys, Don says, is that he gets to dress them up like himself. Don is a self-confessed fashion guy.
In 2017, Don closed down his gym, which prompted him to look for other sources of income to support the kids. He tried to apply for jobs in Dubai and Japan, on a ship, or as a flight attendant. But none of the applications amounted to anything.
In 2018, his friends asked if he wanted to invest in a bar and restaurant called The Woods in Tarlac City. He ended up putting in all the money he had left. Fortunately, his instinct didn’t fail him. On its first month, The Woods was already a success, and eventually, Don was asked to manage it.
The family had to adjust to his new schedule, but the single father admits he has become an expert at multitasking. “Breakfast, lunch, dinner talagang sabay-sabay kami [kumain], hangga’t maari,” he says. “Every time meron ako errands, after lunch and after dinner ko ginagawa. ’Yong dinner nahihirapan lang talaga sumabay kasi may business. Pag meron akong time, tina-try ko.”
Everything was going well until the pandemic came. He decided to sell his shares in the bar and restaurant, and put up his own store nearby called The Woods Wine Bar and Café. Life isn’t what he expected it to be during his younger years but he was happy how things have turned out.
And baby makes 4
In 2020, as the whole world was grappling with a pandemic, the Lugtu family was thrust into another kind of conundrum. Around October, Don’s family of three became a family of four.
Flashback to 2011: Don met a woman named Cindy. They dated and, after a year, called it quits. After the breakup, Cindy told Don that she might be pregnant. After taking the pregnancy test, however, the result came out negative.
Cindy happens to be the BFF of Don’s cousin. They moved in the same circle, so to speak, so even after the break-up, Don and Cindy would get updates about each other’s lives once in a while. Don found out Cindy eventually got pregnant—with her then-boyfriend’s (now husband’s) baby who they named Sabrina.
When Sabrina turned four, Don’s cousin began teasing him that Sabrina could be his daughter. The girl was beginning to show some of Don’s physical traits. The teasing would go on and Don would just keep dismissing it. Later on, however, when Sabrina was around four, Don started considering the half-meant jokes seriously. Once, his cousin brought Sabrina to his bar and restaurant and Don found himself saying, “Bakit kamukha ko nga ’yan?”
Looking back, Don realized Sabrina was born around a year after Cindy thought she was pregnant with his baby.
“Kinulit ko si Cindy kung akin,” he recalls. “Dineny niya.” After months of asking Cindy for an answer, she finally revealed that Sabrina was indeed Don’s daughter.
Don, for the second time in his life, requested for a DNA test, which proved Sabrina was indeed his.
“Cindy told me na kaya hindi niya sinabing may anak kami kasi hindi niya nakita ’yong future niya sa akin, at future ng magiging anak niya. Kasi sobrang gago ko dati,” recalls Don. “Tama naman.” But that was years ago. Don is clearly a changed man now.
Eventually, Don, Cindy, and Cindy's husband sat Sabrina down and told her the truth. “Ang hirap i-explain,” Don turns serious as he recalls that day. “Sabi namin, ‘Mag bf-gf kami ng mommy mo dati. Ikaw ang naging bunga ng pagmamahalan namin.’”
“Bakit siya naging daddy ko?” asked the child. “Di ba daddy ko si Daddy? E, di dalawa na daddy ko?’
“Yes, dalawa na daddy mo. The more the merrier, di ba? Ang suwerte mo dalawa ang daddy mo,” Don replied.
Don says they had to explain it this way for Sabrina to understand.
Currently, Cindy and husband leave their children with their grandparents because the couple need to physically report to work every day. Following long and tedious conversations, Don, Cindy, and Cindy's husband decided for Sabrina to stay with her biological father for most days of the week.
Don admits that up to know, he still has to adjust to living with an eight-year-old girl, whom he considers a wonderful surprise. As for Dart and John, they’re just ecstatic to have a new playmate.
“Gustong gusto nila si Sabrina kasi gusto nila ng kapatid,” Don says, sounding enthusiastic. “Siguro nagsawa na sila sa isa’t-isa. Haha! Minsan naiinip sila na tatlo lang kami, hindi na sila nagpapansinan. Na-eenjoy nila pag may isa pang bata.”
Among the adults, all have been ironed out and forgiven, according to Don. He calls the mothers of his children his best friends—Cindy's husband even visits him at his wine bar and café. On weekends, the children are with their mothers.
These days, as Don works from home, he is given to a lot of self-reflection. He takes pride in knowing he has come a long way from that year he was suddenly thrown into fatherhood. But he says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now, about that search for his “Ilaw ng tahanan”—he was actually just kidding around. “Inunahan ko lang ’yong mga kaibigan ko, kasi lagi nilang sinasabi, ‘O nasan na ang ilaw ng tahanan mo?’”
So he’s not looking for a wife?
“I’m not looking,” he says in a blink. “Kasi parang naka-focus ako sa mga bata, sa business. May time na nalulungkot, pag nasa taas na sila, pag ’yong mga bata wala na sa paligid ko. Doon ko hinahanap kasama ko. Maaga sila natutulog. May room ako sa baba, and three hours pa ako mag-stay-up after they sleep. Naiisip ko minsan, ‘Oo nga no, wala akong partner.’”
We ask him what his idea of a partner is.
“Yong matinong tao, siyempre,” he says, snickering. “Gusto ko ’yong may career, ’yong matutulungan ako sa business. Pero naisip ko din, kahit walang career basta maayos naman. ’Yong may pangarap.” But wait, there’s more. “Pag nakahanap ako, gusto ko ’yong mas mahal ’yong mga anak ko kaysa sa akin.”
Don Dizon Lugtu once joked he was looking for an “ilaw ng tahanan,” but just watching how he looks at his brood of three, it seems he’s already found that light.
[Some names have been changed for purposes of privacy. Follow Daddy Don Dizon on YouTube.]
Photos courtesy of Don Dizon