It’s a week and a few days before Father’s Day and John Lloyd Cruz is talking about being a dad. He’s just dropped his son Elias off to the child’s mother, Ellen Adarna, after father-and-son spent time together in his Batangas beach house. From the way the actor looks from the laptop monitor—tidied up and relaxed, his crisp white linen shirt effectively showing his slight tan—it was a smooth drive back to the city.
The fatherhood chat was our idea, and we’re glad he said yes. His hasn’t been the most conventional of fatherhood journeys—young as that journey may be. As he said in a recent interview, every new father’s story is different. Except his is just a little more unusual than what we often hear. To start with, he learned he was going to have a child at the peak of a very passionate romance—but that romance had all but fizzled out even before the child was born.
It’s been three years now since John Lloyd Cruz became a dad. “I have a lot more to discover and to learn,” says the 37-year old star about fatherhood. But it’s been fun, he says. And humbling. “I’ve never been as humbled my whole life. Parang everyday is a new learning experience. Not just about being a father to Elias but for myself also. Hindi man sinasadya, nasasaklaw ng pagiging tatay yung iba’t ibang areas ng buhay mo, and only for the better.”
Obviously, he still sounds like the John Lloyd we used to know: big on introspection, always asking the big questions, thinking out loud (but veteran enough in the celebrity interview game to know when to pull back and opt for the kinder words). He might be what people would call ‘matalinhaga,’ but only because he very rarely goes into the minutiae that media people crave.
On the contrary
John Lloyd Cruz and Ellen Adarna officially went their separate ways in 2019. They now share parenting duties. There are days when Elias is with his mother and days when he’s with his ‘Papa,’ which is how the child calls John Lloyd. “Being a father as it is, napaka-complex na,” says the actor. “On top of it may ganitong situwasyon pa. Which makes fatherhood more complex.” He pauses. “And actually more exciting. Keeps you on your toes as a father, as a parent.”
Most people are under the impression that parenthood came to John Lloyd and Ellen accidentally. The assumption just convenienty suited the tempestuous character of their whirlwind romance. “On the contrary, we wanted it,” the actor reveals to ANCX about having a family. “We actually talked to each other and told each other, ‘That’s the plan!’ We wanted to have a child.”
They were halfway through their trip around Europe then. And very much in love, he and Ellen. They left Manila in a huff to follow their hearts and leave everything behind—at least that’s how it played out in the minds of outsiders. While in Zermatt in Switzerland, a couple of test kits told the couple they were expecting. It was good news but it wasn’t at all a shock. “Well it was a very pleasant surprise na it happened so fast,” the actor says, grinning, setting up a naughty aside. “Wow, it’s potent.”
They were enroute to Rotterdam at that time and was going to stay there for a while, but plans needed to be changed. “Siyempre ang immediate concern is yung health niya [Ellen] and yung health nung baby,” he says. The two decided to go back to the Philippines because, for one, communicating with Dutch doctors was expectedly going to be a challenge. “Siyempre hindi naman English yung first language nila. So we just decided na ‘Uwi na lang tayo. Mahirap to risk it. Mahirap sa bata.’ It was her [Ellen’s] first pregnancy.”
Not like the movies
Elias Modesto Cruz didn’t come into the world in the most ideal of circumstances. Ellen lost her dad two weeks before she gave birth. She and John Lloyd, during that period, were no longer on speaking terms. But the actor was present in the hospital. He recalls there was something quite undramatic and very mechanical about the whole process of waiting. He recalls doors opening and closing. He took mental note of people coming and going. “Hindi siya yung napapanood natin sa movies na it’s such an emotional moment,” the actor recalls of that time. “Hindi pala totoo ‘yun.”
But seeing his son for the first time was different. In fact, he makes it sound like it’s some out-of-body experience. He remembers it but there’s also that chance the moment may have been too overwhelming for him to commit anything to memory.
“It was too pure to be remembered,” he says. “I think yung mga ganoong moments they only exist in that moment, and I think that’s what makes it special. There are no words to describe it. Pag nakita mo siya parang everything seems to be so pure around you, parang tumigil yung panahon—pero ang totoo I can never remember kung ano yung pakiramdam the moment I saw him.”
John Lloyd describes the now three-year-old Elias as a very active boy, talkative to a point. “He’s very stubborn also. Yung age niya kasi he’s like a sponge, di ba? He just absorbs everything, every word, every sound. Kaya most of the time I find him very funny. Kung paano pumapasok sa kanya yung naa-absorb niya and kung paano niya nilalabas—that I find very funny. He’s also very sweet.”
Does he see himself in his son? “When he’s being doubtful, you can sense it,” he answers. “For example, he’s gonna climb something. ‘Kaya ko ba to o hindi?’ You know that moment? That very brief moment when he’s trying to assess an obstacle. I wouldn’t say that it’s me pero may nakikita ako na something very familiar. Napaka-critical ng moment na yun. ‘Gagawin ba niya o he’s gonna ask for help?’ Madalas he goes for it.”
The young father has learned the child’s next step depends so much on who’s with him. “Una kasi hindi siya aakyat kung hindi siya confident na may tutulong sa kanya—yun ang importante. I need to be around for him to be confident. Whether he can do it or not, whether he’s gonna climb that wall or not, importante he knows na meron puwede tumulong sa kanya if and when hindi niya kayanin.”
Does he see Ellen in Elias?
“Oo naman,” he replies. “Malakas loob nung bata eh. Yung fighting spirit, I think he got that from his mom.”
Facing his fears
While the past three years have also been about work—John Lloyd did at least three projects with the director Lav Diaz, he shot a music video, took up photography and even staged an exhibition of his pictures—a lot of it has been about raising a child, attending to the child's needs, reading him books (Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” is a favorite). And then there’s the introspection and self-discovery brought about by first-time fatherhood.
“Parang na-discover ko lahat ng mga sikreto na kahit kailan ayoko malaman,” he says with a laugh. “Parang lahat ng mga bagay na nagawa mo mang iwasan tignan for the duration of your lifetime hanggang sa lumabas yung bata, hanggang sa dumating siya, he will make you face it.” John Lloyd turns serious and makes the gesture of putting a hand to his face. “Igaganon niya sa mukha mo, ‘You have to face it, Papa.’”
Among the things he had to seriously look at and reconsider was his vibe. “I learned a lot more about my energy,” he says. “I realized it’s not the kind of energy I want around my son. That was a turning point. Doon ako kumalma. Napaka-elemental nung realization na yun sa pagka-kalma ko.” Elias, he says, also made him understand his own father more. “I had questions that couldn’t be answered for a long time. I didn’t realize na being a father can answer so much buried questions, and napaka-simple lang pala yung sagot.”
For a long period, the guy was content in the thought that he didn’t have to have a child of his own. “Kasi kuntento na ‘ko sa mga pamangkin ko,” he says. In the house he built for himself and his parents in Antipolo, he was always surrounded by nephews and nieces, kids of brothers and cousins who live close by. But there came a point, and this was even before Ellen came along, he says, when things changed.
“There was a desire to build your own unit,” he says, not going into detail. But he adds, “kasi meron kang nilisan na lugar kung saan nandoon ka ng dalawang dekada tapos kumawala ka. Baka it’s human nature na maghanap ng gano’ng security, ng anchor.” Maybe that meant his own child? “Siguro ha,” he says, thinking out loud.
We ask what his dreams are for Elias. “Sana he grows up to be aware of his environment, aware of his weaknesses and strengths. I hope he grows up to be very respectful of other people and other people’s practices and beliefs. Napaka-ideal man pero you want him to be a good person eh,” he says. “If he can have a good foundation, good set of people around him and can guide him. Sana ako mabuhay ako nang matagal pero in reality you can never tell kung ano mangyayari, di ba?...I really want him to have his own dreams and chase them. I’ll only be able to lead without imposing. Ngayon wala ako masyado hahangarin para sa kanya but to have his own freedom and understanding, and sana bigyan niya ng value kung bakit at paano siya naging malaya.” He pauses as if realizing he's asking way too much of a three-year old. For now, he says, “Sapat na sa akin yung mahilig siyang mag please at mag thank you.”
The recent announcement of John Lloyd’s return to the spotlight somehow necessitates closing a chapter that started, at least to his followers, when he upped and left a 20-year career in movies and television in 2017. Since then, he’s gone through major highs and major lows. Explored his artistic side some more. Grew so much facial hair. Trimmed it all out. So now before he plunges back into the thick of work, we want to know: Does he have regrets?
“I don’t regret anything at all,” he says. “It was my one ticket to amassing this amount of knowledge and amount of experience I have now. It provided me with so much more than I imagined. I just wanted a child pero hindi ko alam na all the learnings and discoveries na nakapaloob doon, yun pala yung bubuhay sa’yo. Yun pala yung magtatawid sayo.” He mentions something a good friend, the artist Nona Garcia, very randomly, very casually asked him once: “So si Elias ang savior mo, no?” The question stopped John Lloyd in his tracks. It got him thinking right then and there. “Oo nga,” he says now, looking at the ceiling and hearing that question again in his head. “Saved my life.”