Wilbert Tolentino

Reluctant father, eager dad
By Earl D.C. Bracamonte

Webster's lexicon defines fatherhood, simply, as the kinship relation between an offspring and the father. This view of paternity, however, subscribes to the traditional view of a family where a father has sired a kid with a spouse within the bounds of matrimony. This very boxed view of parenting has been broken by myriad dynamics of lone parenting in the 21st century.

While the Church mandates that children be born within wedlock, millions are still raised by single parents and those from legal adoption, as well as the technological phenomenon of in-vitro fertilization.

Others may have been raised by relatives of parents who may have perished in accidents or succumbed to fatal diseases, practically leaving their orphaned children at the mercy of kith and kin.

There are also cases wherein the resulting parents may have not planned child-bearing, but have been thrown into the position of reluctant father or mother after the progression of a natural reproductive connection. Such is the case of Wilbert Tolentino.

Single dad

Wilbert was 19-years-old when daughter Claire Abigail was born. At such a young age, he was thrown into the role of being a father. With issues surrounding his sexuality, reluctance is the normal reaction of young gay men. Especially if you have not 'come out' yet to a traditional Filipino-Chinese family.

Matrimony, too, was not an option for him and the mother of his child. While both of them were still teenagers, the child's mother had a legal encumbrance with her age and an existing relation with another guy; not to mention the prevailing dogma of the Chinese communities with regard to sexuality issues. Despite this setback, it was the women who went after the good-looking Chinoy.

But, many years later, when he sought the custody of his son Willard in court, he made his eagerness to embrace parenthood single-handedly very apparent.

An enterprising mind

The youngest of four siblings, Wilbert left the family home at the tender age of 14 to lead an independent life. When his father lived with a second family, it left his mother with the charge to raise four kids, including one in medical school, alone. It was at this point that Wilbert decided to chart his destiny and not wait until his siblings finished studying.

He started working as a hired hand at a printing press, and then at a grocery store. "I was motivated to survive and reach the goals I've set for myself back then. I told myself that if others can do it, I, too, can."

The menial jobs soon turned to more noteworthy undertakings through a network of people who helped him pursue his dreams. "Five years after leaving home, I was supplying San Miguel Corp. and it's affiliates like the Manila Glass Company, SMC Plastic, Coca-Cola Bottles, and La Tondeña with electrical, industrial, and electronic parts. I also supplied the same materials for tire companies like Good Year and BF Goodrich.

"Because I was experimental in nature, it was not long before I ventured into janitorial servicing for the aforementioned multinational companies. It was around this time that my daughter was born.

"With a family to raise, I ventured into the bazaar business and did the rounds of setting up store kiosks in Star City, Robinsons Manila, and Robinsons East. After three years, I gave that up to put up a salon in Binondo - Trenisar by Flor Sanogan - and operated it for the next three years.

"In 1999, with enough saved capital, I became a taxi operator with units bearing the trade names Spice World and Fahrenheit. When I left the transport business, I retained the business name Fahrenheit and made it the name of a party venue that's still growing to this day.

"Aside from that, I also operate a non-voice BPO company called WEMSAP (Web Marketing Specialists Association of the Philippines) that's into specialized online Web marketing. It has 140 centers nationwide and has been operating for ten years now.

"My advice to budding yuppies and millennials is for them to establish their respective careers. Being a young dad is not an easy  task. Strive hard and motivate yourself to attain your goals. Follow your dreams and never let go.
"Be with the tide. It's a different generation now. Every generation improves, especially with technology. Even with learning. From Grade 6, schools now adopt the Kto12 curriculum. So we need to live with the times."

Pageant prime mover

Wilbert Tolentino is considered a pioneer who ventured into the international male pageant circuit, paving the way for future entrants to make their respective marks in the searches they competed in.

"I'm the first Filipino gay ambassador as far as male gay pageants are concerned, being the first Pinoy to represent the country in the Mr. Gay World search way back in 2009. I am also the first national director to bring home the coveted Mr. Gay World title, through our entrant John Raspado who won the country's very first title in the said contest when he competed in Maspalomas, Spain very recently."
In 2007, Wilbert won as 2nd runner-up in the hotly-contested Mr. Gay Philippines national finals. When the winner gave up his title, the 1st runner-up went to compete in the Mr. Gay International finals in the USA. Sadly, he did not fare well in the said competition.

The following year had no national competition. In 2009, the organizers appointed Wilbert to join the Mr. Gay World in Whistler, Canada. While he did not get to the Top 3, Wilbert, however, cinched several important awards that made the international stage recognize Filipino delegates, especially those who competed after him. He won as Best in National Costume, Mr. Gay Popularity, and Best in Formal Attire, with his team winning the Sports Challenge in the pre-pageant activities.

After being awarded the franchise to the Mr. Gay World Philippines pageant, he is now the official national director for the country since January 2016. "I bought the franchise from the former holders. In 2016, our representative John Lacsamana, who was under my tutelage, won 2nd runner-up in the Mr. Gay World 2016 finals, the very first time a Filipino landed in the Top Five," revealed Wilbert.

When not busy with pageant concerns, the 42-year-old enterpreneur operates and runs party venue Fahrenheit Fitness Center, together with various health spas like the Sparadise in N. Domingo (San Juan), as well as The Pulse in Roosevelt, Intensity Spa in E. Rodriguez, and City Spa in Roces Ave.; the latter three all in Quezon City. Plus the gay entertainment center, The Formula One 690, which was formerly known as Club 690.

A disciple of all things involving pageants and beauty searches, he founded and produced major local gay competitions, namely: Miss F Universe, Mr. Fahrenheit, Miss Earth Fahrenheit, Fahrenheit Look of the Year, and Mr. Gay World Philippines,; the latter in partnership with pageant director Rodgil Flores of the Kagandahang Flores camp.

Philippine representative John Raspado's winning streak at the Mr. Gay World in Spain has bolstered the belief that not only are we a pageant powerhouse with our distaff representatives but with the male contenders as well. Raspado has far exceeded the accolades of Christian Lacsamana who won 2nd runner-up in the same competition held the year before in Malta.

And Wilbert, as national pageant director, wants to maintain this winning streak for Filipino delegates to the Mr. Gay World pageant.

Advocacies and initiatives

One of the good things Wilbert learned in his pageant pursuits was to have a heart for worthy causes. "Have an advocacy, embrace a cause. Inspire the audience with your initiatives."

Wilbert's advocacies include HIV/AIDS awareness and gender equality. Among the many government clinics he has been helping are the Love Yourself in Mandaluyong, Bernardo's in Quezon City, and the privately-operated Ship Clinic.

"My heart is open and I'm a hundred percent willing to help the LGBTQ community in whatever help I could extend to them. I actively participate in the ongoing education of the HIV and AIDS fora, continuing my advocacy in the initiatives related to these health and awareness programs. From 2009 up to the present, over a hundred cases are under my care; both for additional medication and sustenance," intimated Wilbert.

Family man

Not only is Wilbert the proud father of daughter Claire Abigail and month-old newborn son Willard  King but is also the proud grandfather to Claire's brood: Pong, Meg-meg, and a newborn baby.

"Willard's mom is an elementary school teacher. I won a legal battle for the custody of my son after she willingly gave him to me when his body was filled with amniotic fluid that caused a severe case of neo-natal pneumonia that almost took his life. I named my son Willard because he is brave as the name suggests, and because he is a survivor like me. He fought his sickness for ten long days.

"With Claire's mom, domestic incompatibility was the cause of our separation. Yet despite our parted ways, I've always supported my daughter's growing up; even to this day. That and my sexuality issue.

He also considers himself 'padre de familia' to his over six thousand employees, whose concerns he makes a lifetime commitment.

"It's difficult to raise a kid by yourself. Be responsible and be committed. Never sire a kid if you can't raise him properly.

"Not all gay persons can be parents. I'm a loving father to my daughter and son and a loving son to my parents, taking good care of them in their old age. I've patched up differences, a long time ago, with the rest of the family, reaching out to them through the help of my sister-in-law Grace Tan.

"Be yourself always. Don't remain in the closet. People will know, eventually. Filipino-Chinese males with sexuality issues will always live with warding off rumors about this as well as the discrimination that comes with it. You simply have to get over all of these.

"I'm not just a father but a mother to my children too. I want to leave my legacy of good stewardship to the community. We only live once. Your kid will always be your kid no matter what, whether they be born maimed or with abnormalities, they came from your loins. They are blessings to us, for us to cherish for life," advised Wilbert at the end of our colloquy.


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