When most people are becoming parents for the first time, Albertino (aka Tino) Ritualo welcomed his grandson.
He became a father when he was 14 years old and then a grandfather at 32.
Now 36, Tino spoke to Gay Star News about his journey to becoming a grandfather, as well as coming to terms with his sexuality.
Tino grew up in a Catholic Filipino ‘military’ household. In this environment, ‘you don’t show or really feel emotion,’ he says.
Tino was raised by his grandparents from birth, but tragedy struck when his grandfather passed away when he was 12.
He told GSN: ‘He was the glue that held us all together and once he passed, my grandmother gave up.’
She brought Tino to Canada to ‘spend some time’ with family he didn’t really know and ended up abandoning him there.
‘I bounced from home to home sleeping on friends’ couches finding food where I could,’ Tino said.
During this time, he met a girl: ‘I met my daughter’s mother through her brother, who was my best friend at the time.
‘They weren’t part of the family I was staying with. More so the rebel kids I was running away with,’ he said.
And when one thing led to another, Tino became a father. And then again two years later.
‘Knowing I was different motivated me’
Tino said: ‘At the same time I found out I was going to be a father, I finally started realizing that I was gay.’
‘Knowing I was different and wanting to provide a different life for my child motivated me to fight for a way out.
‘I got myself through school, held a full time job and took on fatherhood the best I could… without knowing what or who I was supposed to be,’ he said.
He came out as gay to a select group of friends when he was 19 and then publicly at 21.
He started dating a guy at 21, a few months after he moved back to Seattle, USA.
After five years together, they got married in Canada as it wasn’t yet legal in America. But after 11 years together, the marriage broke down and they filed for divorce.
‘My grandson saved me’
In the midst of divorce, Tino developed depression. He then found out his daughter became pregnant during her senior year of high school.
‘I was terrified,’ he said. ‘I felt it was history repeating.’
‘I didn’t want my daughter to make her life as hard as I learned life could be.
‘Once my grandson was born though and I held him for the first time, I knew things had to change, I knew I had changed. He pulled me out of that depression I was in by giving me a focus,’ he said.
Now almost four years old, Tino describes little Leo Dean as his best friend.
They live together, along with Tino’s daughter Tiyanna and son Dionisio.
In fact, Leo sleeps in the bedroom across the hall from Tino.
Tino said: ‘With him by my side, I have been facing every fear I’ve had about myself, fatherhood and family.
‘Last year we bought our house and for the first time in a long time – slowly but surely – things are feeling blissfully normal and I owe that to him.’
‘As much as I think I’m teaching him, he’s teaching me more,’ Tino gushed.
‘Leo knows that I like boys’
Tino’s since started dating a new guy and they’re now engaged. Leo’s met his fiancé and they get along great.
On being open about his sexuality, Tino said: ‘Leo knows that I like boys and that his mom also likes boys, but his uncle likes girls and there is nothing wrong with any of it.
‘I think, as he gets older and starts to understand a bit more, I’ll definitely sit down and have a more in-depth conversation with him.
‘But for now, my biggest concern is making sure he just knows he’s loved and surrounded by people who care about him,’ he said.
Tino’s content with keeping his grandson engaged and happy: ‘So if it’s sitting on his bunk bed pretending we’re on a boat fishing or being a zombie chasing him through the house, we do it.
‘Leo wants a dog really bad and I keep saying no.
‘So now I’m Max the puppy who has to crawl around the house while he saves the world,’ Tino said.