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Why a single gay dad of 3 with a heartbreaking past is going viral

José Rolón has made a name for himself on social media by making people laugh, but his life has been marked by personal tragedy.
/ Source: TODAY

José Rolón, or @nycgaydad as he’s known to his more than 30,000 TikTok followers, regularly posts footage of life with his 8-year-old son, Avery, and 7-year-old twins daughters, Lilah and London.

"LGBTQ rights have been going on for quite some time. But I do think that in the parenting space, we really sort of still are at the forefront of that," Rolón, 45, told TODAY's Craig Melvin in a new episode of "Dads Got This." "This was a platform to be able to highlight an LGBTQ plus family here, that is doing the same things that you do."

As a teen, Rolón dreamed of having children. But the New York City-wedding planner never thought it would happen for him.

“I grew up in a machismo household with a father who yelled at me to ‘walk like a man and not like a faggot,’” Rolón told TODAY Parents last year. “If you had pulled me aside and said, ‘One day you’ll have a big, happy family,’ I wouldn’t have believed you.”

José Rolón posed for a photo with his son, Avery, and twin daughters, Lilah and London.Courtesy Jose Rolon

That’s one of the reasons Rolón began making TikTok videos with his children.

“I want LGBTQ youth to know that there’s hope,” Rolón explained, his voice cracking with emotion. "I get messages from moms all the time that are like, 'My son is 13 and he's gay and really struggling. Thank you for showing him what's possible."

Rolón keeps the content light and often pokes fun of gay stereotypes. In one clip that went viral, Rolón hilariously responds to a commenter who asked, “Do gay dads want their sons to be like girls or guys?”

The video shows Rolón asking Avery a series of questions, with Avery delivering “gay” answers.

Rolón: “Who’s your queen?

Avery: “That’s easy, Beyoncé.”

Rolón: “Hmmm. I think it’s Janet, but fine. Favorite milk?”

Avery: "(Politician and gay rights activist) Harvey Milk.”

Rolón: “Good! Batman or Robin?”

Avery: “Thor.”

Rolón: “You fell for the trick question! How do you say ‘yes?’”

Avery: “Yaaaas, queen!”

Rolón: “Good. You’re dismissed.”

“You would never ask a straight parent if they’re raising their child to be gay or straight,” Rolón noted. “I rarely reply to trolls but I couldn’t let this one go.”

The road to fatherhood

Though Rolón has made a name for himself on social media by making people laugh, his life has been marked by personal tragedy.

In 2013, Rolón’s husband, Tim Merrell, died in his sleep. At the time, Avery was an infant and the couple’s surrogate was 11 weeks pregnant with their daughters Lilah and London.

"There was so much running through my head... dealing with the grieving and feeling numb, but my mind also went to we’re 11 weeks pregnant," Rolón told Craig.

José Rolón and his late husband, Tim Merrell, with their son, Avery.Courtesy Jose Rolon

Rolón was terrified he wouldn't be able to raise three children without the love of his life.

“My husband and I were a great team. I couldn't imagine doing it without him," Rolón revealed. “But on the morning of Tim’s funeral service, I woke up and I thought, ‘Avery just lost his father. What if something were to happen to me?’ I didn’t want to leave him alone in this world. I knew what I was supposed to do."

Rolón announced the baby news while giving Merrell's eulogy in a church filled with 400 people.

"That was kind of my call for love and prayers," Rolón said. "And I've been supported ever since. It really does take a village."

Today, that village includes Avery, Lilah and London.

“They have each other and we all have each other,” he said. “I went from being this loner in the world to having a full, abundant family.”

José Rolón and his family. Courtesy Rachel Elkind Photography