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  • Dad we Love: Ariel Rivera

    This Father's Day, Ariel Rivera sings to us a new tune: that of living the life he's always dreamed of as a loving husband and devoted dad.
    by Stephanie F. Esguerra .
  • ariel rivera

    There is no hesitation, no fancy play of words when Ariel Rivera says that his greatest goal in life is to be a parent.

    “My greatest goal in life is to be a father,” the 45-year-old recording artist and actor, soon to appear in the ABS-CBN primetime soap Ina, Kapatid, Anak, reveals. “I want to be a good father and a good husband.” It’s something he has imbibed from his old man, as he says that the way his father raised him and his four siblings was ideal for him.

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    As a young man, Ariel saw how his dad prioritized family over career. He admires how devoted his father was to his mother, saying, “I wanted to be like my dad, how he treated my mom, and I vowed, ‘That’s the same way I will treat my wife, my kids.’”

    Ariel’s wife, television host and actress Gelli de Belen, supports this statement by saying, “His dad had three jobs, pero ‘pag Sunday, kahit pagod na pagod, he’ll take them out, teach them how to play basketball, teach them how to drive, spend time with them. That’s the dad he remembers.”

    Taking the leap
    The star couple, now married for fifteen years, looks so blissful together, but Ariel relates to us that their road to wedded bliss was not at all a smooth one. He tells us how his love for Gelli helped him make what he feels was the best decision he made in his life.

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    It was by accident that Ariel’s singing talent was discovered. Having lived in Canada all his life, he temporarily left his profession there as an architect for a vacation in Manila. But when they heard him sing, talent scouts rushed to sign him up with a record label. He was only 24.

    “When I first came here, I didn’t speak Tagalog,” he says. “Culture shock talaga ‘yung Philippines sa akin.” In 1989, he would release his first self-titled debut album, with the hit song Sana Kahit Minsan, which launched his music career to stellar heights, and which earned him the moniker kilabot ng kolehiyala. However, despite the success and his rise to fame, Ariel admits that he was unhappy, mainly because he all so suddenly had no freedom to do what he liked.

    So demanding was Ariel’s career that he almost gave up. “I wanted to quit, I wanted to go back to Canada. I didn’t want to be a big star - I just love what I was doing, but I wanted to have control.”

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    At that time, Ariel was already with Gelli, and knew he wanted her to hold a very special place in his heart for many years to come. “I met her when I was 26. She was 19. I already knew then, kaya lang, she was too young.”

    But it wasn’t just the age difference that made marriage impossible. Owing to his popularity with the lady listeners, Ariel’s image as a single, in-demand bachelor and heartthrob would have been jeopardized. But because he was so certain about Gelli, he chose her over his career.

    “I think I made a great decision,” he says proudly. “I really have a great life. Success isn’t about the money I have. Success is when I can live the life I want. That’s success, and in that way, I’m successful.”

    Partners for life

    ariel rivera

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    One would think that Ariel and Gelli  - who have seemingly opposite personalities - are an unlikely pair, but both agree that their beliefs and values are very much alike. Their personalities, they say, complement each other.

    “When you see me on TV, I’m really boisterous,” Gelli says truthfully. “I’m madaldal din at home, pero two notches down - mas subdued nang kaunti.”

    Ariel, on the other hand, confesses to having a more outgoing side at home. “Ako naman, subdued in public, pero when I’m at home, I’m crazier. They call me the ‘crazy dad!’ We’re not as different as people think. We’re quite similar. We’re definitely similar in values and our goals, so that alone makes us very similar in life.”

    Gelli candidly tells us why they click. “Mas okay kami kasi mas tanggap niya kung paano ako, kasi not many Filipino men can take me because madaldal ako and they think I’m so noisy. Siya chill lang, keri lang niya ‘yun. I think that’s what worked with us.”

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    Being in the same industry also has its perks for the husband and wife. “Tanggap niya ‘yung in this industry, you work with different people, you meet different people, you work late hours, odd hours, Keri niya ‘yun, naiintindihan niya ‘yun,” explains Gelli. “Those are the little things that matter, that’s why I guess it’s working.”

    How do they keep the romance alive? “It’s the small things,” says Ariel. “We’re very showy; we hold hands in bed, we cuddle, we’re like that, pero hindi kami showy ‘pag may tao.

    Ariel says, “There’s nothing more I can ask for. We enjoy each other’s company. There’s nothing that can make me happier, really. Ito na ‘yun.”

    Parents and partners
    Coming from the financially-rewarding field of showbusiness, it would have been so easy for the Riveras to employ nannies to help them in raising their two kids, Joaquin, 13 and Julio, 11. But Ariel and Gelli decided – even before they married - that they would do everything on their own. “We established na ‘Di tayo magya-yaya. Tayo lahat nito, pagdating sa school, tayo maghahatid, tayo magsusundo.’ We wanted to do all that. We made that commitment to ourselves and to the kids.”

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    And they actually did it. They made sure to prioritize the children more than anything. “We bring them to school, we pick them up every day,” says Ariel, “kahit na wala kaming tulog from work.”
    The couple consciously chose a parenting style that placed them in a position where they’re actively involved in their children’s lives.

    “Kaya naman,” Gelli imparts. “It gets easier. You get used to it. It’s a lifestyle. Sa umpisa, mind you, it’s hard.” But she also tells us how fulfilling it is: “Paggising mo sa umaga, kasama mo na ‘yung mga anak mo, kasama mo na pag-toothbrush mo, pagligo mo, kasama mo rin sila.

    The fruits of religiously and directly attending to their children’s needs would pay off, as their family fosters an undeniable bond and camaraderie built on a foundation of respect. “We do everything together - travel, eat,” says Ariel. Heck, they even all sleep together. “It was only recently that they moved to their own room. Our house has four rooms, but we’ve been sleeping in one bed all this time.”

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    When Ariel has to work nights, he tells his boys to keep their mother company. ‘Sleep with your mom, so she’s not alone,’ he tells them, “so when I come home from work really late, and they’re occupying the bed, I sleep on the floor.”

    Foundation of respect

    ariel rivera

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    Many will attest that raising two boys is no easy feat. But Ariel and Gelli have managed to strike a balance so that their children look up to them both as authority figures and as their friends. Their secret? Respect.

    “Respect is number one for us in the family,” Ariel explains. “The ‘po’, the mano, saying 'excuse me' when you leave the table, thank yous and please, and never taking people for granted, ‘yan ang first and foremost rule in the family.”

    Ariel and Gelli also emphasize how respect extends to other members of their household. “May mga kasambahay kami, may driver kami, but there’s a manner with which [they] should speak to them, address them, not as someone you employ but somebody who’s part of your family,” says Ariel. “Always with a please, and always with a thank you. That’s something that we strongly stress to the kids.”

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    “When they break things, it’s okay, it’s normal. But they cannot answer back. That’s a no-no talaga. Di puwede magdabog, you cannot make a face when I say something, or roll your eyes. ‘Di puwede ‘yon. That’s a sign of disrespect.”

    Ariel admits that when his kids were younger, he would resort to spanking to instill discipline in them. “I was a disciplinarian (when my kids were) age zero to five,” he relates. Papaluin ko sila if I had to. I ruled with an iron fist the first five years. That was planned, kasi formative years, ‘yan ‘yung malalaman nila what’s wrong, what’s right. But not anymore.” Gelli, of course, also plays a hand in disciplining their children. “Teamwork talaga,” Ariel says.

    Now that the boys are in their teens/pre-teens, the couple has been making adjustments with their parenting style to help their children become more mature. “Now, when they do something wrong, we just discuss,” says Ariel. “I ask them, ‘Why do you think I got upset? What do you think made your mom and I angry?’ And then they would tell us. ‘This is what we did.’ Wala nang hitting.”

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    Raising Boys, barkada-style
    The value of taking on more responsibilities has also become an important factor in their renewed parenting stance. “We give them more responsibilities, simple things like ‘yung bedtime nila, we remind them that, ‘Now you’re 13, you’re 11, we trust that you will sleep on your own, we don’t have to check on you, we trust that by 8 o’clock you’re already taking a shower, that by 9 o’clock you’ll be sleeping,’ things like that,” Ariel describes. “We don’t want to be always nagging at them. We want them to know their responsibilities already.”

    Ariel also tells us just how malambing their children can be. “They make nice notes,” he shares. “We have a bathroom mirror, and a whiteboard marker. Sometimes, they’ll write, ‘Thanks for doing this mom, we love you.’”

    Now that his boys are moving into adolescence, Ariel has also taken it into his hands to talk to them about dealing with the opposite sex. “I’ve been telling them for years already, ‘When you have a girlfriend, always treat them with respect.’ And I make them practice with their mom, kasi we’ve been teaching them that even before their teenage years, since they were 8 or 9. Respect women. You should always respect women, never hurt them. Not just physically but also emotionally. So they understand. Alam na nila what we expect from them when they have girlfriends.”

    While they look more like buddies than parents to their children, Ariel explains how they draw the line between being parents and their children’s confidantes. “We are barkada, but there comes a time when they know that I’m the father also. We’ve always treated them like adults. We always speak to them like adults.”

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    Joaquin and Julio’s brotherly bond

    ariel rivera

    The bond between Joaquin and Julio is so strong and deep, that, Ariel explains, “when they’re with their cousins - six or seven of them - maglalaro sila, but at the end of the day, silang dalawa ang naglalaro together. When Julio’s gone, Joaquin would ask, ‘Where’s Julio? How come Julio’s taking so long?’ And vice-versa. When it’s Joaquin who’s away, Julio’s just quiet. ‘When’s kuya coming back?’ They won’t admit it kasi they think they’re cool, but yeah, they miss each other. I hear they ask Julio: ‘Sino bang best friend mo?’ and he would say, ‘Kuya’s my best friend,’ which is nice.” Gelli adds, “Plano nga ni Joaquin paglaki nila, they’ll live in a condo unit together. Para share sila sa rent.”

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    In a 2010 article on PEP.ph, Ariel revealed that he and Gelli would be moving with their kids to Canada by 2015, but those plans are still evolving.

    “They’re still going,” he confirms. “We still want them to go, but most likely, we won’t follow them, we’ll still live here, because work is here. That’s one of the options, we go back there - all four of us - or when they go to university by the time they’re 17 or 18, they’ll go there and study, which is something a lot of families do. But they (Joaquin and Julio) have the advantage kasi they’re Canadian citizens so madali sa kanila. We don’t have to get student visas, we have a house in Canada, so they have nothing to worry about in terms of where they’re going to stay, everything’s there. That’s why we’re giving them all the responsibilities right now, para pagdating nila ng 17 or 18, we can trust that they’ll do the right things when they go to Canada to study, even if that means it will just be the two of them going.”

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    While the two presently show a shared passion for basketball, Ariel says it’s too early to tell what they’ll be pursuing in the future. “I think it’s the same things that all the kids their age like, like basketball, some sports, stuff like that. But they’ll find their passion later on. Ngayon puro athletics. We tell them to find something they really like. ‘You can be a garbage man as long as you love what you do, you’re gonna be successful in life.’ It doesn’t matter to us. Sinasabi namin kasi sa kanila, ‘Your mom and I, we work hard para you have an easier life. Now, you have to find something you’re passionate about, para ma-enjoy mo ‘yung buhay naman.’”

    On what he feels about his children possibly entering showbiz, Ariel shares his thoughts. “If they’re interested, that’s fine,” he says. “I just rather they don’t. As long as they finish college, they can do anything they want. But eventually I think they’ll get into music. They love music . They enjoy singing, listening to music, they’re just interested in music. They actually sing well.”

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    Nuggets of parenting wisdom
    Ariel reveals what he believes has been instrumental in becoming the father he is today. “Quality time is more important than quantity,” he says. “Really spend quality time with your kids. Get to know your kids. I talk to a lot of dads, a lot of friends, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I brought my daughter here, I brought my son there.” You can bring them, but if you’re not with them when you’re with your kids, [that’s nothing]."

    "You have to be a kid yourself. You can’t expect them to be the adults. You have to go down to their level, kaya kami parang barkada. We want them to be mature, but we don’t expect them to act like they’re our age. We go down to their level. That’s what we mean quality time, ‘cause that’s when they appreciate you, they get to appreciate you spending time with them. Not just being with them, but being with them talaga.”

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    Gelli is equally hopeful for her children, and rests well knowing that they have raised them in the best way they can. “[We’re] hoping that we brought them up well, and that they fit in whatever environment they live in, whether it’s in school or a social situation. I want them to always be comfortable in themselves, and confident, and hoping that whatever we taught them, whatever they learned throughout the years, they live by them … that they will always be God-fearing, well-rounded. That’s the best thing! When you’re God-fearing, you’re well-rounded, you’re good to go.”

    Raised with respect, love, devotion, Ariel knows that their children are equipped to take on their own challenges as they grow up. “For me, the hard part is over, kasi buo na ‘yung pagkatao nila. They know that, as long as they respect people, things and themselves, they will do well in life.”

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    Photos by Pia Puno

    Hair & Makeup by Carmel Villongco

    Shot on location at Discovery Suites, Ortigas

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