In a segment of society that has seen many an uncoupling for all kinds of reasons, the love relationship of Sonny Tanchanco and John Gaddi stands out for its endurance. In their case, for 46 years so far.
“Ours has not been a perfect pair, but we have managed to stick it out with each other,” said Sonny, the owner of a popular disco and bathhouse in Manila, and houses for rent in Makati’s gated villages.
“We’ve had our share of quarrels, mostly because I tend to be jealous, but there’s always a good reason to come back to each other. Besides, we are better together than apart,” said John, a popular fashion model and actor in his younger days.
Living together for 38 years, they finally tied the knot in 2014 in the city of Bath, Maine, after the Supreme Court of the United States passed the Marriage Equality Act.
That they’ve been able to keep their live-in relationship and ‘eventually’ marriage intact is a source of wonder and inspiration to their friends and other people, for theirs is an ideal example for those who want their partners for keeps.
It was one cozy afternoon when I visited Sonny and John in their Magallanes Village home. I have heard so much of them and their long-lasting relationship. As curious as many others in the gay community, I wanted to know their formula for such an enduring partnership.
In a free-wheeling conversation in which we moved from one topic to another, they shared their rules for keeping at it, no matter what. Here is their story:
From Fort Santiago to Chinatown
The two first met in Sonny’s On disco, which was the go-to hangout for college students and young professionals of the 1970s.
“I had just graduated from high school and was an aspiring singer. Eugene Villaluz, an original tenor of The New Minstrels, asked me to accompany him to Sonny’s disco,” John recalled. “So, that’s how we first met, although nothing came out of it.”
A few days later, John watched the play, Hanggang Dito na Lamang at Maraming Salamat, in Fort Santiago where he remembered “meeting the dashing businessman Sonny Tanchanco,” who, of course, he could see better unlike in their first meeting at the latter’s dimly-lit disco.
This time, they agreed on seeing each other again. Their first date was in Chinatown where, while looking at each other and enjoying their lauriat, they immediately discovered they clicked and liked each other. After that auspicious meeting, there was no turning back.
“I didn’t go home anymore,” John shared. “I began living with him in his penthouse at the back of his disco. There was not a single day that we were not together. We became inseparable.”
It wasn’t long when Sonny introduced John to his mom, Medy Tanchanco, who owned Bulakeña, a famous supper club of the era. “My mom accepted John as he was. No questions, not even a need to adjust to this new situation. She was being her true self, accepting and gracious.”
Sonny, of course, was a responsible young man who had worked in a bank and managed Circuit a top disco in the five-star Hyatt Hotel for which he received the highest pay among all employees, both homegrown and expats. He could by then live independently on his own, even have someone to take care of.
As for the couple, they knew what they wanted in life, which was to be together. “At the same time, we both wanted to get married and to have kids,” Sonny said.
No perfect relationship
Fast forward to the tumultuous phases, both could only look back with amusement and a perfect understanding and acceptance of what they went through. John offered, “There’s really no such thing as a perfect relationship.”
Sonny volunteered, “You have to rehearse things in your mind, how you want to make a go of it, but then it’s one thing to imagine an ideal and another to realize that in your day-to-day life.”
John pointed out, “You accept the other. That’s the secret of being together for a long time. It’s easy because you know that even with straight couples, there is no such thing as a perfect pair. Somehow, someone goes astray, so what matters is one trusts the other and the bottom line should always be that they are committed to loving each other, no matter what.”
Sonny agreed. “At the end of the day you stick it out. This despite the both of you being attracted to someone else now and then.”
But then, Sonny admitted it often became a one-sided “policy.” “No, I would not want him liking someone else. But I was free to like someone else.”
It wasn’t easy for John to accept that “arrangement.” “It took time before I let him have his way. Especially because I was younger and I had an ideal on my mind. I would easily get hurt. In my case, I could not really fool around. I was in show business, and one had to keep a clean image. You just smiled at someone else or had dinner with them, the press would make a big story out of it. So, I was cautious while Sonny was free to do what he wanted. In that sense, he was enjoying his freedom.”
Sonny retorted, “That’s what I was destined for. To enjoy life.”
Sonny marries a woman
“We had been together for five years when all of a sudden, he married a woman,” John recounted.
The girl was John’s friend. She asked Sonny if he could be her prom partner. “Sonny didn’t come home immediately. They made love first before he finally came home.”
Sonny and the girl eventually tied the knot, with John serving as the Best Man.
John thought that was the start of the end for him and Sonny. But as it turned out, “nothing could destroy our friendship, mine and Sonny’s. I even became more secure because I knew that if he was not with me, he was with his wife. I left, of course, because it wasn’t right that we would live under the same roof.”
John flew to Europe where he modelled for the fashion houses. “I had been there for a year, giving my career a chance to further bloom and prosper. But then, Sonny got sick. It was a matter of life and death, what we call a 50/50 medical emergency situation. So I came back to the Philippines and never returned to Europe.”
Sonny married in 1980. John came home in 1981. It was Sonny who pleaded with him, “Don’t go back anymore.”
John had another good reason to stay. He continued his college studies and earned a bachelor’s degree.
Not long after, tongues wagged. Not unexpectedly. “Ours was an open book. It wasn’t as though we were hiding something,” Sonny said. His wife was affected. The marriage fell apart.
John or me?
Sonny recalled, “The truth is I fell in love with her and we had three children. But then, after a while, it became a sexual thing. But she had heard of talks that John and I were back in each other’s arms and that we had even flown to the States for vacation. You know how talks can be vicious.
“She then made me choose. ‘John or me?’ she asked. That wasn’t even fair to me because I was already married to her. We were together. It occurred to me that if she loved me truly, she wouldn’t even make me choose. The mere fact that she had the guts to ask me that question meant she did not belong to me. It was that simple.
“So, I said, ‘The door is open, you can go.’ So, she left. But our children did not have to make a choice. When they were older they were with her on weekdays. On weekends, they were with me and John.”
Business partners too
John admitted, “It was a blessing that his wife was first my friend. The same friend was, of course, the mother of his children. It was not difficult for us to love one another.”
In time, he too became a parent to the children of the separated couple.
“As Sonny and I lived together again, the children would stay with us. They had two homes, their mother’s and ours,” John related. “So, they all recognize me up to today as someone who cared for them. They grew up with John and me.”
Sonny and John have since been together, for better or for worse. Of course, they are business partners in various ventures, including the disco and bathhouse. Sonny brought in John as a board director to the corporation that owns these establishments.
At some point, these two clubs burned down. It was a difficult period but they rebuilt and recovered.
“We stuck it out together. Our love was tested too. And we emerged victorious,” John said.
The number-one rule
When asked how they have lasted this long being together, they swore by their number one rule — which is friendship.
“We were first good friends,” Sonny said.
John affirmed, “That was the foundation of everything that followed. It has been a strong foundation.”
“We share secrets,” Sonny added. “Don’t hide things from him. Tell him straight what you feel. What’s going on in your own life. That would even strengthen your bond. He should be a friend. Not just a lover boy.”
When it comes to the children, there is no delineation of roles, like one is a father, the other a mother.
“What they have are two parents in this home,” John said.
Sonny recalled that when he and his wife then were separating, she asked, “What will you tell your children when they grow up, that you’re gay and all that?”
Sonny related, “I replied, ‘I don’t have to explain anything to them, they’re my kids. They will learn it and they will know about it.’ Which is true. Up to this day, I don’t have to explain anything. Nothing, not to my two sons, not to my daughter. I never explain my personality. Never. My children turned out to be openminded. Because we never hide anything from them.”
Kiss and make up
After Sonny and his wife’s separation, everything has been smooth for him and John, but not without the usual kinks including occasional jealousy and misunderstanding.
When they have conflicting points of view and they argue, “we always kiss and make up at night before we go to sleep,” John revealed.
“But it has been such a long time since we had an argument,” Sonny said. “We have since realized quarreling does no good.”
“Besides, when he got married, I stopped being overly jealous,” John shared. “If it were another man, I’d be more offended. But when it’s a woman, that’s easier to accept.”
Of course, Sonny never admits to sleeping with another man. So, that has not been an issue for the longest time.
We are in this together
Both love to dance, especially Sonny who in his youth was a perennial guest in television dance shows. He also appeared in a series of photographs on the back cover of a salsa long playing album where he was demonstrating the dance step by step. They also exercise together at Gold’s Gym. They walk together and, yes, they travel together.
Of course, when Sonny is in the office, John does his own thing. “Now and then, I escape from him,” Sonny said with a naughty smile.
“It is important that both are liberated,” said Sonny. “You can’t strangle him. He will let loose and before you know it, he’s gone.”
During the pandemic, they both stood by their employees. Their businesses lost a lot of money but they survived. The employees “lived in” for a year during which they received their salaries and had free food but when things became more difficult, they were let go but assured of jobs when times become better. Sonny and John have been kind to their employees and supportive especially in their time of need.
As the pandemic is almost over, “we are gradually reviving our businesses although we aren’t going back full time yet,” said Sonny. “We know we will be able to regain what we have lost. We are hopeful because we are in this together. And just as in the past, when we survived setbacks and emerged even better after difficult times, it mattered that we stood by each other.
“We have loved and lived happily this long we can only expect better times. The love we share has always been our number one weapon and asset.”
To Sonny and John, there is no turning back. There is only looking ahead to the coming years of bliss, contentment and prosperity.
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