A local dad turns tragedy into teaching and helps other dads become the best they can be.
The worst night of James Alvarez’s life could have broken him. It could have poisoned the rest of his life. Instead, he channeled his grief into a mission to help the daughter who needed him and all the dads he didn’t even know.
“All I was thinking was, ‘How could this have happened?’ I still couldn’t believe my wife was gone,” Alvarez says of that August night in 2020. “All our goals and dreams were gone, just like that. I kept replaying the scene over and over in my head. Felt like I was living a nightmare, waiting to wake up.”
His wife, Yesenia, nine-months pregnant, had just been killed by a drunk driver. Miraculously, his daughter, Adalyn, survived. But it was a harrowing battle that inspired her young father.
“Seeing my daughter survive and fight for her life while she was in the NICU, gave me the strength to keep going,” Alvarez says. “If she could fight for her life, then I can fight for mine. That moment when I thought I’d lost everything, I realized Adalyn gave me a new purpose. A new opportunity to cherish life again. Now I dedicate my life to her.”
It’s a vow that arrived through tragedy. Through pain and loss. But the dedication paid off in ways he didn’t expect. Ways that help others.
“I always say raising a child requires both parents. But I had to take on both roles and I take that role very serious. Many tell me how I’ve been an inspiration, and it always surprises me because all I’m doing is my job as a father,” he says. “People see single fathers can take on that role and do as good as anyone else.”
Part of being a single parent has shown him he’s not really alone. He gets regular support from his family, however, Alvarez thinks the most important support he got was from MOMS Orange County, the non-profit established to improve the mental and physical health status of vulnerable moms and babies in the county. They also offer classes to men. And that’s where Alvarez found his voice.
“My wife and I were actually taking classes when she was pregnant,” he says. “We both wanted to learn as much as we could. After the accident, they reached out to me. I knew I needed all the help I could get, so I signed up. It was the best decision I ever made. They taught me everything from how to change a diaper to giving my baby a proper bath and even how to build a bond with them.”
Everything he’d learned — and continues to learn — is a powerful gift he wanted to pass along to other dads trying to find their feet, so, with the help of his mentor, Juan Diego Noreña, he started leading classes himself.
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“What I noticed most was the communication they were missing. It’s always an amazing experience to see men that sometimes have a tough persona, open up and for once, be vulnerable. It amazes me because sometimes all they needed was a bit of guidance to be the best man they could be. I also admire their willingness to learn and grow.
“I tell them to not worry about what society thinks of you for being there for your children or to be a caring husband. There are many good men [out] there. I’m one of them and because they’re in this class, they are as well.”
And what he is teaching in classes, he is trying to instill at home.
“We have to think of others before ourselves,” he says. “That’s what I’m trying to teach my daughter and the rest of the world. We have to care for others, that’s the way to make this world a better place.”
But all the giving he’s done has also gained him a lot.
“I learn so much from the men. They’ve taught me to view situations differently. Teaching has made [me] a better person. My intention is to grow with them. To go on this journey, united and not alone. It’s been a blessing to be a part of that.”
By Shawn Price