In 1993, he received a phone call from a former gym-school colleague from Cuba who had just come to the United States. María González was looking for work. She had two children, Dayanis, 12, and Danell, 3, who had different fathers.
“I chose not to talk [to Danell] about his father. I had already been divorced once. I didn’t want him to get confused because his father and I had never married,” says González, 49, who works at the West Kendall gym, where about 500 children and adults now train.
Although he and González were just friends at first, Alvarez quickly developed an emotional bond with Danell, emerging as the father figure the boy lacked.
“From the first moment, we had an immediate connection,” says Leyva, 21.
In 1996, after his short-lived first marriage ended, Alvarez proposed to González that they move in together. He also urged her to tell Danell about his biological father. (Since then, Leyva has stayed in contact via telephone with his father, who lives in Cuba and Spain, but they have not met in person.)
When he was 10, Danell unexpectedly interrupted Alvarez during a casual conversation and warned him: “You’re not going to be my dad until you marry my mother.”
The couple wed in March 2001, cementing the family ties.
Alvarez has maintained contact with his birth father in Miami, but has lost all contact with his Cuban stepfather, and assumes he has died. He weeps recalling his childhood, and feels especially pained that he didn’t thank Antonio Suárez for helping to raise him.
“I would like to tell him that he was my father, not my stepfather,” he says.