“Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”
That quote from former President Barack Obama defines Lake View Terrace resident Eddie Gamez, who’s never shied away from the task of being a father to his own offspring, or those of his wife from a previous marriage, and the children they’ve had together.
This despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while serving in the US Marine Corps back in 2007. It’s an increasingly debilitating disease that makes walking difficult, and leaves Gamez with constant pain in his legs.
But his love and dedication for his family, who will surround him this Father’s Day weekend, supersedes any issue Gamez, 39, has regarding his own health. He is determined to remain available and actively involved in all of his children’s lives.
A Personal Battle
A year after serving a tour of duty in Iraq in 2003 as a Marine, Gamez began to have numbness in his left foot for periods of time.
For two years he ignored those episodes, but then he started having numbness in his right foot.
He finally went for an examination and an MRI. It was confirmed he had multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease of the brain and spinal cord where the immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body, according to the Mayo Clinic. No one knows exactly what causes the disease, although a combination of genetics and environmental factors appear to be the culprits.
The diagnosis ended Gamez’ military career after seven years. He was given a medical retirement in 2007.
The condition is “up and down” for him.
“For me the worst thing is the pain and the walking,” Gamez said. “I can walk but I walk slow, and sometimes my balance is bad.”
He still went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in 2016, and his Masters degree in 2018 in Communication Studies from California State University Northridge (CSUN), using a cane to move around for all those seven years of school. He said he uses that cane randomly now, especially when he has to work for long stretches and mostly for balance.
Being A Dad
Gamez has good days and bad days. But his commitment to his family and all his children remains steadfast.
It’s been that way since he had a daughter when he was 16 years old. His daughter is now a 23-year-old woman, with her own child. Even though she was raised by her mother, Gamez said that — while he wasn’t her primary parent — he always tried to support and provide for her.
Approximately 11 years ago, Gamez met Liz, his wife, and he didn’t hide his medical condition.
“I told her, ‘I have a little problem here,” he recalls. Although Liz didn’t know what MS was at the time, “I told her it’s probably going to get worse.”
She answered with a revelation of her own. “She told me ‘I have two kids,’” Gamez said. “I told her kids are no problem. She said, ‘that’s something that guys [usually] don’t like either.’”
Gamez’ response was “you got something, I got something.”
Liz had two sons — Diego and Danny, ages 5 and 4. Their biological father was “around, but he wasn’t a good influence,” Gamez said.
Their relationship quickly grew, and then came time for Liz to introduce him to her kids.
“I wanted to get to know the kids to see how it was going to be,” he said.
But he admits he initially had doubts about being able to care for them because of his physical ailment. And his combat experiences had left him susceptible to being startled by loud, unexpected sounds.
“I still don’t like noises and kids bring a lot of noise,” he said. “It brings me back to the war stuff, the guns and all,” he said. “It gives me the creeps.”
But “I had to adjust and since I love the girl, I have to love them too,” Gamez said.
Facing The Challenge
Gamez decided to connect with Diego and Danny by talking to them about what they liked and didn’t like, playing with them, and going on outings as a family.
“I was kind of in shock,” he said of their first meetings.
“They were little and wild,” he adds with a laugh.
But the relationship with the boys grew and the bonds between them became strong.
“We would hang out as a family, watch movies, go to the aquarium,” Gamez remembers.
By the time he moved in with Liz, the boys were very familiar with Gamez. Still, it took about six months for the kids to change the way they referred to him. Initially they simply called him “Eddie.”
Gamez still remembers the moment it changed.
“Diego, he was six-years-old already. He said, ‘Hey Eddie, can I call you Dad?’ I said, ‘of course you can.’ And then the other one started calling me ‘Dad.’”
Gamez and Liz would also have two children of their own, Aaron, 7, and Micah, 2. Diego is now 16, and Danny is 14.
But for Gamez, there is no distinction among all four.
“They’re my kids,” he says proudly.
“I consider them my own. I made them into my style,” Gamez added. “They needed a father figure. I helped out a little bit with that. To me, they’re good. They’re great. They know the truth about everything. They tell me that I’m their dad.”
Gamez adds Liz deserves credit in making the family dynamic work,
“Liz was awesome. She basically said, ‘do whatever you want. If you want to be close to them, go ahead. If you want to discipline them, do it.’ She knew it wasn’t going to be bad,” he said.
He added there were no differences in discipline, chores, or love.
“Everybody gets the same treatment,” he said. “If I tell the oldest to do something, he tells the little ones they have to do it, too,” Gamez said.
He spoke of a recent, special moment with Danny that filled Gamez with pride and joy.
Danny was graduating this year from PUC Community Charter Middle School in Lake View Terrace. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, each student was allowed only two guests for the in-person ceremony.
Gamez and Diego attended the ceremony, while Liz stayed home with the little ones. When the time comes to switch the tassel from one side of the student’s mortarboard to the other to signify graduation, it’s traditionally done by the students themselves. But this time school officials asked the parents to do it.
“I did it for Danny. It was pretty cool,” Gamez said.
Gamez said he typically looks forward to Father’s Day.
“They usually make me feel special,” he noted. “Liz makes something and they all tell me ‘Happy Father’s Day.’ It’s family, my day.”
Some time ago, an older neighbor told Gamez he was going to start a relationship with a woman with kids of her own, and asked Gamez for advice.
“I told him it wasn’t always smooth, but it does work out. You’ve got to get to know the kids. If you can relate to them, then it will be a lot easier,” Gamez said.
It’s what worked for him.
Gamez said he always wanted to have a family. And he got his wish.
“They complete my life,” he says of all his children.