Gary Barnes was a regular military veteran enjoying a quiet retired life – until one day he answered the phone to a woman he’d never met. What the woman had to say was truly remarkable, and indeed it turned his life upside down. Then, soon after the call, the pair met up, and before Gary knew it, he had an invitation for Christmas.
Until very recently, Gary was just a normal retired serviceman living in Grass Valley, California. Aged 78, he had been spending most of his golden years simply relaxing on his porch, and he particularly enjoyed observing the deer around his house.
In his youth, Gary had fought in the Vietnam War – and it wasn’t until some time later that he met his wife, Caryl. Since then, the couple’s marriage has endured, although they’ve never had any children together. Meanwhile, although Gary has previously struggled somewhat with his health, it turned out that he was destined to keep going.
One possible reason for that longevity is something huge which happened to him towards the end of 2017. At least, that’s what Gary believes, and who are we to argue? It all started with a phone call from an unfamiliar woman – and what she said to him changed his life forever. The woman had, you see, been trying to track Gary down for a very special reason indeed.
The woman’s name is Olivia Robles. And although she had never met Gary before, she certainly had good reason to get in touch with him. That’s because Olivia was nearing the conclusion of a deeply felt personal research project, and she was hopeful – indeed, perhaps by now even convinced – that Gary was the man she’d been searching for.
The project in question concerned Olivia’s ancestry. Olivia was 50 years old, but she had never known the identity of her biological father. In fact, she was 10 years old before she’d discovered that the stepfather who – along with her mom – had cared for her was not her birth dad.
Olivia came into the world in the Philippines back in 1967, and several years later she, her mom and her stepdad relocated to the U.S. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that she decided to send her DNA to Ancestry.com to find out more about her family tree.
Then in 2017 Olivia was told by the genealogy company that her DNA had proved to be very similar to that of a woman in Alabama. The woman’s name is Diana Barnes – and she’s the cousin of Gary Barnes. And the connection was made possible because Diana, too, had sent her DNA to Ancestry.com earlier that same year.
Knowing that her DNA was quite like Diana’s but clearly also realizing that she might be on to something, Olivia decided to contact the Alabama woman. She was hoping that Diana might be able to provide some key information about her own background. And she certainly wasn’t disappointed in that respect, either.
The women subsequently spoke a few times, and it didn’t take long for Olivia to realize that Diana might well hold the key to her past. Olivia mentioned that she had been born in the Philippines, and the two women were soon able to join the dots.
In particular, they were able to work out the dates; and sure enough, it seemed that Gary had been in the Philippines at around the same time as Olivia was conceived. What’s more, Diana sent Olivia some photographs of her cousin, and they made perfect sense.
Looking at photographs of Gary, Olivia could see an immediate similarity; indeed, Olivia’s youngest son was the spitting image of him. So with that, Olivia decided that it was time to reach out. It was a brave decision, mind you, particularly as she was not sure whether or not he would be pleased to hear from her.
“I was really nervous at first,” Olivia told The Union. “I didn’t know how he would react.” Still, she went ahead with the call nevertheless. At the start of October 2017 she dialed Gary’s number for the first time and waited to hear his voice.
Perhaps worried that the first phone call might be awkward – or even unwelcome – Olivia was, though, understandably apprehensive. Yet it turned out that she had no need to be. When Gary answered the phone, Olivia felt as though she’d known him for years.
Of course, nothing official was confirmed until Gary had sent off his own DNA to be tested. The results, though, were as expected. Olivia was indeed Gary’s daughter; she had been conceived at some point during his rest days in the Vietnam War.
Naturally, it was an emotional time. But nothing was more poignant than the moment when father and daughter met for the first time. Olivia had boarded a plane from Florida to go and meet her biological dad. The two of them then met in the arrivals hall of Reno–Tahoe International Airport at the end of November 2017.
“It’s so hard to describe the feeling,” revealed Olivia. Yet when she thinks back to the day she first met her father, she remembers feeling as though everything “fell together” in that very instant. And it was a happy moment for Gary, too.
Although he recalls being “a nervous twit” as he waited to meet his daughter, he was delighted to welcome her into his life after all those years apart. Then when he learned that Olivia has children, and that one of them has a child too, he was overwhelmed.
“I went from nothing to a great-grandfather,” he told The Union. “It is such a blessing.” The father and daughter then quickly decided that Gary should fly to Florida over Christmas so that he could meet the rest of the family he had never even realized existed.
“It just all fell together,” said Olivia, who had identified her father after 40 years of wondering whom he might be. She described feeling as though she had finally recovered “that missing piece of the puzzle.” Olivia’s mom had had an inkling that her daughter would find her dad one day, and she was right. Perhaps some things in life really are worth waiting for.