VALRICO, Fla. – At 78 years old, Gary Barnes lived his entire adult life thinking he never had any children of his own.
Olivia Robles lived most her 50 years trying to find the father she hoped was out there.
Both are now spending Christmas together.
“I always knew I had a dad out there somewhere,” said Robles, who learned at age 10 that the man she thought was her father was actually her stepfather.
It started with a DNA test the mother of three from Valrico submitted to Ancestry.com several years ago with the original intent to learn her true ethnicity. Robles was born in the Philippines but didn't know much about her background beyond that.
Unexpectedly, Robles wound up with a DNA match that connected her to distant cousins who helped connect the dots to a father she never knew.
“For individuals who have always had their parents all their lives, it's just something a lot of people really take for granted,” she said. “You have that longing.”
Barnes, a Vietnam war veteran, spent much of his down time during the war in the Philippines, where he met Robles' mother. But when Barnes was called back to war, they lost touch and never reconnected.
“I never even knew she was pregnant,” he said.
Robles first traveled to California to meet Barnes at the end of November.
Barnes arrived in Tampa last week to meet Robles' three sons — his grandsons — and one great grandson just in time for Christmas.
“I never thought in a million years I'd know who my grandpa was,” said Ryan Robles.
It so happens the three boys have military backgrounds: the oldest served in the Army, the middle son was in the Coast Guard and the youngest is a cadet at West Point.
While they know they can't make up for lost time, Robles and Barnes are ready to maximize the time they have now, including plans to travel to California and the Philippines, where most of Robles' family still lives.
“They say everything happens for a reason so there's all the reasons I look back on that had brought us together today and it's just such a feeling of being blessed,” Robles said.