GCU staffer gets early Father's Day gift: a dad

By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau

For years, when asked if he had any children, Steven Finley would toss off a sarcastic response common of single men: “None that I know of.”

That worked just fine until three months ago, when two separate DNA tests confirmed that he is the father of 26-year-old Cory Strouth, a qualifying specialist for the Military Division at Grand Canyon University who works in the Peoria office.

Suddenly, Finley had plenty of catching up to do.

“There has been a lot of Q-and-A,” Finley, 55, said Friday in a visit with Strouth to the GCU campus. The questions they ask of each other are “almost as if you’re interviewing someone for a job, if you could turn that into (interviewing about) someone’s life. You want to know all about them.”

Strouth compared it to the early stages of dating, when couples talk about their likes and dislikes, their favorite colors, foods and music.

The story of how the men finally united is a complicated one — it involves Strouth’s persistent wife, a peculiar physical similarity and a TV show — but both said they couldn’t be happier as Father’s Day approaches.

“We need to have the good times we’ve missed,” Strouth said as they chatted at length in the Veterans Center about their new life together.

Growing up in the Dallas area, Strouth was raised by his maternal grandparents, Willie and Barbara Smith, after the death of his mother, Lisa Strouth. Lisa was separated from her husband at the time when she became pregnant with Cory, who was 5 when he found his mother dead of a heart attack at 29.

Lisa’s family was convinced that Cory’s father was Finley, whom she dated briefly before Finley moved to Atlanta. Others thought the father was Eddie Bates, another man with whom she had been involved, or perhaps Lisa’s estranged husband, Chris Strouth, whose last name was given to Cory.

At the request of the family, Finley stopped by to visit Lisa in the hospital — and briefly held the 1-day-old Cory. He noticed that the boy’s pinky toe curved slightly outward, just as his did, but thought little more of it at the time.

He said he was a heavy drinker then, ill-equipped for the responsibilities of being a father. Cory grew up believing that Bates was his biological father.

And so it stood for years, an unsolved puzzle until Cory’s wife, Laura, came across some old family paperwork in January. A name on the forms was that of Steven S. Finley, and Laura launched into a public-records search, locating a man by that name who had lived in Texas but now was living in Georgia.

Seeking to help Cory connect, she went to Facebook to comb through all of the Steven Finleys for more information.

“I wanted (Cory) to have the answers,” Laura said. “I knew he needed that.”

The next move belonged to Cory, who emailed Finley at his place of employment in Atlanta on Jan. 31, opening with the words “I think you may be my dad.” Upon reading that at his job as a facilities manager, Finley was blown away.

“An electrician came into my office and said, ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost,’” Finley said. “I started off by emailing (to Cory) that I’d often wondered if he was my biological son.”

An intense exchange ensued, and the men agreed to DNA testing so that they would know for certain. They also agreed that they would communicate only by text message and email with each other until they knew, fearing an attachment might form otherwise — and become a crushing disappointment if the result wasn’t a match.

One of the tests was coordinated by the TV show “Trisha,” which flew them to Stamford, Conn., for the taping of an episode on which the result was revealed. The taping was on Feb. 28, although the show didn’t air until May 2. A second test, also in late February, confirmed the 99.9 percent chance that they were father and son.

Since learning the outcome, they have been texting each other daily and talking by phone three or four times a week. They said they are being careful to not step on each other’s toes, desiring to keep everything positive.

“I’m blessed to have this,” said Finley, who is divorced after a childless marriage in his 40s. “What if there is something he does that I don’t like, a weird little thing, and I want to say something to him but I haven’t been there for 26 years? Do I say something? He could say, ‘Who are you?’ That hasn’t happened, but you think about it.”

Cory, an Iraq War veteran, graduated from GCU in sports management in 2013 and is working toward his master’s in business administration. He describes himself as a “people person” who aspires to work on the University’s main campus in some capacity. He has two children — Liberty, 4, and Kaiden, 3 — from a previous marriage, along with 8-month-old Colby with Laura. All three children have the toe trait, he said.

So, where does everyone go from here? Next up is a Finley family reunion in July in Tyler, Texas, that will introduce Cory, Laura and the children.

“First and foremost is enhancing the relationship,” Finley said. “That’s more important than anything. We will find time to spend time and become the family we haven’t been. The question mark is gone, and now we know.”

Cory, whose life has been marked by the losses of people with whom he was close — the mother who birthed him, the grandparents who raised him, an aunt, a stepbrother — is happy to have gained closure at last about the identity of his father.

“I just wanted to know,” he said.

With that, father and son adjourned to the GCU intramural field for a long-overdue game of catch — and another round of catching up.

Contact Doug Carroll at 602.639.8011 or [email protected].

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Bible Verse

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