Choosing Joy In The Unthinkable
64 years ago today, my dad, an only child at 15 years old, witnessed the murder of his parents on the steps of his church. This would be a life-defining moment for anyone. It should have defined my dad’s life - but it didn’t. Although it took time of course, he ultimately chose forgiveness - and joy.
My dad left us almost a year ago now on November 18, 2017, and I believe he is reunited with the parents he lost so many years ago. He left a legacy of faith for which I’ll be eternally thankful. At his memorial service, my brother “Bud” - also Robert Daneker - talked about how our dad gave him his name - but he gave us something more:
“Some time when I was maybe 10 or 11, my family took a trip to a cemetery. Mom & Dad told me we were going to put flowers on Dad’s parents’ grave. I had never met these people. I never thought of them as my grandparents. I had no faces or smells or feelings or memories to attach to these people. I rarely, if ever thought about them.
My sister and I found a way to entertain ourselves among the tombstones; I don’t quite remember how. Mom and Dad stood talking in front of a single gravestone, divided in half with 2 names. At some point, I looked at the names on the stones: Mildred and Matthew Daneker… and it struck me that they had the same last name as me.
Then I noticed the dates of their death: they both read “October 3, 1954” and I said, “Hey Dad, your parents died on the same day.” And then I heard, for the first time, the story of a double murder witnessed by a 15-year-old son.
That story should have defined my dad’s life. It should have - but it didn’t.
It did not.
That it did not is a testimony to his faith in Jesus, and to my dad’s character.
What did define his life was faith. Episodes of faith.
The faith of a 12-year-old boy who, while walking a friend down the aisle at Waldheim Park clearly heard a voice say, “Bobby, this is your life’s work.” And it was: introducing people to Jesus.
The faith of a young man who had to learn to forgive the man who violently stole his parents and the idyllic childhood he thought he had.
Faith led him to choose joy. Faith helped him to persevere through years of chronic pain. Faith enabled him to live with hope. Faith gave him the ability, all his life, to choose love.
So, my dad gave me his name.
But far more than that, my dad gave me a hero.”