Updated: Aug 17
October 8, 1939 – August 30, 2021
Those dates, yet significant, are just two days in the vibrant life of Robert Mrdjenovich.
The dash between those dates doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
The dash is where all the good stuff is; the peanut butter and jelly, the turkey and mayo, the ham and cheese. Without the “good stuff” all you’ve got are two pieces of dry bread.
What we do with our dash is entirely up to us. We can squander, be wasteful, and we can choose to ignore all the beautiful things this world has to offer. My dad did none of those things. In fact, he didn’t just live life to its fullest; he seized life and his cup spilled over ten-fold.
I’d like to talk for a moment about the radiant, significant, and beautiful life of Robert Mrdjenovich.
Born of first-generation Serbian parents, he and his brother, Mel, were the second generation to be born in the United States. He had a happy childhood, but it didn’t come without its challenges. His parents were hard-working people however sometimes money was tight. That being said, he never felt like he was “poor” because he was richly loved and adored by his family. In fact, he treasured his relationship with his parents until they took their last breath, and he and his brother Mel remained the greatest of friends until his passing.
He married his high school sweetheart, Ruth Ann, where they went on to have six children together. Robyn, Daniel, Wayne, Nancy, Janice, and Adam.
Now, some of you might be confused at this point, perhaps wondering where my name is on that list. You may be asking yourself “why does she keep referring to Robert as “dad” when she didn’t mention herself, or her brother, Michael, in the above list of names." Please allow me to explain:
The word “father” has three definitions according to the dictionary. The first is “a man in relation with his child or children, the second is a title or form of addressing a priest, and the third is “a man who causes a pregnancy resulting in the birth of a child.”
Although Robert was not definition two and three to me, he was every part of definition one: “A man in a relationship with his child.”
Somewhere in Robert’s dash, he met my mom, and on January 3, 1998 he received a second chance at love when he married her. From that very day and onward, he was always there to support me the way a father does and should.
He acknowledged and joyfully claimed my son, Gabriel, as his very own, and he took him on adventures he will never forget. The two of them were the best of fishing pals. They went to Alaska, Colorado and Florida together chasing the big catch, and those were just the big moments. There were countless little moments in-between, like fishing on Pleasant Lake. The two of them would cruise up north to fish in the big waters of Lake Michigan, lake Charlevoix, as well as the rivers and inland lakes.
They were like peas and carrots, and not even once did my son consider him to be his step-grandpa. Robert was his beloved Pap Pap.
The image of him joyfully walking up to my front porch to get Gabriel to go fishing will be forever branded into my mind. He was the strong male figure in Gabriel’s life when he didn’t have one. He stood by my son in his proudest and happiest moments, and he lifted him up in his saddest and darkest times. Robert represented my son with love, pride, and dignity and he truly was his pillar. His rock.
As for me, he was the father that I never had growing up. He didn’t create me biologically, but to the outsider, you’d never know it. He always introduced me to people as his daughter.
He showed my mom the world, quite literally, taking her on adventures from one corner of the planet to the other. They visited all 50 states, 6 continents, and over 30 countries. He was passionate about travel and he left no stone unturned when it came to his explorations and adventures.
He loved and respected my mother and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.
He lived a selfless life, volunteering his precious time to help others in need. Love In the name of Christ recognized Robert as a blessing to their volunteer staff.
In 23 years of knowing him, I never heard him gossip or say an unkind word about a single soul, not even once.
He formed lasting friendships, he savored moments, he compromised, apologized, and accepted responsibility when he knew he was in the wrong. He was constantly working on making himself a better man by learning and growing from his mistakes.
He never forgot a birthday or anniversary. As a matter of fact, a card with a thoughtful and loving hand-written message arrived days before the special date without fail.
He left a legacy at Ford Motor Company for his hard work, intelligence, and dedication.
He sacrificed. He loved. He smiled. He was humble. He was kind. He was considerate. He was loving, generous, and selfless. He was brilliant. He worked hard, he saved hard, He was encouraging….and he was an inspiration.
Now, I’ve saved the very best for last. I saved it for last because it’s the most important part of Robert’s dash.
Robert Mrdjenovich lived his life as a shining example of what it is to be Christ-like. He dedicated every single morning, without fail, to prayer and devotion showing his respect to our creator. He was a true servant to the Lord and a warrior for Christ.
It was extremely difficult to watch him weaken over the past months. Often, I had trouble keeping up with him, so to see him weak and frail was heart wrenching. But I won't allow Satan to steal my joy, so I've decided to push those thoughts aside. Instead, I choose to remember him as the unusually strong man pulling paddle boats into the water, carrying tackle boxes, walking strongly and proudly, fishing until the sun went down, playing pickle-ball, riding bikes, and joyfully twirling my mother around the dance floor in his cute cowboy hat and western boots. I'll remember him strong, healthy, and full-of-life.
I know for absolute certainty that he is walking with Jesus at this very moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been assigned a very important task, like organizing the angel’s daily schedule or sitting directly across the conference table from Jesus helping make important worldly decisions. Or perhaps instead Jesus knows that it’s time for Robert to rest. I'd like to think he's peacefully floating on Pleasant Lake, enjoying his favorite hobby of fishing while watching beautiful sunsets. Whatever he is doing, his soul is soaring, his pain is gone, his joy restored, his mind rested and his body at peace.
Until we meet again in heaven, because of him, I will be steadfast to fill my own dash with things that are meaningful and purposeful. I hope you do the same.