It’s been eight years since Robert Levinson was kidnapped in Iran, but his seven children hope a new nuclear agreement with the country will pave his way home.
Levinson, a retired FBI agent and reported contract worker for the CIA, now 67, known to friends and family as “Bob,” has been held longer than any other hostage in U.S. history. Last week, when the Obama administration struck a deal with the Iranian government, but did not secure his return home, the case moved back into the spotlight.
“What our family believes is that this deal represents not the end of discussions between the U.S. government and the Iranian government, but merely the beginning. As long as the two countries are in dialogue … we know that my father’s case can be resolved,” his son David Levinson says. “[The U.S. and Iran] are more engaged now than they have been in many, many years and we believe that right now is the time that my father’s case can be prioritized, resolved and he can be brought home.”
Bob’s kids responded to the Iran deal with resolve instead of anger, a trait his daughter Stephanie, 37, a stay-at-home mom in Fort Worth, Texas, says she learned from her father. Stephanie sat down with PEOPLE and her six siblings – Susan, Sarah, Dan, David, Samantha and Doug – for the first time to talk together publicly about their dad.
“He taught us to never give up, to have strength, to have faith. And I think all of us, we get through each day knowing that our dad is waiting for us. Waiting to be reunited,” Stephanie says. “And he has the strength to keep going. We go down to his belief that, I guess, miracles can happen.”
The Levinson siblings talk to their own children regularly about Grandpa Bob, and make his presence felt by singing a song he dubbed “The Baby Song” – his own lyrics grafted over the Armor hot dog jingle. “Our father sang it to each one of us. It was a constant refrain in our house,” Stephanie says, adding that her son with autism is comforted by the family tune. “A 67-year-old man should spend his days with his grandbabies around him and singing ‘The Baby Song,’ not in captivity,” she says.
The family’s current hope is that Bob will make it to David’s wedding in October. “Just the other day, my fianc e showed me and Dan that she bought my dad’s tie for him, fully expecting him to be returning home and that he’ll be joining us for our wedding. She’s going through wedding planning assuming he’s going to be there,” David, 28 says. “I would love if my dad was front and center for the ceremony, but what’s more important is that he meets my fiancée some day.”
“It’s all we think about, what are the next steps to get him home,” Dan Levinson, 30, a financial analyst in Coral Springs, Florida, tells PEOPLE. “We’re not focused on the question of whether he’s still alive, we’re focused on how do we bring him home.”
“People Told Us He Was Dead He Proved How Resilient He Was”
All seven of Bob’s children say they believe he’s still alive, despite no proof of life since 2011, when they were sent photos of Levinson looking frail in an orange jumpsuit.
“Before the hostage video came out in 2010 and the photos came out in 2011, a lot of people told us that he was dead and that we needed to move on. That there’s no way he could have survived to that point,” David says. “But what was heartening about the video and the photos is my dad proved how resilient he was to the entire world. Who’s to say that he hasn’t been able to do that over the past several years. We believe that as long as his physical needs are being met, that his will and stamina and resolve are what will get him through every single day.”
Despite the Levinson family’s relentless optimism, Sarah Moriarty admits she and her siblings sometimes feel overwhelmed. “It’s been really hard. There’s been times that I’ve had siblings call me up at 2 o’clock in the morning crying, or I myself have called at 2 o’clock in the morning crying there’s seven of us and it’s always on all of our minds,” Sarah, 35, a Vice President at a global investment bank, says. “We get strong for each other. If one of us is having a tough day, the other one gets strong and finds positivity.”
“He’s Missed So Much”
“It’s been a nightmare,” says David. “He’s missed so much.” The siblings and their mother, Christine, 64, help each other through holidays, birthdays, weddings and even births without their father. He hasn’t met five of his six grandchildren. Susan Boothe, the oldest at 38, says she named her son after the grandfather he has never met. “I always wanted to name my son after my dad, not because of [the kidnapping], but because growing up I always knew how special my dad is,” she says.
“My son was 5 months old when our dad was kidnapped,” Stephanie adds. “My son developed autism and he’s not able to speak. We weren’t really sure how much he understood. How much he comprehended. He can spell with a letterboard. Some of the things he said with the letterboard is ‘I know in my heart how much my mom misses her dad.’ “