Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be
About the Guest
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your father? Focus on the Family President, Jim Daly, talks with Dennis Rainey about his difficult childhood, his absent, alcoholic father, and his desire to be a better dad than the role models that he had growing up.
Jim DalyJim Daly's personal journey from orphan to head of an international Christian organization dedicated to helping families thrive is a powerful story. Abandoned by his alcoholic father at age 5, Daly lost his mother to cancer four years later - a wound deepened when his grieving stepfather emptied the family home and took off with almost everything while Daly, the youngest of five children, and his siblings were at their mother's funeral. Several tough years in foster care followed, before Daly...more
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your father?
Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be
Bob: Focus on the Family®’s Jim Daly says every one of us has a longing to be connected to an earthly father.
Jim: I just remember, when we got the phone call when my father died, he was found—and I don’t even like saying it—he was drunk in an abandoned building—froze to death. I remember feeling nothing—nothing. But years later—probably three or four years later, I remember the grief of not having a father. That’s what got me, and I sobbed because I didn’t have a dad who I could talk to—somebody I could confide in—somebody that could hear my hopes, my dreams. He wasn’t there. It was lonely.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How can you, as a father, be the dad that your kids want you to be—the kind of dad you long to be? We’ll talk about that with Jim Daly today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I’ve heard you talk about your dad and the impact that he had in your life. I guess I’ve always thought, “If we were scoring dads, on a one-to-ten scale, your dad would have been near the top of the scale—nine or ten”; right?
Dennis: That’s a tough evaluation, Bob. I’m aware of my dad’s shortcomings. Based upon what I’ve heard from other men and what they received from their fathers, it’s difficult to find much to critique, negatively, about my dad. So, I want to say he was an authentic man—he wasn’t a perfect man.
Dennis: He came from a broken home himself. His dad deserted him when he was a boy and left him with his mom and his eight brothers and sisters. It was a tough time. I mean, they were dirt poor.
Dennis: So, how he became the man he became—I scratch my head sometimes because he should have been a victim. It would have been easy for him to have become a victim.
We have a dad here with us in the studio who also could have become a victim, but he’s chosen not to. He’s chosen to become a good dad, and he’s written a book by the same title. Jim Daly joins us on FamilyLife Today. Jim, welcome back.
Jim: It’s great to be with you, Dennis.
Dennis: Jim has been married to his wife Jean since 1986. They have two sons. He has written a book subtitled: Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be.
For those of our listeners who know Jim Daly, you know that he is the president and CEO of Focus on the Family. You also know that his passion for fatherhood comes out of his own life. You begin this book going back to a dads’ night and a football game.
Dennis: Yes. Take us back there.
Jim: I can still feel that. You know, I played football—I loved football. I got into sports—that was my thing. That’s where I found serenity. I remember being a sophomore. I don’t know what happened—I broke my wrist my freshman year—so I didn’t make it to dads’ night.
And then my sophomore year—one of the evenings—Thursday night for the JV game—we got out there, and it was dads’ night. They called everybody out and the fathers would come and stand next to their sons. Back in the ‘70s, it was rare not to have a father in your life. I remember they called my name and said, “Jim’s father is not present tonight.”
Dennis: Were you the only one?
Jim: There were, I think, three of us, out of about 25/30 players.
Dennis: Those moments mark our lives; don’t they?
Jim: They do. They’re seared into our consciousness. You know, we don’t forget them. Today, there’s been that debate about whether it’s embarrassing—we shouldn’t embarrass the poor kid without a dad. I felt good for the other players—I was glad their dads were there. So it wasn’t a thing where I felt we shouldn’t do fathers’ night. It wasn’t a political thing. I just felt empty. I felt like: “I don’t have a dad.” And that was the truth.
Bob: Your dad had left when you were five years old. Is that right?
Jim: I was five. My dad—it was a terrible night. I remember my dad just—you know—was an alcoholic. There are probably a lot of people listening that had alcoholic fathers. For me, he loved me—I knew he loved me. He showed it; but alcohol—I guess, now, when I look back on it—he loved that more.
Dennis: Was he abusive when he got drunk?
Jim: Not to me. My oldest brother—he was ten years older than me.
He and my brother would fight, physically, because my dad would get drunk—he would say that he was going to do things to my mom. That was that night when I was five. He came home drunk at night. My mom was not home. He took a hammer—pounded it through the walls—sat down in a chair, and began to thump that hammer on the ground, saying, “I’m going to kill your mom when she gets home.”
I just remember my brother put me in the master bedroom—shut the door, which is scary to a five-year-old. I just lay there, listening, with this instinct of survival—laying in that bed, hearing every thud—every yell and scream my dad would blurt out. Next thing I know, police are at the door. The policeman pops into the room. He walked in and said, “Are you okay?” I said, “I’m fine.” Then, he put his hand on my chest—I think just to assure me—and he left the room.
I got up and snuck behind him. He went out the front door. There my dad was in handcuffs, and they put him in a car, and drove him away.
My mom was on the other side of the yard. The next morning, we got up and moved. That was the last time, for a couple of years, that I saw my dad.
Dennis: You know, I’m listening to you describe that. I’m imagining myself as a five-year-old boy. I remember an incident in our home. This is the only such incident I have any memory of. It was an argument that my mom and dad had, but it was nothing like what you described. It was just a big emotional disagreement. I literally remember shaking at that argument that occurred between my mom and dad, which was the only such thing that occurred in my family—ever. I don’t think it ever occurred again.
I’m picturing you—where that was almost a regular diet of drunkenness or abusive behavior / abusive words. How did you absorb that, from an emotional standpoint, as a boy?
Jim: I think, as a little boy, I went to a different place, emotionally. I cordoned that off and said, “That’s that, and the rest of my life is over here.” So, I did well in school. I did well in sports—that gave me confidence. But, you know, it’s amazing, as you shared your story, Dennis, how that memory’s so vivid for you—even though it was one argument.
Jim: I think for children, that’s—we seek, as children, stability. Stability speaks to our heart because, in that, we learn trust. We learn so much about God’s character when it’s healthy. And when it’s not, we learn fear. We learn to withdraw emotionally. That’s what happens—I think you just close off.
Dennis: When a boy kind of sections off the fear, the worry, the anxiety, and kind of puts a lid on the bottle and says: “You know what? That’s just over there because of what I’m seeing at home.”
Usually, the lid comes off at some point. Did that happen in your adolescence or later on in adulthood, where you were faced with some of what you’d kind of jammed into a corner?
Jim: I think for me, when I was 15, I accepted Christ. I wobbled along because, at that point, now, I’ve had my bio dad; I’ve had a stepfather; I was in foster-care, where the foster-father accused me of trying to murder him. I was nine-and-a-half! I couldn’t understand any of this: “Why do these adults not know reality? I’m a little boy, and I know it better than they do.”
Then, at 15, I accepted Christ. I lived with my brother. He was 18/19. I was 12. I remember going playing football in high school, and I’d say, “What time do you want me to come home?” He’d say, “Ahh—two or three in the morning.” I’d think to myself, “I’ll try to stay out that late.”
Jim: There was no boundary on me; but at 15, the Lord got a hold of me through great mentors. I just remember—when we got the phone call—when my father died, he was found—and to your point, I don’t even like saying it—he was drunk in an abandoned building. He froze to death in Reno, Nevada. I’m living with my brother—my brother got the phone call.
He told me, and I remember feeling nothing—nothing. I was watching I Love Lucy—I can remember it like it was yesterday—and just continued. It was like I was so numb. But I can’t think of a time—there wasn’t a time I just lost it, but years later—probably three or four years later, I remember the grief of not having a father. That’s what got me, and I sobbed. When I went off to college, I sobbed because I didn’t have a dad who I could talk to—somebody I could confide in—somebody that could hear my hopes, my dreams. He wasn’t there, and it was lonely. It was lonely.
Bob: Did you have a chance to talk with your siblings about their experience / their memories of growing up in a home with your dad and in the foster-care system? I guess I’m curious, particularly, about how this may have played out differently in the life of a young woman versus a young man.
Jim: Yes. We do. Years ago, I wrote a book, Finding Home. We sat down and talked through the different ways you look through the prism. Being the youngest of five—and I was six years from my closest sibling—I was the “oops” baby.
Jim: So, the four of them were only one year apart. My older brother, who’s ten years older than me, had a different perspective altogether. He was the strapping 14/15-year-old that would defend my mother with my alcoholic father. He was the one that stepped between them and said, “If you touch her, I’ll kill you!” Can you imagine being 14 and having to tell your dad that?! So, they were ready to go at it; and they did. They hit each other on two or three occasions. They just punched it out.
So, he had a totally different perspective. It crushed his confidence. Even today, he’d say he’s a man that lacks confidence because of that.
For my sisters, yes, they had difficulty. They had difficulty in relationships. I mean, we were textbook—when the father’s not present in the home, what happens to the kids? Women/girls tend to get into promiscuity and drugs—happened to both my sisters.
Dennis: I’m just curious—why did you not become a victim? I’ve heard a lot of stories, over the years, from men who’ve come from homes—maybe not as bad as you describe. Somehow, the guys are strapped to it. They can’t get over it. They can’t get beyond it, and they’re victims—as men, husbands, and fathers—today.
Jim: I think one core issue is—you have to deal with God in that. If you have the inkling—as a little child, a teenager, a twenty-something—that maybe God is who He said He was—figure it out, and then root yourself into Him.
I think the Lord, by His grace, gave me that clarity to be able to rely upon Him.
Dennis: Gave you a new identity.
Jim: Gave me an identity. I didn’t have to be something I wasn’t. You can be broken and come to God. That’s the beauty of it! You don’t have to be perfect. If you’re waiting to be perfect to come to Christ, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Come broken, and He will give you a new identity in Him.
Dennis: Yes; there’s no doubt about it. I’m just smiling as you say it. We’re all broken when we come to Christ. You know?
Dennis: The ground at the cross is level. I don’t care what your background is that you’ve come from—if you’ll humble yourself, and give your life to Jesus Christ, and cry out to Him as your Savior and Master, He’ll save you.
Jim: And you know, the beauty of it, when you apply it to fatherhood—which is what this book’s about—the good dad—we’re trying, in the church, to be perfect—to be the perfect dad.
I don’t think the Lord expects us to be perfect. He knows we’re not perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to shout at the kids now and then. We’re going to do things that we shouldn’t do. But the good news is: “Exhale. Relax. Confront those things in you, and be a better dad tomorrow.” That’s it.
Bob: You know, it’s interesting because we started off—talking about a dad who wasn’t perfect but was a good dad versus a dad who ran out when you were five years old. I think a lot of guys are saying: “Okay, I don’t want to be the dad I had. I want to be different; but all I know, at this point, is what not to be. I don’t want to do it. I’ve seen the model of what not to do. So, I’m not going to do what my dad did.” But they don’t have a model of what to do.
Bob: What’s at the core of a dad being a good dad? If a dad’s going to win, as a dad, what’s at the core of that?
Jim: I think the very core is love—that’s it. I think it’s the one thing that we all, as human beings—if we possess it—and I think that comes from the hand of God. I don’t think the enemy of our soul can distribute love; but I think, as a father, if we can grasp that—if we can love our children—I think it makes all the difference in the world.
It can be hard, at times, to love your child—I think men, particularly. When the kids were young, I had a difficult time connecting with my kids when they were three, and four, and five. I thought: “Wow! When is it going to happen? When am I going to be connecting with them emotionally? When can we throw a ball together? When can we go do things together?” That’s one of the core things—guys like to do things, and we like to teach while we’re doing. We like to learn while we’re doing.
So, I think, when your kids are young, it’s hard to connect that way; but at the core, Bob, what you’re saying, is love. That’s what we need. That tether of love—I describe it in the book like a tether-ball—that that pole in tether-ball—you remember that game?
Did you ever play it?
Dennis: I do. I do.
Jim: That pole is like you, the parent. That ball is your child—and maybe that teenager that’s wandering off. That line—that tether—is the love you have for each other, hopefully. If that tether gets severed, you’re in trouble.
Sometimes, the ball’s close to the pole. Sometimes, the ball is far from the pole; but what we have to do, as parents, is maintain the tether. Don’t let it shred itself. The way that happens is by accusation—by being mean-spirited, as a parent. By not showing the love of God to someone—guess what?—who’s a sinner—that’s your child. We’re all born as sinners.
Dennis: What you were just talking about—about a man being filled with love and acting in love—Paul talks about. It’s a verse we have used many times, here on FamilyLife Today, to exhort men: 1 Corinthians 16:13-14—Paul says: “Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith. Act like men. Be strong.”
And then it concludes—it says, “Let all that you do be done in love.” I have to confess something to both of you guys, here today. I watched The View, [Laughter] back last winter, when we got stranded with all the ice—
Bob: Turn your man-card in at the door will you?
Dennis: I thought: “You know what? I don’t think I have ever watched a clip of The View.”
Dennis: But Jane Fonda was on there.
Dennis: And they were talking about the new man she was with now. They weren’t talking about marriage. I don’t think she’s married to the guy at all, but I did find this discussion most interesting. They said: “What’s the key? What’s the key?” She said, “He is a kind man.”
You just kind of stop there for a moment. You go, as a man: “Would Barbara describe me—as her husband and father of her children, and grandfather to a bunch—would she describe me as being kind?”
That’s an aspect of love—being respectful / being very gracious to other people. You’ve used it many times, Jim, in our conversation. You’ve talked about being mean. That’s not how you become the good dad.
Bob: I’m just thinking about all of the people that we’ve talked to over the years. As they’ve described their dad, they’ve come back to, “But I always knew that he loved me.” Somehow, it’s to your point. It’s like, if a child knows: “No matter what, Dad loves me,” that covers a multitude of sin.
Dennis: And it’s back to—you asked me to kind of grade my dad. My dad’s nickname was Hook—
—not because he had a hook on his arm but because he had a wicked curveball. He was a leftie—pitched a game against Dizzy Dean. His curveball was about the only thing that was wicked about my dad; okay? He was a man, but he was a good dad. I always knew he loved me.
Dennis: He didn’t do it all perfectly—he wasn’t this super, super dad. Jim, I have wanted to ask you a question—that I’m going to wait until after Bob tells our listeners how they can get a copy of your book.
Bob: And this is always exciting—where Dennis springs these final questions on the guest—so let me let our listeners now: “You can get a copy of Jim Daly’s book, The Good Dad: Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be, when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. If you click at the upper left-hand side of the screen, where it says ‘Go Deeper,’ all the information you need about Jim’s book is available right there. Again, it’s called The Good Dad.”
You can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can order by phone. Call 1-800-358-6329, that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Again, the title of the book is The Good Dad by Jim Daly. You can ask about a copy when you call; or you can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Of course, I know that you agree, Jim, that for a man to be a good dad, he has to first be a good man—has to understand what God has called us to, as men. At FamilyLife, we have a video series. It’s a ten-week series for guys called Stepping Up®: A Call to Courageous Manhood that walks men through what it means to be a man: “What are the core character issues that are essential for us, as men?”
We’re hoping that this summer there would be many of our listeners who would say, “You know, I could take a group of guys through that material,” or, “I could get together with some other dads and teenage sons, and we could all go through it together.”
In fact, our team has agreed: “This week, if guys will get the DVD set from us, we’ll include, at no additional cost, five workbooks so that you can take a group of guys through this material. You can provide the workbooks for them at no additional cost. All you have to do is buy the DVD set.” You can get the details when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper left-hand corner that says “Go Deeper.” Then look for the Stepping Up video series. All the details are available right there. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and say: “I heard about the Stepping Up special offer. I have some questions,” or, “…I’m ready to order.” You can order over the phone if you’d like. Again, 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number; or go, online, to FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Dennis: Well, it’s been our privilege today to talk to the president and CEO of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly.
He shared a lot about his own upbringing—where he’s come from—as a man, husband, father. I’ve wanted to ask you this question, Jim, on a number of occasions. I don’t think I asked it the last time you were on FamilyLife Today. What would you say is the most courageous thing you have ever done, as a man?
Jim: Probably, follow behind Dr. Dobson—that was difficult to do. I felt, and still feel, ill-equipped to do that job.
Dennis: Big shoes to fill.
Jim: Big shoes. I remember the first question that was asked of me. Dr. Dobson and I were at a press conference. The first question a journalist said was, “How are you going to fill his shoes?” I remember thinking and saying: “I can’t. I have to get my own pair.” That’s so true. I think it’s not a—you have to be who you are in everything you do.
It doesn’t have to be Focus on the Family—but if—whatever my vocation would be, I would want to pursue the Lord that way.
But I think, in terms of courage—when I look at all the things that I had to face, as a child—I think in many ways they were all preparation for the big challenges—doing what I have to do at Focus every day. Who would have thought? For me—I never thought that a guy that—my goodness, had the family that I had—I mean, had four fathers—and not the forefathers—but four fathers! But when I look at all that—and I think, thirty years down the road—God smiling, saying, “I’ve prepared you, since you were a boy, for this assignment because you have felt just about every family that you can live in.” That spoke volumes to my heart. It’s not a PhD—it’s living it.
Dennis: And to the man or the woman who’s just heard you say what you just said—there is great hope that God’s power works best in a graveyard—
Dennis: —where there’s hopelessness / where He can raise something from the dead that you wouldn’t believe could exist.
Jim, I think you’re right. I think for you to be in a leadership position like you are—coming from where you came from—unbelievable!
Jim: Only God—
Dennis: Has to be only God.
Jim: —only God and for His glory. I mean, that’s the thing. We cannot—we cannot take any of this for our own self. We didn’t do it. We didn’t create it. I know you feel that way, Dennis, about FamilyLife. The Lord’s hand is on you, and then you just go and do it.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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