Connections: Jim Daly
Aug. 31, 2014
Focus on Fatherhood
Jim Daly didn’t have the best training ground to lead the high-profile ministry Focus on the Family. Daly’s biological father drank himself to death, and his stepfather abandoned the family the day of his mother’s funeral, leaving him an orphan at the age of 9. Daly went to live with foster parents. Despite his lack of role models, Daly, 53, has been president of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based ministry since 2005. He and his wife, Jean, are raising two sons, Trent and Troy. Daly, author of the new book The Good Dad: Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be, recently spoke with Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy.
evangel: Why are dads so important — not just their physical presence, but with their family involvement?
JIM DALY: For the last 30 years the culture has done a lot to empower the role of motherhood, which has certainly been important. But in that same period, fathers for the most part have been not just neglected but buffooned by the culture. Moms provide nurturing and love for children, but dads probably have a wider impact.
Eighty-five percent of men in prison didn’t have a dad involved with them in childhood. Eighty percent of children involved in at-risk behavior — drugs, alcohol, premarital sex — don’t have a dad in the home. In 71 percent of teen suicides, no dad was in the home. Social science profoundly affirms that a child does best — academically, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, socially — when he or she is in a household with a loving biological mom and dad.
We should be doing all we can to support families staying together. The disintegration of marriage has a traumatic impact on children. Fifty to 60 percent of homes have a distant or disconnected dad. How does a boy learn to become a man in that context? They are missing some vital training when it comes to understanding what the role of a father is.
evangel: In your new book you indicate that too many times parenting is about making rules, and not enough about showing love.
DALY: Josh McDowell says it well: Rules without relationship create rebellion. Parents hope they have learned a lot because of the things they have gone through. When our children do many of the same things we did, we try to make sure some of those poor decisions will have consequences. But we can become so beholden to the rules that we forget to cast the net of love. God has created the human heart in such a way so that when we speak lovingly to our children we can reinforce principles and truth. If there is no love being conveyed, rebellion is the result.
evangel: You don’t advocate excusing poorly behaved fathers with sentiments such as, “He couldn’t be expected to be a good dad because he was an alcoholic.”
DALY: There are a lot of dysfunctional families in Scripture. When I look at the excuses of fathers, the key is knowing how to love, knowing we’re going to make mistakes as parents, to admit when we may have wounded our children, to say we are sorry, and to ask forgiveness.
I don’t see anywhere in Scripture that I don’t need to be a good father just because I didn’t have a good father. The Lord said we are accountable for how we treat our children. We can break the bondage of generations of sin whether we are from an alcoholic, drug abusing, or sexually abusing family.
So many parents hurt their children, maybe even unintentionally. Kids are looking for a warm, trustworthy environment because it gives them security, which allows them to grow in confidence. In a sense, that lets them know they can trust their Father in heaven too. A lot of the difficulties in our culture stem from the fact that people didn’t have a good father and they didn’t know what it meant to be loved.
evangel: Talk about how you found it difficult to trust adults.
DALY: When I was 7 years old, my dad promised he was going to bring me a baseball glove. I hadn’t seen him for two years, since he divorced my mom. On my birthday I was running to the curb every 15 minutes looking for my dad. He never came.
I like to believe he didn’t fully comprehend the wound that he created in me by making what he probably thought was just a throwaway comment. I’m very careful never to break a promise to my sons. That means I say “maybe” a lot.
evangel: Then your stepfather disappeared — with most of the family’s possessions — as you attended your mom’s memorial service.
DALY: I didn’t understand it at the time. Looking back on my childhood, I had an alcoholic father who divorced my mom when I was 5; I had a stepfather at age 8; my mom dies when I am 9, and my stepfather leaves the day of the funeral. I go into foster care, and six months later the foster father accuses me of trying to murder him!
By the time I’m 91/2, I’m thinking adult men have a hard time knowing reality and telling the truth. The hardest of those experiences to forgive was my stepdad who walked out on the day of the funeral. What a lack of commitment and character that was! I don’t want to be that guy.
evangel: Yet your ministry role demonstrates that kids with rotten fathers aren’t necessarily doomed.
DALY: I point to Scripture. The Lord can redeem anything. No bad father is beyond the reach of God. You can learn to be a better dad because of what you didn’t have.
evangel: What are the risks and rewards of older fatherhood?
DALY: I was 39 and 41 when my kids were born. A lot of culture is delaying childbearing. The rewards are patience and wisdom. Older fathers of younger children are better at miscues and missteps. You’ve seen enough of life so that things don’t trouble you as much. These are generalizations.
The risks are a lack of energy, not being able to play games outdoors as much, getting worn down easier, not staying up as late. As my sons are graduating from college, I will be in my 60s. That should be the age of grandparents.
My dad was actually 60 when I was born. My mom was 42.
evangel: In our ever-changing culture, why is Focus on the Family still relevant to today’s families?
DALY: For many years we’ve done research on satisfaction scores for Focus on the Family broadcasts. Historically it has been in the 73 to 75 percent satisfaction range. But our recent scores are around 90 percent, and I think it’s because we’re concentrating on marriage and parenting.
People can predictably know they will receive something that will help them if they pop in. I’m guilty of bringing focus back to the core message that Dr. [James] Dobson started in 1977.
evangel: Focus on the Family seems to have a lower political profile these days. Will the ministry be more interested in orphan care and fatherhood initiatives in the future rather than fighting abortion and same-sex marriage?
DALY: The marriage and parenting message is relevant around the globe. Outside the West, everybody supports the basic family unit.
It’s the grace and truth formula that we struggle with so much in the church right now. There is a balance. It’s really the tone of how we say things. We can express these core issues of life or marriage in such a way that is not offensive.
We have to be careful that we are not an impediment to the gospel being accepted. We don’t have to be nasty in being right. God is calling us to be doers of good deeds so they might honor our Father in heaven and speak truth that compels a person to wrestle with the question Is Jesus who He said He was?