He grew up in a dysfunctional family and bounced through the foster care system, an unlikely background for someone destined to lead an evangelical family-equipping organization. But that's just where Jim Daly finds himself today, as the President and CEO of Focus on the Family. Daly's first book, Finding Home, detailed his difficult childhood. His latest book, The Good Dad: Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be, shows that a rough upbringing need not ruin one's ambitions of leading a healthy family. Pastor and author Daniel Darling spoke with Daly about how men, no matter how broken their past (or present), can become godly fathers.
You shared your story of growing up in a dysfunctional family environment in your memoir, Finding Home. Did this upbringing ever cause you to doubt your ability to be a good father?
I'm not sure that I ever thought about it in quite those terms. Ability was never really the central question in my mind. I've always been an optimist by temperament, and when I'm given a job to do—whether it's quarterbacking, running an organization, or parenting a child—I'm usually pretty good at jumping into the ring and giving it my best shot.
What my upbringing has done for me is to shine a big spotlight on the crucial importance of having—and being—a good dad. I learned what that meant by default. Because I never had a positive male role model in my life, I understood the value of an involved father in a way that many of my friends from intact families simply couldn't grasp. I knew what I wanted for my own kids precisely because I'd never had it myself. That has made a big difference in my life.
Many men will find solace in knowing that someone who grew up in your circumstances can become not only be an effective parent, but also the leader of a pro-family organization. Was that part of your motivation in writing the book?
Absolutely. I believe with all my heart that to be in Christ is to be a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). Among other things, this suggests that followers of Jesus are not defined by their past. They don't have to be locked into or held down by the sins of their fathers. Christ has set them free from slavery to the "same old same old" of previous generations. I'm convinced that, in God, all things are possible. This has huge implications for marriage, parenting, and family life.
There is so much brokenness in families today. Yet you seem like a joyful prophet, lamenting the crisis but offering up the church as a solution. Is that your mission?
My mission is to convince others that what has been true for me can also be true for them. Let's face it: There has always been a lot of brokenness in families. If you don't believe it, get your Bible out and read about some of the dysfunctional families who, in spite of their flaws, played such an important role in the history of God's people.
Spend some time mulling over the mistakes of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Judah and Tamar, Joseph and his brothers, David and Bathsheba. You'll soon come to the realization that the world has been in crisis practically since day one. That's an eye-opener in itself, but as Christians we know that it isn't the end of the story. My mission is to let people know that Jesus came to redeem all this dysfunction and to heal the brokenness of our family relationships.