The Imperfect Path to Home
By Jim Daly
CBN.com "You should be insane—or in jail." That’s what people often say when they hear the details of his story. As the president of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly has received countless letters from broken families with broken hearts. Most would be surprised to know that the man leading such an influential family organization can offer the encouragement that comes only through shared experience.
In his new book, Finding Home: An Imperfect Path to Faith and Family, Jim shares the true story of how he beat the odds, surviving a childhood characterized by heartbreak, abuse, and abandonment, and finally finding out where “home” really is.
Jim is the youngest of five children born to alcoholic parents. In terms of dysfunction, his childhood was thirty years ahead of its time. Jim’s family was forced to deal with issues that, though relatively rare, have become all too common today: an absentee father, a broken home, substance abuse, single motherhood, a miserable foster care experience, and inner-city violence.
Jim spent years in a desperate quest to fill the father-shaped hole in his heart, only to be disappointed by the biological father who drifted in and out of his life and the stepfather who abandoned all five kids when Jim’s mother died of cancer. The family moved constantly. As Jim was shuffled from place to place, he wondered if he would ever truly find a home, a place where he was loved and valued.
Finding Home is not just a memoir written to raise eyebrows; it’s the story of how one young boy was redeemed through the influence of a few individuals who chose to involve themselves in his life.
“I didn’t rehearse the details of my story to elicit sympathy,” Jim says. “I know I’m not the only person who has lived and suffered under the same roof with alcoholic parents or grown up with no loving father figure—nor will I be the last. Finding Home was written to offer some perspective to people in all kinds of life circumstances. It is my hope that hurting people will read this book and realize that these painful issues can be overcome. On the other hand, I would like to inspire readers to recognize the needs around them and begin to invest themselves in the lives of lonely, suffering people.”
Jim relates his experiences with courageous transparency and an unexpected dose of humor. The result is a work that will challenge, encourage, motivate and, at times, even entertain.
The author recently discussed his book.
Every day you receive letters at Focus on the Family from people in desperate circumstances who feel utterly hopeless. What encouragement can you offer these people?
Every time I read one of those letters, I want to pick up the phone and say, “I understand a little of what you may be feeling.”
I’d remind them that their file hasn’t blown off God’s desk. Their marriages may be on the rocks, their kids may be out of control, but He still knows where they live. He cares for them in spite of what they may see in the moment. What’s more, God has both the power to quiet their storms and the ability to give their life new meaning and purpose. Those are not just empty words. I’ve lived it and know that nothing is impossible with God.
Looking back on your troubled past, where do you recognize God’s grace in action?
You know, when I share with people about my childhood, they are often amazed that I didn’t end up in jail or die an early death. I certainly fit the description of an “at-risk” kid, but, by God’s grace alone, my story didn’t end that way. The fact that my mother was able to overcome her alcoholism and become a strong, loving part of my life for the short time I had her is itself a miracle. The Lord also placed godly men and women in my path that gently pointed me in His direction until the day of my salvation, the greatest gift of grace. But He didn’t stop there. Every morning when I look into the faces of my wife and sons, I witness the extent of His grace and how it has permeated my life.
In the book you recall the amazement you felt when Dr. Dobson recommended you to take over as President of Focus on the Family, particularly because your background is so different from his. Describe some of those differences.
For starters, our educational backgrounds are completely different. As most people know, Dr. Dobson holds a PhD in child development. I have a degree in business. He’s a recognized authority on the subject of family life and a best-selling author whose own biography is simply titled Family Man. And here I am, a guy with no family tree—no grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—and this ridiculously dysfunctional upbringing!
I remember hearing Dr. Dobson talk about his grandfather, who prayed for him every day before he was born, and his father, who was known as the guy who wore out the toes of his shoes before the soles because he was on his knees praying so much. I, on the other hand, was born into a troubled situation with two alcoholic parents and a father who loved to gamble. I can’t remember a single time when my father prayed. Humanly speaking, it would seem that the best person to fill a job like mine would have a background similar to Dr. Dobson’s. But it is clear that the Lord has ordered my steps, and I have felt and continue to feel His presence on every step of this exciting journey.
As I struggled with the idea of being president of Focus on the Family, the thought hit me that God owns it all. This is about Him and not me. He is the author of families—yes, the healthy and the not-so-healthy family. It is His design and it is wonderful to see it when it works well, like in Dr. Dobson’s case, and it is amazing that He can take the broken pieces, like in my case, and still make something positive, like my family, out of it.
In your book, you assert that “every boy on the planet has a dad-shaped hole in his heart.” What did you desire most from your father?
I yearned for my Dad to engage me in sports and take me hunting and fishing. I wanted him to show me how to pound crooked nails into scraps of wood to build a rocket ship to the moon, to know that he would be there to show me the ropes when I got older. I needed him to show me how to shave once the peach fuzz on my chin demanded a real razor, or how to tie a tie for the first time. Most of all, I needed someone who believed in me.
Although you desperately searched for a father figure, someone to look up to, most of the men in your life didn’t have their acts together. Who was the first man you saw as a role model? How did he change your life for the better?
By the time I was in high school, I began to wonder if there were good guys in the world, men who modeled what being a man was all about. When I was a sophomore in high school, a new football coach moved to town. His name was Paul Moro, and he had chosen to dedicate his life to coaching high school football—and mentoring young men. Coach Mo and I immediately clicked. He became my first mentor by getting involved in the details of my life. He and his wife Joyce reached out to me, inviting me to their house for dinner from time to time. On the field, Coach Mo pushed me toward excellence. I appreciated the fact that Coach saw me as a natural leader. Talk about a confidence builder. He knew how to bring out the best in me.
As you reflect on your troubled relationship with your Dad, what are some of the most important things you want to do differently with your own sons?
Well, first there are the obvious things—being a responsible parent, not becoming an alcoholic, and being a positive spiritual influence on my kids. But one of my most painful childhood experiences occurred when my dad promised to bring me a baseball mitt for my seventh birthday, but he never showed up. On a positive note, his failure taught me, now that I’m a dad, to be extra careful with the promises I make to “the boys” (my sons). I have taught my kids that making a promise is a really big deal, that a promise is meant to be kept.
The most frightening moment of my childhood occurred when my father, drunk and angry, spent an evening pounding a large hammer on our living room floor and threatening to kill my mother. I have realized that if I’m not careful, my words and my tone can pound on my kids with the same force as that hammer. Bellowing out orders, demanding obedience, and speaking in strident tones can just as easily wound the spirit of my children as the rants of a raving drunk.
How did your mother teach you to take responsibility for your actions?
I was the youngest of five children, born to my parents late in life and doted on by my siblings. By the time I was six years old, I was a real brat who threw a fit if I didn’t get a new toy every time my mom took me to the grocery store. One day at the store, I went off to the toy aisle by myself. Mom said she’d be waiting for me in the produce section, but I saw her walking in the opposite direction and became so distraught and angry that I came up right behind her and punched her right in the back—only to discover the shocked expression of a woman who was dressed in the exact same outfit as my mom but who was, in fact, a complete stranger. When I told my mom what had happened, she made me find that lady, look her in the eyes, and apologize. I never hit another person again after that day. And even after Mom died, I carried that lesson with me. It’s one of the things that kept me out of serious trouble.
Why do you think it is a mistake to try and save others and ourselves from experiencing brokenness?
To most of us, the idea of having a broken spirit feels like having the plague. Being broken is very real to me. Perhaps that’s a good state for the human heart to be in—at least for a season. Certainly it’s tempting to mask our pain through the distraction of entertainment, work, and sports. Pain hurts, and who wants that? Yet, in spite of our best efforts to avoid brokenness, being undone appears to be a prerequisite for many people to come to a relationship with God. I know such was the case for me. I’ve found that when I am broken, I can finally understand how totally dependent I am on God. Truly, he has fashioned the splintered pieces of my life into a remarkable mosaic.
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Jim Daly serves as President and CEO of Focus on the Family. He has been married to his wife, Jean, since 1986. They have two young sons, Trenton and Troy. The Daly family resides in Colorado Springs.
Interview courtesy of The B&B Media Group.
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