Jim Daly

Jim Daly: Hope’s Power to Grow an Abandoned Boy Into a Global Nonprofit Leader #13

Warwick Fairfax

March 11, 2020

Jim Daly was abandoned by his alcoholic father at 5, lost his mother to cancer four years later and had no one to turn to but his four older siblings when their stepfather emptied the family home and left them to fend for themselves on the day they buried their Mom. Before he had turned 10, he was living with a dysfunctional foster family and thinking it was all just part of the “normal” life all kids lived. But buoyed by a hopeful spirit, he embraced the structure his teenage years brought at school and through sports — and gradually charted a course for the kind of life he once never dreamed possible. Today, fifteen years into his role as president of the international nonprofit Focus on the Family, he surprises the press by meeting with ideological opponents and continues to oversee innovative programs that in just the last year have helped 780,000 couples build stronger marriages and 950,000 moms and dads raise happier, more resilient children. Daly talks with Crucible Leadership founder and BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE host Warwick Fairfax about why a life of significance has nothing to do with job titles and how all that childhood pain now fuels his ministry passions and accomplishments.

For more information about Focus on the Family, www.focusonthefamily.com

Hightlights

 

  • The hardest question he gets asked by those who know of his tragic childhood (4:55)
  • Why his mom dying of cancer was a total shock (5:42)
  • How his stepfather abandoned the family … just hours after his mom’s funeral (7:00)
  • The challenges of coping with being abandoned by his dad and stepfather (8:33)
  • His emotional low point … and the school nurse that offered him hope (10:00)
  • The power of hope in the midst of heartbreak (14:39)
  • The value of structure in overcoming a crucible experience (17:35)
  • Crucibles do not have to rob you for joy (24:23)
  • How character is forged in life’s valleys (25:22)
  • The blessings of setbacks (25:53)
  • How pain can fuel passion (30:29)
  • The importance of grieving the pain of a crucible experience (33:23)
  • Don’t let your past rob you of your future (47:07)
  • INC. magazine’s practical tips for leaders on leaving a legacy of significance (28:27)

Transcript

Gary:
Hey, everybody, welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Gary Schneeberger, the cohost of the show and the communications director for Crucible Leadership. And our podcast is focused on crucible moments, those experiences in life that can be extraordinarily difficult, very painful, can change the trajectory of our lives. But we talk about them in the context of this podcast, not to camp out on them, not to dwell on them in a negative way, not to sort of wallow in them, but to use them as jumping off points to lead a life of significance. And with me, as always, is the architect of Crucible Leadership and the host of the show, Warwick Fairfax.

Warwick:
Hey, Gary.

Gary:
We got a good one today and I know this because I’m about to read his bio, but I know this because one thing not in his official bio is that I called him boss for about 10 years and I still call him friend. So that’s something that’s not in the official bio, but this is how I know it’s going to be a good show. So, our guest today is Jim Daly. Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family and host of its daily radio broadcast heard by more than 6.6 million listeners a week on more than 1000 radio stations across the US.

Gary:
In March of 2019, Jim celebrated, hard to believe, his 30th anniversary with Focus on the Family. Jim’s personal journey from orphan to head of an international Christian organization dedicated to helping families thrive is we’ll discover a powerful story. Abandoned by his alcoholic father at age five, he lost his mother to cancer four years later, a wound deepened when his grieving stepfather emptied the family home and left Jim, the youngest of five children and his siblings to fend for themselves after their mother’s funeral. Several tough years followed, including time in foster care, before Jim became a Christian in high school and found meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging.

Gary:
Jim was named president of Focus on the Family in 2005. Under his leadership, the organization has taken on a role nationally in encouraging and helping facilitate foster care adoptions, earning recognition from the White House and Congress for its efforts. The ministry also has reinvigorated its traditional focus on helping couples build strong marriages and raise healthy and resilient kids. I love this part, in just the last 12 months with the help of Focus on the Family, research indicates that 780,000 couples have built stronger marriages, and 950,000 moms and dads build stronger, healthier and more God-honoring families.

Gary:
Jim has been married to his lovely wife, Jean, since 1986. They have two sons and reside in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Warwick, take it away.

Warwick:
Wow. Well, Jim, it’s just such an honor to have you. I mean, Focus on the Family, as you know, I grew up in Australia and listened to that in Australia and Dr. Dobson, and years ago and the work that your organization does in helping families, especially in the world we live in, which is so many single parent families. It’s just tough out there. Your organization’s a beacon of light, just helping families and has done for decades. So, love to hear more about that just in a bit.

Warwick:
With crucible leadership, we love hearing people’s stories of adversity. Clearly just with your bio, you grew up in some pretty difficult challenges. So, just talk a bit about, I know we heard in the bio, but how you grew up and just some of those pretty tough challenges. You had it about as rough as anybody growing up.

Jim:
The great thing about being a child you don’t know any better. Fundamentally, you think everybody’s in the same boat. That’s kind of the attitude I had. I was sure that others had it worse off than I had it. And I don’t know where I found that little sliver of wisdom to figure that out. But at least I was eating and I was sleeping in a warm place. And it’s just so funny when you’re a kid, you think, okay, that’s good enough, I can handle the rest on my own. It was an amazing thing.

Jim:
I think the other key thing that I’ve come to learn is how much resiliency is in a child’s heart. Being in a marriage and parenting organization, I think from a perspective of faith, which is where I come from, it’s a great design that God put that kind of resiliencies in children’s hearts because parents let kids down all the time for all variety of reasons. We don’t come with a perfect parenting approach. And I think, even like the love I had for my alcoholic father was deep even though he was a disappointment as a dad, but I still loved him, despite all those things. And all the promises he made but never kept.

Jim:
So, for me, it was just part of my story, it was the short straw. It’s one of the hardest questions I get asked when I’m speaking is how did you get keep your joy as a child. Again, my faith is the only thing that explains that, that I believed that I was made for a purpose and that God was with me even in my valleys. I had a lot of them.

Warwick:
So your father abandoned you first, it was at age five or?

Jim:
I was the youngest of five kids. I was six years from my closest sibling, so I was the accident, the oops baby. They were all one year apart, so they ran kind of as a pack in high school, they were almost all in high school at the same time. And then I was probably starting kindergarten at that time. I was really distant from them in every way, emotionally, age, everything. And then when my mom got cancer, she died of colon cancer, they kind of kept it from me because nobody felt like a child can handle it. So, one piece of advice I have for people is if you’re going through difficulty as a parent, let your kids in on it in an age-appropriate way.

Jim:
For me I had to go from having a normal dysfunctional family to all of a sudden learning one Saturday morning that my mom had died the night before. And it wasn’t expected, I wasn’t anticipating it, I couldn’t read the signs and put it all together. So, it was a jolt to me to learn that the person who was the most loving kind person in my life all of a sudden was gone. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to her.

Warwick:
I understand that your stepfather left pretty soon after that.

Jim:
Well, it was crazy. Hank, I called him Hank the Tank, he was a former military drill sergeant, and he fit the stereotype. He loved my mom, and as I got older, I had better appreciation for that than I did at the moment. He didn’t like the kids. He even called us baggage at one point. We knew that we were not something that he cared for but he loved my mom enough. And I think ironically, my mom needed that kind of support as she was dying. They were only married a year and a half. But it was the day of her funeral we came back, she accepted Christ the day before she died again as a spiritual element here. It was phenomenal. Her funeral was amazing. The clouds made like a staircase leading up into the sky and my oldest brother Mike, that was the beginning of a spiritual journey for him.

Jim:
But we got back to the house after the funeral and everything was gone, all of our furniture, and it was our furniture, not Hank’s furniture. But he had sold it. We had little boxes in the living room of our stuff, my handful of toys and my clothes were in one box and the other sibling stuff was in a box of their own. And Hank came out of the back bedroom with his luggage packed and he had two big suitcases in each fist. And he just said, “you know, I can’t take the pressure of raising your kids so I’m gone.” And we were like, well, what do we do? And we went into foster care.

Warwick:
And how old were you at the time when your step dad left?

Jim:
I was nine years old, nine years old.

Warwick:
At that point, obviously, you’ve lost both parents, a step father’s just walked out. It’s probably a dumb question, but where were you at that point just emotionally and everything? Were you like, the world is over and like, if there’s a God, how can this possibly happen? What’s the deal here?

Jim:
I think it was a bunch of emotions. I mean, the one was abandonment, but I wasn’t mad at my mom. I knew she couldn’t control a disease. I was cognizant enough to understand that. But at the same time, I felt like everybody was walking out on me. In Hank’s case, literally. And so, I think it was a lot of despair and loneliness. That’s the best way I could describe it. Yet there was a normalcy to everything else. School, friends. It’s the strangest status to be in that moment. I remember the fourth grade class at Bixby Elementary, they sent me a handmade card, a big card with everybody’s note in there. We’re sorry, Jim, we hope you have a good life.

Jim:
And then of course, the funeral was on a Saturday, and by Monday, I was moving into foster care 160 miles away. Little town called Morongo valley with this family that my brother knew one of their sons, Paul, and ironically, their last name, we got to find God’s sense of humor in all this, but it was the Real family. They were like the most unreal family. And I always say the precursor is they did provide for us. They gave us shelter, which was nice. If we were dysfunctional, they were very dysfunctional and that was unfortunate. They had four sons all in a state of disarray.

Warwick:
So it sounds like it didn’t really get a whole lot better with foster care. You had a roof over your head but it wasn’t like you had this ideal picture perfect family.

Jim:
I can remember walking, it was Mr. Todd, my fourth grade, I was ending my fourth grade year. My mom died in March, and so April, May. And I remember just walking out of his class. During instruction, he’d be up there talking about conjugating verbs or something, they were in a different place, educationally, they were covering different material than I was at Bixby Elementary. And I just remember feeling like I can’t do this, I’m sad, I’m lonely. And I would literally just walk out of his class and sit on a sand hill and cry at Morongo Elementary School. A little nurse would come out, Nurse Bandy, and she’d put her arm around me and say, “You’re going to be okay, Jimmy. Things are going to be okay.”

Jim:
And I would think to myself as a nine year old boy, she doesn’t know what I’m walking back into. I get on that bus and I go back to the Real family, and hunker down and try to hide basically emotionally, physically because I just didn’t want to engage them. They were just not healthy people.

Jim:
And so, I ended up living there for a year and then my bio dad found me. My biological father, my alcoholic father, he learned that my mom had died, he didn’t know what happened to us. He had been trying to track us down. It kind of took him that year to find us through social services. He came out to visit at the Reals. It was at about probably the one year point. And he came out and I kind of just clung to his leg like a kid does. As he walked around all day, I just held on to him. And at the end of the day, being at the Reals, he said, “Would you want to move back in with me?”

Jim:
And it was kind of that, for those people who are watching that maybe grew up in an alcoholic home, it was kind of the Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde response, which was yeah, yes. And then quietly I was thinking, which dad am I going to get. But it had to be far better than this. And that’s that resiliency of a child’s heart I was talking about. I was all in. Dad, I don’t mind if you’re still drinking, I just got to get out of this place. I didn’t say it but it’s what I was thinking. I moved back in.

Warwick:
With a few years with your dad or?

Jim:
Actually only one year. Moved in for a year. We ended up having a family gathering because my sister closest to age in me was now turning 18 and she was going to be moving out. And the siblings didn’t think I should remain with my dad who was still struggling, not as bad, but there were episodes where he would binge drink and be passed out. I would step in to make sure everything got done. Yeah, at the end of that year, my family said, we need to get together, you’ve got to tell dad because he’s not going to understand it from us. I think I’m 11 years old at this point.

Warwick:
Oh my gosh.

Jim:
I remember having the family conference and I remember looking at my dad, saying, “I don’t think I should live with you anymore.” I’m looking this way because that’s where he was sitting, at the moment, it was off to my 11 o’clock. And I remember looking at him and just saying, “Dad, I don’t think I should live with you.” And he looked at me and he said, “Well, why not?” And nobody had prepped me for that question which would have been very helpful as an 11 year old. But I just looked at him after a moment, which felt like eternity and I sat there going, how do I answer this, how do I answer this. And I’m afraid, I’m scared that I’m not going to answer correctly, I’m going to wound him. All those emotions are running through my heart.

Jim:
And I just looked at him and this is what came to my mind, and I looked at him, I said, “Because of how you treated mom, I don’t think I can live with you by myself.” Imagine your 11 year old saying that. To his credit, he stood up, walked across the room to me, he hugged me, which was very much like my father. Some of the fondest memories were him just putting his hand through my hair and saying, I love you. And he came over and he hugged me. And he said, “I understand that I wasn’t a good husband, I’m not a good father.” And he walked out of the room out of the house, basically moved to Reno, Nevada. That was the last time I saw him. He ended up dying within about four months of exposure. He was drunk and went into an abandoned building in the winter and froze to death. And that was hard.

Warwick:
That was just an amazing, it’s amazing you had the courage to say that. And he obviously heard that at least at some level. So that’s an incredibly tough upbringing. How did you get beyond that? Where you are now. If you looked at who you were there at 11, and somebody said, you know, he’s got a head up a massive nonprofit, you would have said, probably not, not seeing it. How did you get beyond such terrible circumstances?

Jim:
The one thing that I always had, it was a strange thing, it was just this hope, I always had hope. You can knock me down but I always got up. There’s always tomorrow, there’s always something better around the corner. I just had that attitude in my heart. When I was that five year old and my dad left. Going back to that five year old state, I remember my dad saying to me, he wasn’t living with us, and this is something in my own parenting that I really remembered and tried never to do, which is to break a promise. And the reason was that when I was five, or seven, I was having my seventh birthday, and my dad, I had seen him briefly for a moment, he said, “Hey, I’m going to bring you a baseball mitt for your seventh birthday,” which was only about a week or two away.

Jim:
I remember on that day, my birthday, a friend of mine was over at our house spending time with me. And I’d run to the curb every 15 minutes and look up and down the street looking for my dad. And he never came. I remember Ricky, my friend at the end of the day, it was probably like 6:37, the evening was there, the sun’s going down and it was our last trek to the curb to look for my dad. And I remember him just kind of hitting me gently in the shoulder saying, “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay.” And he went home and I remember walking back into my house thinking that it’s not okay. And it was that great lesson for me with my own boys that are now 19 and 17, one thing I always tried to do is to make very few promises. And then when I had made a promise to always keep it because of the pain it caused me, my dad let me down, that I wasn’t worth it, that he couldn’t keep his word. Even if he didn’t bring the mitt, I could care less. I just wanted to see if he would show up on my birthday. Man, absolutely.

Jim:
So then, what did I learn and where did I go from there? I moved in with my brother who was 19 married to his 16 year old girlfriend and that had its own challenges. I went to junior high and high school living with my brother, who at that time went through two wives. And we lived as bachelors for a period of time during that. I remember playing football, varsity football at the high school. I’d say, “I’m going to be out after the game tonight going to party.” He’d say, “Okay, that’s no problem.” I’d say, “what time you want me to come home?” He’d say, “two, three in the morning should work.” And I literally would walk out thinking I’ll try to stay out that late. It became a challenge for me, I could stay out till three in the morning. That’s the kind of parental leadership I had.

Warwick:
Kind of non-existent. But I-

Jim:
You know, go ahead.

Warwick:
I was going to say, you said you had hope, but there must have been something that led you to follow a different path and your dad stepped out or even some of your siblings. What led you to have a path that was a bit more constructive in life than what you’d grown up with?

Jim:
One of the things for me, structure became important and I found structure in school and in sports. So I played sports, I played football, basketball, baseball through the school year. I was good enough, I made the teams, I started, and it was all fun. It kept me really busy in every way. I think with my siblings, I don’t share this very often, but living with my brother, watching him make the choices that he made in a weird way, it opened a window of wisdom to me because I can remember, why would he go out with that woman? Can’t he see that she’s no good. And then they’d be married for eight, nine months and then divorced. And it upset me. I think in some ways, I had resentment toward him, that he didn’t have better decision making ability. But it also informed me in an indirect way about making better choices. And so I think that really helped me.

Jim:
And then, when I was 15, I had a football coach, Paul Morrow, who just died last year, I was at his funeral, I spoke at his funeral because we got him his rookie year out of Cal State Long Beach. And he was gung ho, and he just really kind of the typical thing, when he saw me kind of lagging on the football field, he’d grab my face mask and kind of jerked me around. “If you’re going to lead this team then you must finish the wind sprints first.” Probably illegal today, but it got my attention. This was like, the first time in my life I had a man calling me out to be something more than a wounded boy.

Jim:
And I responded, thankfully. I didn’t resent it. In fact, I loved it. And the harder he was on me to perform in the football sense, the more I responded. And then one day he said, “Hey, I’d like to go to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp at Point Loma. I’ll pay the money for you to go but we’re going down.” Probably about eight of us from that football team went, there’s probably 40 guys at this camp. And then we had a professional, actually a quarterback from San Diego Chargers came down and he said, “Have men let you down? Has your stepfather let you down?” I was like, oh my gosh, he’s talking to me. Thought he was going to say, Has Mr. Real let you down. But it was that close to my heart and it just compelled me and I became a Christian. And believe me, I wobbled. I was 15 but I still was doing things I shouldn’t do up until about 22, really. I had this battle going on in my heart up until 22.

Jim:
And then at 22, ironically, I went to college, paid my way through college. I worked. I ended up going to the University of Waseda in Japan on overseas study program. And again, I think just all of that structure where I could excel and succeed, I leaned into that. So I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t fall in that direction, which I easily could have. I think from my perspective, it was God’s hand, it was just the Lord saying, it’s a better way, let me show you a better way. It’s the book of Proverbs.

Warwick:
I think there are some really important insights, just the power of both positive role models in your coach but negative role models as listeners will know from my story growing up in a very wealthy family media business in Australia. It was founded by a strong believer but at the time I grew up, there was a lot of power of money, pride, arrogance, some other family members who were just sort of about the money and didn’t work that hard.

Warwick:
And yeah, so for me, I can relate at one level as that sort of negative role model was like that’s not going to be me. I’m going to work hard, I’m not going to be some arrogant Fairfax, which in Sydney, meant a lot. Positive role models, I don’t know, I probably had some faith was certainly a cornerstone. But it is amazing, the power of a negative role model to say, I’m not going to be that person, I’m going to be different. You make a choice. Maybe it’s, obviously, from our perspective, it’s God’s hand putting people in your life. And for me, I came to faith in Christ at an evangelical Anglican Church at Oxford. He has his hand on each of us.

Warwick:
So it sounds like you chose a different track. You didn’t go obviously from college right to Focus. You had some other things that you were doing. When you were in college, did you say gosh, I want to be a missionary or?

Jim:
Are you kidding me? When I was in college it was how do I make money because money is what you live on. There was a point in college, this is one of the saddest, probably, I was a sophomore, I was at Cal State San Bernardino. I got in at UC San Diego and a few other schools in California, but I decided I wanted to be close to my brother. I mean, again, just that weird attachment probably like PTSD. I thought, okay, he might need my help or I might need his help so I’ll stay close. So I turned down UC San Diego, which would have been great. Went to Cal State San Bernardino. Probably told you more about my SAT score than I want to share.

Jim:
When I was there as a sophomore, I remember there was one point I really wasn’t connected with my siblings, they were all struggling in their own way, they were living their own lives. They were older than me. Some were married, some were having children, some were struggling with other issues. But I just wasn’t connected, I wasn’t talking to them on the phone. They didn’t know what my situation was. I remember Christmas was coming my sophomore year at university. I had nowhere to go. I mean, literally, I had nowhere to go. So I had to go to the school and petition that I could live in the dorms for that three weeks that we were going to be out.

Jim:
And I remember them saying, there’s not going to be any electricity on. You can stay there and we’ll make an exception, but you literally outside of the security team covering this 400 acre campus, you’re going to be the only person here. I was like, I’ll do it, I have no choice. That was a lonely experience being on this sprawling campus and going back to these seven or eight dorms with literally no human being there. I’m the only car in the parking lot. And with no electricity. I had a candle, a flashlight. I was very lonely. Again, it was this feelings as a nine year old boy losing my mom. That was kind of the theme through all those years was just this desperate loneliness. I’m so thankful to say today I don’t have that feeling any longer.

Gary:
I know that we’re going to turn a little bit here in a bit and talk about the life of significance, Jim, that you’ve built. But I want the listeners to really focus on something extremely important about what we’ve heard, not even what we’ve been talking about. Jim has described some truly traumatic, painful experiences in his life. And have you heard listener, the joy in his voice, the joy in his heart? It is possible to come out on the other side. If you’re going through a crucible experience right now, remember this conversation because I know Jim, I know what he’s been through.

Gary:
But just listening to him, he’s not making light of the situations that happened to him, but he’s got joy because he found opportunities, as he said, he looked for hope, he always had hope. He always tried to find hope in the most, what some people would see as hopeless situations. That is an important thing for listeners who are going through their own crucibles to remember. You can have joy, which isn’t circumstantial, that’s internal. You can have joy even in circumstances that are terribly, terribly difficult.

Jim:
So true, so true. And I think that’s the core again, with my Christian faith, it informs me. There’s a wonderful verse in the Bible that says he is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. In many ways, that’s my life verse. I think the differences, I have friends that have had only mountaintop experiences, kind of what you were describing, your family experience. Money brings a lot of ease to life. You can pay for things like education, you can go to the best colleges and all those things. If you have a golden touch and you’re capable, you can write bestselling books, you can start organizations, you can do a lot of good things.

Jim:
But I’m telling you, your character is formed in the valley. And some of the weakest people that I’ve encountered are people that have never had valley experiences.

Warwick:
And that’s something that’s hard for people understand, there is blessings in setback. My setback is very different. For me, it was the $2 billion takeover to try to resurrect the company in the image of the founder. And I was young, naive, idealistic, a person of faith. That ended, and so I was responsible for ending 150 year old family business. I still have a Wikipedia entry and it’s not particularly favorable. Young hot-headed kid who could have had it all, naive, made stupid decision and lost at all. If you google me, that’s what it is. You obviously don’t want to be defined by Google or Wikipedia, at least in my case. It gives you a sense of humility, it makes you less prone to judge other people when you’ve made your own.

Warwick:
I didn’t deliberately try to hurt anybody but I just made a lot of dumb mistakes. Yeah, it does test your character. So, obviously, you live an incredible life of significance. So you’re in college, don’t really have a community. How did you get to a point where you feel like you are serving other people, serving a higher purpose, serving what God called you to? How did life change from college?

Jim:
Again, I did a business degree. I thought the best thing I could do, one, to take care of myself and my hopefully future family is I have to do well, I have to earn money. So I went to work, I worked for International Paper, I worked in the paper industry for about seven years. And again, I found a great mentor in that environment too, Jeff Eaves who was a tremendous friend, much like coach Paul Morrow, he kind of picked up where Paul Morrow left off and kind of hewned me in a great way and develop even my moral principles. He was not a Christian but he was a very good guy.

Jim:
I evolved into that, I ended up going on a plant tour. I was working out of college, I worked for a Christian organization briefly and I ended up on a plant tour at the International Paper. And I ended up accepting a job offer they made me about a week later. They called and said, “You impressed us on that plant tour and we’d like to hire you.” So I did. And so I went seven years in that industry. And then I got a call from a friend. And one of the things that’s so important, I think, again, from the Christian perspective, I was just willing to get up every day and do the best I could do, to work as hard as I could work that day. And then, I’m going to trust God for the rest.

Jim:
I mean, this thing really unfolded in such a miraculous way. So I had a friend that I met at Campus Crusade, that organization I worked for briefly, Ron Wilson, who’s still here at Focus on the Family. And I called him because there was a gentleman that was a customer of mine and I wanted to introduce him to other Christians. I just felt that, his son worked at Campus Crusade, ironically. I was up in the Bay Area, but I wanted this man to be surrounded by people that knew God and I thought he had a heart for those things and was open.

Jim:
So I ended up calling Ron. And at the end of the conversation, he said, “Have you ever thought about working in nonprofit again?” I said, “Not really because I want to eat.” That’s a good orphan kid response, I want to eat. I’ve made up for it, obviously. But the point of it is, he said, “There’s a position coming open at Focus on the Family. I’d love to call you. Should be two or three weeks.” I said, “Okay, give me a call, I’ll take a look at it.” And 10 months went by. And I remember just praying, saying, God, I don’t want to push a door open, and so I’m not going to call Ron back. If you want to make it happen, I’ll just sit patiently.

Jim:
Well, these 10 months go by. Wednesday night, I go out to dinner with the plant manager at IP in San Francisco. And he says, “Hey, we’re going to give you a promotion.” I went, “Wow, that’s great.” And here’s what it is. And I thought to myself, this is why the other thing didn’t open up. I get home and my wife Jean says, “Hey, there’s a message on the machine, I didn’t really listen to it.” Well, that was Ron calling me back 10 months later on the very night I got the promotion offer, saying, “Hey, we got the position.” So I called Ron back the next day on Thursday. I flew down with Jean on Friday to interview with Dr. Dobson, everybody at Focus, Saturday, they made a job offer. And I think I turned down 150,000 for 32,000. I remember my dear, amazing wife, I said, “What do you think we should do?” And she said, “I trust whatever you’d like to do, I believe God will be with you.” Isn’t that awesome?

Warwick:
What led you to make that choice because given the way you grew up with nothing, turning down that much money, it’s not like you didn’t understand the consequences.

Jim:
Absolutely. But I think the thing is, to your point earlier, oftentimes, our pain bears our passion. And that’s the case for me. I thought of those kids that could be helped if I went to Focus on the Family. What an amazing thing as an orphan kid, I could maybe help other children not suffer the things that I suffered through divorce, through addiction, etc. And that was just always in the back of my mind, what little role could I play in this organization. And to your point earlier, little did I know, 30 years later after being here at Focus that I would become president at Focus on the Family. That’s still a bizarre.

Warwick:
Well, it is. I don’t know. I mean, for me as I tell my story and try to help others, there is a little bit of a healing balm when you can use your pain to help others. Obviously, for me, it’s my faith in Christ and the fact that he loves me unconditionally was the cornerstone of my recovery and having a wife like you who loves me unconditionally. I have three kids, two boys and a girl. That’s all part of a wonderful plan. My dad was married three times, my mother twice, I was from the last marriage of each. I tell them, you have no idea how lucky you are. To be married 30 years and they have a wonderful mother. I mean, they’re just clueless as to how blessed. I’m sure you probably with your two boys. Maybe you don’t tell them that, maybe you do.

Jim:
No, I do.

Warwick:
You don’t realize there are alternatives. But did you feel like as you’re working with Focus that there was a healing element as you were able to use your pain to help others in some fashion?

Jim:
I think there was. Did I recognize it? Probably not like I should have. I think, again, it’s funny, I’ve always had this mentality of waking up each day and just putting my left foot in front of my right foot. It’s just been one of those things. It’s kind of like, I can remember, to give you an area where I fell short. I remember 15, 16 years ago, my wife’s brother committed suicide. Life’s experiences come to the surface in these moments. I can remember my wife really struggling, obviously, with the fact that her brother had died. And much to my discredit, I mean, my orphan survivor mentality was to try to encourage her by saying, “You know what, we got to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got to get moving. We’ve got to overcome this.” I thought that was a positive thing to say.

Jim:
And I remember she looked at me and said, “Jim, not all of us can do that. You can but I can’t. I’ve got to grieve.” Man, it put me right back on my heels because I, then I’m going, okay, have I grieved properly? And I don’t think I ever had really. I just got up every morning and started going. And I don’t think I ever stopped-

Warwick:
That’s a challenge. You have to keep moving on but certainly one of the things I found is unless you can grieve and deal with some of the pain and the past and the anger and disappointment, yeah, it stops you from fully moving on. It’s a process. It takes a while.

Warwick:
So, just this last couple minutes here. You’ve been president of Focus for quite a number of years now. Everybody thinks Dr. Dobson but you’ve been president-

Jim:
15.

Warwick:
So, it’s always challenging, just looking at it more broadly when you inherit the mantle from a beloved founder. Inevitably, every new leader wants to put their own stamp or they might feel called to move things in a different direction. Obviously, Focus is an organization that people know something about. From what I’ve read, I think you, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but you wanted to sort of maybe return it to its roots or refocus its mission. I don’t know how you would describe it. Does that make sense? I’m trying to think of the right diplomatic way to put that.

Jim:
It comes down to a meeting I had with Dr. Dobson right toward the end of his time in 2010. He stepped out of February 2010. But I can remember probably around December, January, right before he stepped out, he asked me to do an audit on the broadcast just to take a measure of the content that we had done in the previous three years. I was kind of eager to do that because I thought I knew how it would turn out, and it turned out the direction I thought it would but even more intensely.

Jim:
And what happened is we had only had one new marriage program recorded in that three year period. So we did re-airs but we weren’t recording new programming. For three years, only one new marriage program. We had about 26 parenting programs that were new in that three year period, but we had 128 policy programs. And that’s where his interests lied. It was in this idea, understandably, that if I work hard in that government area, we can get some things corrected. And he had said to me one day, “I’ve kind of said all I could say about marriage and parenting, and that’s why my energy is directed here.” So I get it. As a 70 something year old man, I think he was turning to the handles that he felt he could make some change.

Jim:
Yet at the same time, our audience is 68% females, a lot of moms who were saying, how do I keep my marriage together? How do I raise children that honor God and can succeed? So I really wanted us to get back to those basics which now we’re at 80% programming on marriage and parenting, proud to say.

Warwick:
And again, another lesson for leaders, I’m reminded of a book, Mission Drift, that you’re probably familiar with.

Jim:
Exactly right.

Warwick:
And it doesn’t mean to say other missions are wrong, but Focus was founded to help families. And there’s a huge need for that, you can get into other areas that can be more controversial. There’s absolutely a place for that. But the question is is that Focus’ role versus some other organization because if you start trying to do everything, you tend to do nothing particularly well. And that’s not a right or wrong thing, it’s just a matter of a choice. And you obviously, with your background, had a huge passion for the family, huge need. It shows a lot of courage to say, I respect and revere the founder, but with all due respect, I just feel like we need to focus on the family, so to speak, that is the name of the organization, right?

Jim:
So true. It was so hard in that moment because Dr. Dobson like Chuck Colson or Billy Graham, he’s an iconic figure, beloved, and I got that. It’s interesting, when you’re doing a transition like that, I remember the first question I received and Gary was nearby as our VP of media at the time. And the first question, I think it was an AP reporter when the transition had been formally announced, we did the invocation. And then Dr. Dobson and I went to a media moment, and the reporter said, “How are you going to fill his shoes?” And I remember just thinking for a minute, and I just quickly responded, “I can’t, I can’t fill his shoes. I got to get my own pair of shoes.” And that’s true.

Jim:
And I think for those who are taking over, particularly from a founder, you’re going to have some turbulence, because you cannot do it the same way. And anything you can convey to that founder to say, I love you, I respect you, but I can’t think like you always. Some things like dress code or some of the other things, we’re going to do it differently. And I remember one of the best questions I asked, I felt Dr. Dobson, I said, you know, he said, “Just stay true to the principles.” And I think wisely I said, “Well, in your mind, what’s a principle?” And that was the question because he even responded in the context of the dress code is principle. Everything in the orbit of Focus was principle. And it can’t be, being pro-life, being pro marriage, being pro family, those are the core principles.

Warwick:
One of the things I really admire is, obviously I understand the organization’s pro-life, pro-family, pro traditional marriage. But yet from what I’ve read is you’ve tried to meet with people who have different viewpoints. Doesn’t mean that you agree but in our divided political culture people just hurl insults at each other, which I personally don’t think helps. You can disagree with somebody strongly without calling them names. Talk a bit about that because that seemed, it’s different than some, like you disagree with them but you’re willing to meet and dialogue. That’s pretty impressive.

Jim:
Absolutely. Actually, it should be the standard way that Christians go about living their lives. But unfortunately, you’re right, we get caught up into the human side of debates and conflict, and we lean into our human nature rather than God’s spiritual nature. And it’s hard. I mean, because it goes against the grain. But that’s been one of the things to reach out to the LGBTQ community, to reach out to the abortion community, to develop friendships so that we can have dialogue.

Jim:
The one thing that, well, there’s many things that I’ve learned in that context, but a couple, one, for us, as Christians, if you’re calling yourself a Christian, then there’s two great commandments that God gives us and that’s to love him with all of our heart, soul and mind, and then to love our neighbor as ourself. The great thing is, especially that I’ve recognized in the LGBTQ community, those friendships that I reached out to, they responded very beautifully. And I can tell you, those friendships are genuine, they’re deep and they’re real, and they go on today. Things are changing.

Jim:
When you sincerely show love and respect for another person, I think God has wired us in such a way that our hearts crack open to that person. We can’t resist that kind of love. And that’s why I think he said, love your neighbor. And when you do that, it’s amazing the connection that you’ll find. You don’t have to agree on everything but you can love your neighbor. God gives us that capacity, and that’s a good place to start.

Warwick:
And it breaks down the barrier of people thinking that Christians are bigoted, judgemental, holier than thou, hypocrites, that a lot of other people think. I mean, that’s not helpful to the cause of Christ or the cause of Jesus if that’s what people think. But you loving other people, being clear about your position, it’s like, gosh, this Jim guy, he seemed like a decent human being. Who knew?

Jim:
I appreciate that. One of the best compliments I received from one of these people that I reached out to, he’s the kind of guy I’d like to go have a beer with. I thought to myself, that’s probably something they may have said of the Lord. He hung out with that crowd. He seemed to be comfortable with them. When you said that, I mean, here’s a point for the Christian community listening, if the fruit of the Spirit is not present in our lives, there’s a problem because the Lord said, they’re going to know you and they’ll know me through the fruit, my fruit that they see in you.

Jim:
So if you don’t have it, I would go back around and ask the Lord to make sure that his fruit, and this is love, joy, goodness, kindness, mercy, self-control, patience. If you don’t possess those things, it’s not a restaurant menu that you get to choose from. These things should be in your life and growing as a Christian. We can’t expect the world to operate from those principles.

Jim:
Funny story quickly. I had lunch with David Horowitz, the former communist, he wrote a book called, How the Left is Trying to Kill Christianity, something like that. We’re at lunch and he goes, “Jim, Jim, don’t you realize that you Christians you’re in an alley fight and the other side has switchblades.” I said, “David, we’re not that stupid. We know they’re armed. The problem is we have to bring into the alley fight love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, mercy. Not the best implements in an alley fight, but they are God’s tools.”

Warwick:
And think of Jesus, he’s in the garden, and Peter’s trying to get out the sword. And what does Jesus say? Okay, let’s go for it. No. Put down your sword, that’s not the way of Jesus.

Gary:
In the time that we have left, Jim, I want to make sure that you get a chance to talk about this, talk about a life of significance. One of the things that Focus on the Family’s doing this summer, Alive 2020. Tell our listeners a little bit about what that is just so they …

Jim:
Again, it’s something thankfully Focus has always been doing and that’s to help in the pro-life movement. And we started probably 15 years ago now, maybe a little longer, something called Option Ultrasound. And that was to place ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource clinics around the country. There’s a lot to that. We had to get them medically ready, we had to work with them, etc. But we’ve had over 800 machines placed in these locations, which has resulted in about I think now we’re at 459,000 babies saved. So these are women that have walked into the clinic, basically said, I’m abortion-minded, they see the ultrasound of their baby, they walk out saying, I’m going to keep the baby or let the baby be adopted. So that’s a great victory for what we believe.

Jim:
So in New York, New York had gone so liberal on these laws and Governor Cuomo had signed into law basically that an abortion was doable up until the birth canal. And boy, just the energy of that, the negative energy, high fiving each other in the state legislature when that was passed, etc, it was repulsive. Even if you can pass it, do it with a heavy heart because you’re taking innocent human life. So that led us to do Alive from New York, and yes, I was sitting in my office I thought we need to call it Alive from New York. First, my general counsel, my lawyer’s saying, “You can’t do that.” He said, “Well, let’s wait till we get the letter.” The letter never came. My response in my mind was going to be, hey, I thought you guys were comedians. This is funny. But it never came.

Jim:
And so we did it, we had about 20,000 people in Times Square. We did a late third trimester ultrasound of Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood clinic director, who was pregnant at the time, eight months, and her baby Fulton was kicking away. And so, we did the live ultrasound along with great music and everything. We had about 400 protesters there and I just remember the first three speakers were African American Alveda King, Christina Bennett, and Benjamin Watson who played NFL football 15 years, just ended his career with the Patriots. I remember, one of them got up and said, “Hey, more black babies were killed in New York City last year than were born.” And I remember, the Black Lives Matters people, they looked at each other, threw their signs down, their protest signs and joined our group. And that was awesome. That was probably one of the greatest victories of the day.

Jim:
But when that ultrasound came on, the protesters, their signs came down, their jaws hung open, they could hear the heartbeat. Probably the first time in their life they’ve actually seen an ultrasound and heard the heartbeat. And they simply walked away, they just walked away. And so we’re coming back May 9, a simulcast of five cities, LA, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, to celebrate life, to show people the baby, and to make a simple statement that these people deserve our protection. This is the greatest human rights campaign in the country. And that’s what we’re going to stand for these voiceless children.

Warwick:
Wow, that is so impressive. I remember watching that video that you talked about in New York just to see people’s faces just stop talking, stop shouting and look at the screen.

Jim:
It was an amazing moment, it fell quiet.

Warwick:
You obviously feel as we, I mean, obviously living a life of significance, doing what God is calling you to do. One of the things I always tell people is, leaders are at all levels. Few people are going to be heading up an organization as big as Focus on the Family. And it’s easy to think, well, gosh, Jim Daly is doing all this, what can I do? But to me, it’s, I don’t think God really cares whether you’re head of Focus on the Family or some neighborhood nonprofit or just helping a neighbor down the street. That’s all the same to him, not to minimize what you do. A lot of people will say, well, I might as well just pack it in because I’m never going to be Jim Daly and that kind of thing. I’m sure you have people sort of say that to you. That’s not the way God looks at it, right?

Jim:
Not at all. Not at all. I mean, for me, I can remember I went to pick Trent, my oldest son up at school one day. I think he’s a freshman, I’d already been president for five years, and he jumped in the car and he goes, “Are you the president of Focus?” I said, “Why?” And he said, “Well, my friends told me you were the president, but I told them all you just worked at Focus.” That’s how insignificant the title is because it didn’t matter to me. And I said, “Yeah, I’m the president, but it doesn’t matter.” Probably the best parental lesson I ever gave my sons was in that moment.

Jim:
And I would say, wake up every day to try to do your best in whatever you’re doing. Don’t let the ball and chain of your past bog you down. It shouldn’t, it doesn’t have to. Don’t live with that crap that took you down. And if you stay there, you’re in bondage. I’m telling you from a Christian perspective, that’s what life in Christ is all about, is freeing you from that. I meet so many people that were wounded in ways worse than me and maybe not as bad as me. But they’re stuck there. And I’m telling you, that is not the place to spend your one lifetime stuck in that kind of emotional bondage. Cut it loose, don’t hold it against your father, your mother, your sibling, whatever happened to you. It was probably very painful, but I’m telling you, it doesn’t work to live back there in the past. Cut it loose, live every day and do well and you’ll be blessed.

Warwick:
That’s probably a final message. I know one of Gary’s phrase is time to land the plane, and certainly that. But what you said about forgiveness, certainly something I’ve had to learn just, certainly I’ve had my collection of people I needed to forgive as well as myself. You can’t move on and be whole unless you forgive. And you’ve had a lot of people that would require a lot of soul work to forgive. Biological father, foster parents, stepdad. But you obviously must have because you couldn’t be doing what you’re doing if you hadn’t. A huge lesson for everybody. Doesn’t mean that what they did is right, but for your own sanity and your own emotional well being, you got to be able to forgive. And so you’ve done that, which is such a blessing. So Gary, over to you.

Gary:
Yes. Thank you, Jim Daly, for spending time with us. Thank you, listener, for spending time with us. It’s kind of fun for me to be talking to my old boss and my current boss at the same time. I get the last word which is fabulous. If you’ve heard anything in this podcast, listener, that you want to learn more about, you can visit us at crucibleleadership.com. We also have a favor to ask of you, if you found this enlightening, to help us get the message out to more people. And that is, on the app you’re listening to this podcast on now, click subscribe. That will make sure that you don’t miss any episodes and that you will help us share this with other people who’ve gone through crucibles and need to find the hope that Jim and Warwick talked about here today.

Gary:
So until we’re together the next time, remember, the crucible experiences as we’ve discussed here can be painful. They can change your life, they can be difficult, but they are far, far, far from the end of your story. In fact, they can be the beginning, if you learn the lessons of them, if you apply the lessons of them, they can be the beginning of a new chapter in your story that can be the best chapter of all because it leads to a life of significance.

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