Interview With Jim Daly of “Focus on the Family” (Sep-Dec 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Greg Taylor
September – December, 2007

Jim Daly is President and Chief Executive Officer of Focus on the Family. Greg Taylor spoke to Daly about his early family experiences, how those shaped him and gave him the vision to make some changes at Focus on the Family.

So what do you do differently from Dr. Dobson?
I tend to be more focused on programs Focus can get involved in at the community level: helping with the plight of orphans, connecting churches who can help. The church is in a unique position to express love to these kids who have no one. So we’re attempting to raise awareness, adopt, foster, mentor—some of these new programs are a direct result of passion I bring to the role. Dr. Dobson said, “Gosh, I should have thought of that years ago.”

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.

What else does Focus do?

Radio is still a big focus. There are lots of programs at the grass roots level. We’re helping to place ultrasounds in pregnancy clinics. We’re becoming not only a Christian media organization but an action-oriented agency. I’ve sat in a lot of meetings with Dr. Dobson and with Democrats and Republicans—not typically together! (laughs) But one thing Democrats have talked about is they say, “We care about pro-life, we’re not able to talk about it. One Democratic senator said, “I’m pro-life but it’s my personal view and the base wouldn’t allow me to say that.”

Are you going to engage in dialogue with Christians who feel much differently from you politically or about homosexuality?

My perspective is that it’s always good to have dialog and have different groups. Fundamentally, always good to disagree. People are going to have different perspectives on culture and biblical truth. The problem we face is unrelenting criticism. Dr. Dobson is incredibly respectful. I’ve never heard him say anything derogatory about homosexuals; he doesn’t believe the agenda is a good healthy agenda culturally. From the politically correct movement we take a lot of blows to the chin.

Dr. Dobson would say, “I really don’t care about the party. I would hope both parties would adopt pro-life, pro-family.” I will continue that tradition to be engaged in public square. Dr. Dobson gets frustrated when we talk about him being political when instead these are moral issues and Christian tradition with Francis Schaffer and Dietrich Boehoeffer. America is becoming like a big alcholic home. You can’t talk about anything serious: news, weather, and sports.

I remember watching Dr. Dobson on C-Span, talking to the host, and the questioner couldn’t even address Dr. Dobson. Dr. Dobson said to the questioner, “I respect you as human being, but I have a different opinion on this issue.”

OK, enough about Focus for now, let’s talk about your family. 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.

Finding HomeIn your book, you say 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.

How does your background shape how you operate today?

For me the disappointment of the adults around me helped me to shape a very simple theme: we let each other down. People are people. Not negatively but realism. But Psalms and Proverbs say, “Don’t put trust and hope in man.” I caught those principles early on. People don’t always do the right thing. Sin nature keeps us from keeping our promises. So obsvering that at early age, helped me relax expectations.

How did your early experiences form your relationship with God?

He’s in control, so you exhale emotionally and say “What’s next Lord?” So many years, it kept coming and got worse and worse, God had hold of my neck—can’t explain, never felt terribly depressed, but this is life, overcome, but those things kept coming to my mind as I was 8, 9,10. I can’t explain why, I’ve had friends—shackles around them—frustrates them because I want to say, “let’s get going, this is life. My life says everyone’s not wired that way; you can’t just put your past to the side and keep going.

You hit on something true—not everyone can just pick up from bad past and “just go!”

Right, we’ve had to even work through our marriage through that thing, let’s pick up ourselves and go. My wife, Jean, has experienced depression at times and she’s helped me understand that everybody can’t just keep moving, keep moving. Dr. Dobson got into help sciences because of his desire to help people. I’m the guy in his mind that he wanted to help—that’s why he did all that work at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, USC, etc. with terminally ill kids—parents would drop off kids and were emotionally distraught, and kids would reach up and say, “Are you my daddy?”

So you are still committed at Focus on the Family to helping people in families like you grew up in? Ninety-six percent of our budget goes toward nurturing families. We all have that father shaped hole—what is different is our backgrounds. Dr. Dobson and I have sat together and said, “How typical of God that he’d use both ends of the continuum.” I’m got a smile on my face thinking about it. Dr. Dobson is the expert. He’s done all the training. I’ve had to live through it.


Unedited copy from Finding Home by Jim Daly
David C. Cook Publishers 2007

Message in a Bottle
Chapter 1

There’s so much about that night I just don’t recall. If pressed for details the next day, I couldn’t tell you about the murder weapon. Was the instrument of death a shotgun or a knife? A baseball bat or a club? I don’t know. A set of brass knuckles can do real damage, as I’ve been told. I never learned what went down for certain.

My hunch? A shotgun.

The age and gender of the victim is unknown to me. I’ve always figured that the deceased hadn’t been jumped in the course of a petty theft. My best guess is that the killing was gang related. Perhaps a little payback in the decades-old turf war between the Crips and the Bloods for control of illegal drugs. Or, it might have been a clash between the Latino gang element, the Hell’s Angels, or an African-American posse in our racially-mixed neighborhood.

You’ll have to forgive me for being sketchy.

I was only eight at the time.

There are two unmistakable facts forever imprinted on my young mind: the yellow chalk line scratched onto the pavement outlining the position where the body fell in the alley. That, and the blood stain. Lot’s of it. A brownish-red calling card left behind by the victim for the rain to deal with. My memory of those two images is clear because the murder occurred maybe ten feet outside of my bedroom window . . . a real-life nightmare worse than any dream I’d ever had. And, while I never heard a gun go off, the word on the street was that a shotgun had been used. Talk about inflaming the imagination of a child – no wonder I was afraid of the dark.

We were living in Compton at the time. Yes, the Compton – that concrete jungle of southeast Los Angeles popularized by any number of rappers on MTV. Compton was, and still is, a rough place, no question about it. Drive-by shootings, crime, poverty, and vice were a way of life. Speaking of violence, for years Compton had the dubious distinction of being ranked as one of the highest crime cities in all of California.

And now we called Compton home.

On the one hand, I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover our apartment had served as the backdrop for a homicide, given the grave reputation of the city. And yet, let’s just say it was a bit much for me, as a child, to process. I mean, the wall separating me from that savage deed was a mere four inches thick. I wondered how often this sort of thing happened in my new neighborhood. What if a more powerful gun was used the next time? The slug could easily penetrate the thin layer of white stucco, make mincemeat of the flimsy drywall, and plow into my chest while I was sleeping.

Suddenly, my ground floor bedroom, tucked out-of-view at the back of a two-story apartment complex and adjacent to a dark alley, made me feel exposed.

Vulnerable.

Defenseless.

My stepfather Hank and my mom, Jan Daly, moved the family from the rolling hills of Yucca Valley, California to the gritty streets of Compton–to save a little money. Hey, I was a kid so my vote didn’t count. I knew their goal was to eventually make the serene ocean side community of Long Beach, California our home one day. But that came at a price I wasn’t sure we ought to pay. As a result of our move to the city, the wail of sirens often replaced the song of birds as the soundtrack for our neighborhood.

Not only was Compton a dangerous place, it was noisy. Not a happy “noisy” like that produced by the Merry-Go-Round at a carnival, where smiling tykes, munching cotton candy, lobbied dad for just one more ride – pleeeease! It was more of an unsettling “noisy” on par with the shrieks echoing from inside the haunted house ride – only life in Compton was no funhouse.

Whether white, black, Hispanic, or whatever, our neighbors had this thing about hollering and screaming and slamming doors day and night. The constant blare of TVs throughout the complex, perhaps taking a cue from their human counterparts, battled it out with each other at near-full volume. As evening rolled around, the banging of pots and pans signaled someone in the next door apartment unit decided to cook dinner. The pandemonium was accented by crying babies, barking dogs or kids playing stickball in the street.

Or someone picking a fight.

On some nights, the constant noise was accompanied by an urgent spray of red emergency lights splashing bursts of hot color against my window pane; on occasion the eerie light show involved hues of police blue or fiery yellow pulses depending on the rescue service which had been deployed. Case in point.

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
We had moved to Compton in the mid-Spring of 1970. After the incident with the murder adjacent to our apartment, I wanted to spend as little time there as was possible – getting some distance from the scene of the crime was probably good medicine. You know, out of sight, out of mind. Playing outdoors with the neighbor kids quickly became my priority and, it turned out, I held the keys to unlocking new friendships: a baseball bat and ball. These tools of the trade were hard to come by in the neighborhood, making me an instant hit on the block.

The apartment complex was your basic inner city arrangement of two-story buildings facing each other with an asphalt courtyard in the middle. Naturally, we had to be careful where we hit the ball since we were surrounded by windows. After school we’d play baseball well into the evening, most nights until the streetlight wasn’t bright enough for our purposes.

One day a grownup wandered into our game. While I had seen him before since he sort of looked out for the kids in our corner of the zoo, I didn’t know his name. He wore faded blue jeans and ankle-high brown work boots. His well-tanned, muscular arms protruded from a black sleeveless tee shirt. Turned out he was the Dad of one of the kids, a construction worker by trade, evidently home early from the jobsite – or out of work. Didn’t matter. It was kind of cool to have an adult getting involved with us.

I was at bat when, on the far side of the courtyard, the manager of the apartment complex strolled across the hot asphalt and announced his desire to get into the action, too. This was uncharacteristic on his part, as I’d later learn. For all I knew, he was sincere in his interest to join the game.

He even had a mitt.

Not to mention that with two adults there’d be one for each team. Seemed to me like we were about to have our best game yet. Walking towards the makeshift pitcher’s mound, the manager kept saying things like, “Here, kid, toss me the ball . . . I’d like to play with you guys . . . You know something? I’m a pretty good pitcher.”

How was I to know that his real agenda was to take the ball away from us? As I’d discover later, the apartment manager didn’t like kids playing ball in the quad and was determined to put an end to our sport. It didn’t take but a second for the construction worker Dad to figure out what was really going on. Like a volcano about to spew, he started getting worked up that the manager was trying to “rip us off” and that he’d “just have to teach him a lesson” – only he used rapid-fire profanity to punctuate his growing rage.

Before I knew what was happening, this hothead erupted. He marched over to me, snatched the bat out from my hands, turned, and headed right at the manager wielding the Louisville Slugger as if it were a machete. I was horrified as I watched the bat swinging through the air. We were about forty feet away as the bully Dad confronted the manager with a barrage of expletives.

I’m thinking, “No way! He’s not gonna hit the guy, is he?” Here I was, an inner city novice after spending second grade in small town USA. Yucca Valley was a quiet community where people never locked their doors. Now in Compton, I was completely unprepared for the confrontation unfolding before my eyes. Surely they wouldn’t come to blows. What if the manager was carrying a gun? Would there be more yellow tape and blood by the time this was over? Should I get help? Who would I ask, anyway? Mom and my stepfather were both at work.

Now what? Should I run? Hide?

Pretend I didn’t see?

Paralyzed with fear, I froze at the plate.

There are some things no kid should see. The sheer inhumanity of an outraged Dad unleashing his anger on another human with a bat is certainly on that list. And yet the six of us kids watched helplessly as the manager, unarmed, attempted to stave off the blow of wood against bone with just his mitt. Oblivious to the example this father was setting, he wailed away in the direction of the manager.

A moment later I heard, Whack! A dull thud echo through the courtyard as the manager dropped to the ground, doubled over, his head down between his legs. He grabbed his left wrist with the other hand. The blood started to drip into a pool between his legs; his arm was badly broken with a compound fracture.

I ran. I had to get help.

I bolted to our apartment looking for a sibling to come help the man, but nobody was home. I felt terrible. Responsible. Fearful. I mean, it was my idea to play baseball. Sure, I wasn’t the one who belted the manager, and I was just a kid who couldn’t prevent the fight. Still, I felt tremendous guilt for somehow causing such pain. I would have gladly stopped playing had I known what was going to happen.

With no one around to help and no one to talk to, I crashed onto the couch and waited for mom . . . I fought back a wave of tears.

Several hours later when my mom got home, she was not happy with me. Not in the least. Boy, did she lay into me. After all, the “weapon” was my bat. I think she thought that I had been doing something I knew was wrong – which I didn’t. I was unaware that we were not to play baseball between the buildings. Nevertheless, she insisted that I apologize to the manager. That evening when he returned from the hospital all bandaged up and with a cast on his arm, my mom ushered me to his unit and said, “I think you have something to tell Mr. So and So.”

Between my racing heart and the fear churning in my gut that I could almost taste, I’m not sure how I mustered the voice to offer an apology. But I did. The whole time I was apologizing, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the blood soaking through his cast. Sure, the confrontation could have ended differently. The manager could have died – over a silly ballgame. But to see this man in his late fifties nursing a busted arm because my bat was used to club him was almost too much for me.

To his credit, the manager was gracious and assured me it wasn’t my fault. Looking back I’d say that God used this painful page in my life to model what grace looks like.

After that incident, my mom restricted me from going out to play for a very long time. Not to mention that was the last time I played ball in Compton. In my view, none of this unsettling mayhem would have happened if dad and Mom had just stayed together.
They divorced three years before.

FATHER KNOWS BEST?
My biological dad, Richard Daly, had been engaged in an ongoing affair with alcohol, gambling and horse betting. But I’d say it was primarily the alcohol that lured him away from us. Evidently that liquid mistress was too seductive for him to resist. What made dad drink? Something terrible must have happened in his life that drove him to find constant comfort from the bottle.

Even with those painful memories, I can also recall delightful early childhood moments with him. Take Saturday mornings. Boy, was that my absolute favorite time of the week. I could smell sizzling bacon and freshly scrambled eggs and toast even before I opened my eyes. Their fragrance pulled me out from under the covers to the kitchen where Dad hovered over the skillet. A dishtowel was always draped over his right shoulder as he worked his magic. I’d walk over to his side as he arranged the steaming food on the plate with the flair of a seasoned chef. I loved standing next to him. I felt safe by his side.

At 6’5”, he was tall, fit, trim, and solid. His athletic build would have served him well had basketball been his game. I loved the way Dad would reach down, scoop me up in one arm while juggling the plate full of food in the other hand, and deliver us both safely to the table where the silverware and juice awaited. Because he worked for a furniture manufacturer, we at least always had great furniture in the house. Not wanting to leave his arms, yet with breakfast calling my empty stomach, I’d ease myself into my seat and turn my attention to the feast Dad set before me.

Having said that, there was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde side to him that I’d only learn about much later in life. I’m not talking about the drunken outbursts. Although rare, they were impossible to miss. Rather, I’m referring to his clandestine side, to the fact that my dad talked occasionally about being a runner for Chicago’s most infamous gangster, Al Capone, as a boy.

If true, that would certainly explain a lot. My dad did grow up in Chicago and worked in the furniture business. Al Capone’s business card described him as dealing in used furniture. Coincidence? Maybe. Stranger things have happened. I can’t rule out the possibility that my dad’s affinity for alcohol was an attempt to repress the memories of his past.

Furthermore, if Dad had some connection to the kingpin of the Chicago crime syndicate, that could explain why my siblings and I don’t know the first thing about our extended family. Nothing. We had Mom and Dad, of course, but that is the extent of our bonsai-sized family tree. As a kid, I never could figure out why we didn’t have any aunts or uncles, cousins, or grandparents – on either side – like all of my friends. It’s still unknown.

Everything about my parents’ past was shrouded in absolute secrecy.
We didn’t know anything about their backgrounds until years later, when, after their deaths, we discovered both Dad and Mom had three or four social security numbers. There’s even a question whether our real last name was “Daly.”

Such a bizarre collection of details pointed to just one plausible explanation: my folks might have been in a government witness protection program. At least that would explain why they moved around so much. My brother Mike, the oldest sibling, was born in Chicago. Dave was born in New Orleans. My sister Kim made her appearance in Denver. Each was born one year apart. Mom gave birth to my sister Denise and me in the Los Angeles area.

If these facts weren’t puzzling enough, I remember listening to my dad share stories about his younger days playing baseball. He told fascinating tales of the year he played with the Detroit Tigers. I can’t prove that he actually played ball with that outfit for two reasons: he’s dead, which complicates asking any follow-up questions, and there’s that lingering issue about our real last name. He was good at playing baseball, that much is true. I have tried to sort out the fact from fiction, but so far I can’t reconcile the stories.

Was it true he played ball at Tiger Stadium?

Was it his drunken imagination?

Was it nothing more than spin or his ego talking?

He did coach Little League for years and taught Mike and Dave how to play but, sadly, lost interest by the time I came around. While I’m not entirely sure where the truth about his baseball career lies, on one level it really doesn’t matter. Would it be great to know that my dad made the major leagues? Sure. That would be a significant accomplishment on his part and would give me hope that I, too, might have the genetic stuff to play in the big leagues.

Or compete in the big time.

Or at least amount to more than someone who looked in the mirror every morning with doubts that his future would be bright.

At the same time, whether or not Dad ever wore the Detroit Tigers jersey, hit .300, or managed to earn the winning homerun – none of that ultimately matters. If he never threw a ball his entire life, he was still my dad. And I miss him. I wish he were still alive to go grab a cup of coffee, shoot the breeze, and maybe find out more about the family tree.

PROMISES, PROMISES
After my parents divorced, my mother was left with the Herculean task of raising five children as a single parent. We were living in a modest rented home in Alhambra on Fifth Street. The cockroaches were bigger than breakfast, lunch or dinner! I can remember how my mom worked two and three jobs just to put food on the table. And unfortunately, there were days when we had nothing to eat.

With no milk, we’d mix Kool-Aid packs with water to pour over our cereal at breakfast. Dad was pretty much out of the picture, except when he’d stop by the house to pick up a few groceries. Mind you, he wasn’t bringing bags of food to feed his family, he sometimes came to take a few things for himself when he was down on his luck.

During one of those times, I stumbled on him taking food out the door. My unannounced appearance seemed to catch him off-guard. He masked his surprise with a broad smile and then told me how much he loved and missed me. While that was good news, my reaction was somewhat guarded. Dare I believe him? His track record as the loving, caring father wasn’t so hot–at least not of late. Sensing the distance between us, he announced that he’d be bringing me a baseball mitt for my seventh birthday which was approaching.

A real, honest-to-goodness, genuine leather glove.

For me. From my dad.

That was the best news of the year. I smiled so hard, my face hurt. He tousled the hair on my head with a strong hand, turned and then left me standing by the door with my heart hammering against my ribcage. When my best friend, Ricky came over to hang out and play, I couldn’t stop bragging that my dad was going to bring me a glove. A new leather baseball glove. Probably a Wilson special edition with a deep pocket for all of the balls I’d be catching.

It was going to be my first mitt.

Every fifteen minutes I’d run to the curb with Ricky to see if my dad was coming. I’d look down the street–both ways–and study the landscape. Squinting, we saw no sign of him in the distance. Not yet. We’d go back in the house and play. Then, I’d announce, “I’m sure he’s got to be coming now.” Off we went, darting out the front screen door with a heightened anticipation of this grand event. This went on all afternoon. As the sun started to trade places with the moon, Ricky, who lived just a block away, headed home.

“Call me when he comes,” Ricky offered with a friendly slug to my shoulder. Walking him to the curb, I managed a weak smile. I might have been seven years old, but I wasn’t entirely clueless. The evidence pointed to the fact that my dad just lied to me. At dinner, I picked at my food and asked to be excused early. My mom knew the disappointment in my heart. She tried to encourage me, but she couldn’t be a replacement of my dad.

That night I retreated to the security of my bed. I clutched the corner of my covers and pulled them into a tight knot just under my chin. Every child knows that you are invincible when hidden behind the soft folds of a thick blanket. No under-the-bed or closet-lurking monster can get you as long as those protective covers are in place.
If only they were as effective in warding off the emotional blows by your parents.

Alone in the darkness, I replayed the encounter with my Dad in the kitchen–his smile, the roughness of his hand has he ran his fingers through my hair like a rake, the sound of his voice as he promised to return with a glove, and especially the warm feeling that came over me at the thought of his gift.

At the same time I tried in vain to silence the accusing voices in my head: “He never came . . . he said he was coming . . . he promised he would bring me my first mitt . . . But he never came.”

I pulled the covers around me tighter.

Would it be too foolish to hope that Dad would come in the morning? Chalk it up to childhood innocence, but part of me longed to find some plausible explanation for the no-show on his part. Maybe he got hung up in traffic . . . could be that the store didn’t have my size mitt, right? . . . or maybe he was having it gift wrapped. Maybe. At least those reasons were way better than the alternative – that he never intended to keep his promise.

* * *

Dad never came.

Yes, I’m sad. I wish my memories of that exchange had a happy ending. I’d like to think that my Dad had a perfectly good reason why he failed to keep such a big promise to his seven-year-old son. He didn’t. Looking back, my unconditional love for him took a hard knock that day. I was no longer confident that he’d be there when I needed him.

Take something as simple as the issue of feeling safe and secure in the home, something that every kid ought to feel. It seems a dad ought to be the Defender of the Home. You know, the “go to guy” when danger lurks in the neighborhood. The guy who locks up the house at night and makes sure we’re safely tucked in bed. That’s tough to do when you don’t even live under the same roof. And, without the confidence that he’d be there for me, I lived in fear.

Especially from my clash with the Bully of Compton.

JACK THE RIPPER
I wasn’t the only white kid living in Compton, but I was certainly one of the few. Maybe that’s why Jack, another white kid in our complex, decided to make me his target. Jack was three years older than me and had the tough guy attitude down pat. From the military crew cut and dirty tee shirt, to his snarly lips, which were always blistered, the guy both looked and acted like an angry fiend. I remember he appeared to be perpetually frothing at the mouth–something must have really gone wrong with that kid. For reasons unknown, Jack derived special pleasure in bullying me.

Perhaps if we were a little closer in age, I would have found more courage to confront him. He just seemed too big, too fast, and much older than me. My bio-dad was living who-knows-where, and even if he’d been around, past experience had taught me that I couldn’t count on him. Certainly not in a pinch. My stepfather, while capable of defending the family, wasn’t making any efforts to get close to me. I didn’t feel comfortable telling him about Jack the Ripper.

Instead, I told my sister Kim.

I probably should call her “Kommander Kim.” She was one tough cookie. She knew how to stand her ground; that girl refused to take any flack from man nor beast. Although she didn’t immediately say a word after I told her about Jack, I was confident she’d handle it for me.
In her way. In her time.

Not long after I confided in Kim, Jack was chasing me home from school. We both attended Starr King Elementary School and, since he lived around the corner from me, he’d routinely use that after school trip home as an opportunity to show what a tough guy he was. I wanted nothing of it. I bolted as fast as my freckled legs could carry me. We came to the section of the apartment property where tall hedges lined one side of the sidewalk, forming a wall of thick foliage. If I slowed, Jack would be on top of me. With a busy street on one side and the hedge on the other, there was basically no escape for fifty yards until the end of the hedge.

I glanced over my shoulder. Jack was right behind me, tracking me like a heat seeking missle. With a burst of adrenaline, I managed to widen the distance between us – a measly ten yards separated my face from his fist. He wasn’t gaining ground so I was momentarily happy. I tore past a slight break in the bush and saw something out of the corner of my eye – but what? Seconds later, it dawned on me. That blur was my sister.

As I sucked in gallons of air to cool my burning lungs, my shins about to split on the spot, Kim stepped through the hedge and popped him a good one. He never saw the punch coming. While he tried to find his legs, Kim towered over him and yelled, “Never mess with my little brother! Got that?” That was the last time I had to deal with a Jack attack.

Kim is tough, tough as nails.

Frankly, it felt really good to have someone looking out for me. Normally, that person would have been my dad, except he wasn’t in the picture. Keep in mind I’m not saying a man ought to use force to stop the taunts of a bully. Typically, a dad would talk to the bully’s parents. I’ll let you make your own mind up about that. However, I know I would have taken great comfort if I could have gone to my dad and had the assurance that he was in my corner; that he’d have gone to bat for me in a heartbeat.New Wineskins

Jim DalyJim Daly joined the Focus on the Family staff in March 1989, accepting the position of Assistant to the President in the ministry’s Public Affairs division. After a number of promotions, he was given his most recent assignment in February 2005 to the role of President and CEO. In September 2007, Daly’s autobiography, Finding Home: An Imperfect Path to Faith and Family, was released.

Daly is a graduate of California State University, San Bernardino, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration in 1984. In 1997, Daly completed his MBA in International Business at Regis University.

Daly was born in 1961 and has been married to his wife, Jean, since 1986. They have two sons. The Daly family resides in Colorado Springs.

categoria commentoNo Comments dataJanuary 27th, 2014
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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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