Jim Daly, who replaced James Dobson as president of Focus on the Family in 2005, has some good words of encouragement for fathers in his new book The Good Dad: Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be. Some men who write books about fatherhood draw on their own father's examples, or on examples from their own lives. When Daly talks about being a good dad, he tells plenty of stories on himself, setting an example as well as, in humility, talking about his failures. But when he speaks of his own dad, step-dad, and foster dad, most of the stories fall on the failure side. He writes "to encourage you to become the kind of father I never had."
Encouraging is the right word for The Good Dad. Daly's history and the failures of his father figures gives him a heightened sensitivity to father failures. But, he writes, "God really is a great example of what a father should be. And if our own fathers failed us, we shouldn't let those failures obscure the model of our ultimate Abba father." This is a chief concern of The Good Dad, reminding readers that even if our fathers let us down, and even when we let down our own children, we have access to a perfect heavenly father.
Daly's tone throughout is humble, honest, and realistic. He acknowledges that fatherhood can be a challenge: "Spending time with kids, particularly very young kids, can feel like work. It doesn't necessarily come naturally." He reminds fathers that "We're called to sacrifice for our families." The sacrifices we make may, in rare cases, mean laying down our lives, but fatherhood is mostly about the small sacrifices, the small promises, to play a game or help with homework. "'I'll die for you,' we tell our children. 'That's great,' they answer back, 'but can I just spend time with you?'"
Daly is a worthy successor to Dobson, and The Good Dad fits with the historical mission of Focus on the Family. But as I recall from my reading of Dobson's books, Daly's style is much different. Daly is less prescriptive, more relational, less directive, more experiential. He writes, "Being a father isn't something we do. It's something we are." There is a place for rules, he says, but only to the extent that they help our children learn and grow. And discipline must not be overdone; "you don't want to become so egregious in your discipline that your kids find it had to love you anymore."
Daly boils down his principles of fatherhood to leading children to "a rock-solid commitment to Christ," "a sense of integrity," and "kindness and courtesy, how to treat people well--and why." If I can accomplish passing those principles to my children, I will feel pretty great about my role as a father. I am blessed to have a father who modeled those principles for me. (How well I have followed his example, I'm not so sure. . . .). Whether you had a perfect dad, a terrible dad, or no dad, and whether you feel like you have fatherhood mastered or need a lot of work, The Good Dad is a healthy reminder and a straightforward challenge to look to our heavenly father, and to be the father you were meant to be.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!