- "Coach Paul Moro made the difference in my life. It wasn’t my dad. It wasn’t my stepdad. It wasn’t even my foster dad. They had all failed." Tweet This
- "Having been a child in the foster-care system, I came into this role keenly aware of the opportunities and the need to give love-starved children a chance at growing up in a stable home." Tweet This
- "The local church has an extraordinary opportunity to champion the benefits of marriage." Tweet This
Jim Daly’s life should have turned out very differently. The list of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) the Focus on the Family president suffered include parental divorce, poverty, an alcoholic father, his mother’s death, abandonment by both his biological father and later a stepfather, homelessness, and a dangerous foster care home. He probably should have ended up alone, incarcerated, addicted to alcohol or drugs—or worse. And yet today, he heads up a successful Christian ministry, has been happily married to the same woman for over 30 years, and is the proud and present father of two boys. We often hear that “children are resilient.” But children, like Daly, who experience multiple ACEs are at higher risk for poor mental, physical, and emotional health, relationship troubles, suicide, criminal activity, and even early death. What’s worse, they can repeat the dangerous behaviors they witnessed as children in adulthood, increasing the chances that the cycle will continue in the lives of their own children. However, no child is doomed to repeat the past, and there are countless examples of adults who have overcome difficult childhoods to build stable and successful lives. The resilience necessary to do so can depend, at least in part, on the supportive adults in a child's life. Indeed, Daly credits a few good men with changing the trajectory of his life by introducing him to the fatherhood of God. I spoke with him about the factors that helped him build the stable life he enjoys today and the role of the church in strengthening family life.
Alysse ElHage: Your childhood was filled with significant loss, almost constant disappointment, and abandonment by most of the men in your life. As I listened to you share your story in the “Show Me the Father” documentary, I kept thinking, ‘when are things going to get better for this little boy?’ but they only seemed to get worse for a long time...
Jim Daly: I’m an example of someone who moved out of their pain and into a related passion. At first, it seemed I was an unlikely person to lead a Christian family ministry. But God had a plan. Yes, my childhood was difficult. There is no sugar coating it. Even my stepdad, Hank, abandoned me on the day of my mother’s funeral. But over time, I was able to bring my broken situation to the Lord. He has been the very best father to me. I’m an imperfect husband and dad, but I’ve been able to operate out of my deficit. I was able to see what my father didn’t do for me and what he didn’t give my mom—and I have been very deliberate to do my best to provide the things I missed for my wife and sons.
ElHage: Often, individuals who grow up in traumatic childhoods and become successful adults have at least one person who stepped in to pull them off the dangerous path they were on. There were several good men in your life over the years, including your high school coach. How important were these men to your ability to be successful today both in your personal and professional life?
Daly: My life has been influenced by many people, but non greater than my football coach, Paul Moro. “Coach Mo” as we called him, was a great football coach—but he was so much more. He believed in me long before I believed in myself. I believe God introduced me to him for reasons far more important than the gridiron. In fact, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to suggest that the Lord used Coach Mo in a way that changed the trajectory of my life.
Paul and Joyce Moro started to ask me to come over for dinner on a regular basis. He took a real interest in me as a person. He and Joyce paid for me to go to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp at Point Loma University. I accepted Christ there. He made the difference in my life. It wasn’t my dad. It wasn’t my stepdad. It wasn’t even my foster dad. They had all failed. No, it was this football coach my sophomore year who called me out to be a man. Not just an ordinary man, but a man of character. He taught us about character and the author of character, Jesus Christ.
ElHage: You spent some time in foster care with a truly dysfunctional family, and it had a tremendous impact on your life. Tell us about the ministry you founded in response to your experience, Wait No More.
Daly: Having been a child in the foster-care system, I came into this role keenly aware of the opportunities and the need to give love-starved children a chance at growing up in a stable home. Our Wait No More program is designed to help motivate the Church and congregations to step up and follow the biblical command to care for orphans. There are over 300,000 churches in the United States—and over 400,000 children in the foster care system and over 100,000 of them waiting and available to be adopted. If Christians would step forward, we could wipe out the foster care roles in very short order.
ElHage: A lot of us who have grown up in broken families often flounder a bit in knowing how to have the healthy marriage and family we did not see as kids, so we search for role models and reach out for help to do that. You’ve been married to your wife Jean for almost 40 years, I believe. How did you build a lasting marriage despite the odds?
Daly: Jean and I met at a mutual friend’s wedding. We’ll be married 36 years this August. We were young, idealistic, and not only in love with one another, but we were also both in love with the Lord. Our love has only grown deeper over the years. Like any couple, we’ve had our seasons of challenge, but we’re committed to one another. She’s been a great gift to me. We read the Bible together and we pray together. Raising our sons together has been the privilege of our lives. I’m looking forward to growing old together and cannot imagine life without her.
ElHage: Our culture is plagued by marital breakdown and the isolation, division, and despair that results, with a growing number of young people rejecting marriage and children altogether, perhaps out of fear that a healthy family life is out of their reach. What would you say is the most important thing local churches should be communicating to young men and women about forming and sustaining a strong marriage and raising healthy families?
Daly: The local church has an extraordinary opportunity to champion the benefits of marriage for Christian believers. A good church celebrates and encourages couples to marry because the Bible has a lot to say about these special relationships—specifically that God invented and blessed it as an institution. At the same time, we don’t want to make an idol out of marriage, although many will eventually marry. Much of the character of God is learned in marriage, like selflessness and becoming more like Christ.
But let’s be clear: getting married, having children, and providing for a family is a lot of work. It’s even inconvenient. It’s a lot “easier” to do your own thing and focus on your own desires. But over time, the evidence indicates the benefits associated with such independence are often short-sighted—and short-lived. The “carefree” lifestyle may pay a quick dividend, but over the long haul, studies show people regret not investing in their marriage or having children. It’s a timeless joke that you should have children so you’ll have someone to care for you when you’re old, but companionship has its advantages at every stage and season of life, especially in the later years.
Older couples can and should come alongside younger couples. We should pray the Lord will impress upon the rising generation the benefits and blessings of marriage and family.