Being a Hero to Your Family
About the Guest
Do you realize that fatherhood is your profession? Family First President, Mark Merrill, helps men think more biblically about being dads. Merrill, a father of five, touches on some of the essentials a father needs to be a hero to his kids, like loving your children unconditionally.
Mark MerrillMark Merrill is the founder and president of Family First, a widely respected national non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening the family. Family First promotes principles for building marriages and raising children through three successful programs.
Do you realize that fatherhood is your profession?
Being a Hero to Your Family
Bob: Every dad is a family coach. A good coach knows he needs to listen to a little coaching himself from time to time—coaching from his wife. That’s a lesson that All Pro Dad®, Mark Merrill, has learned.
Mark: I would have rather have just a wife that agreed with everything I said and did everything I said, but I know that that wouldn’t end up being what’s best for our relationship and best for our family. So, I did listen to her; and it hurts. It hurts to hear those things; but again, she’s earned the right to say those things to me. She’s earned my trust. So, I’m going to listen to her when she says those kinds of things to me.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 7th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. It takes a good husband-wife team for a dad to become an All Pro Dad. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about fatherhood as a profession—something you do professionally. Maybe that’s because I’ve felt like such an amateur! [Laughter]
Dennis: You’re not being paid to do it—so you figure you’re a volunteer; right?
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: Yes, there are a lot of guys that can identify with that, but we’ve got a guy here with us—a friend, Mark Merrill, who joins us on FamilyLife Today, whose mission is really all about helping men think—well, more biblically, more accurately, about what it means to be a dad. Mark, welcome to the broadcast.
Mark: Dennis, Bob, it’s awesome to be with you guys. Having known you for many years, this is my first time in the studio. So, thank you for having me.
Bob: Good to have you here, yes.
Dennis: It’s great to have you. Mark is the founder and president of Family First®. He and his wife Susan live in Tampa, Florida, along—well, I guess you don’t have five children at home anymore; but at one point, you had five teenagers.
Mark: That’s right.
Dennis: I only had four at one time, and the total number of miles on the vehicles we had was 760,000 miles or something.
Mark: It’s amazing.
Dennis: I mean, the insurance agent would show up at our house just weeping. He’d just be weeping. “Would you write me another check please? You’re going to have wrecks.”
Mark: Those insurance companies love us. I mean, I have—actually, now, they are ages 16 to 22. We have five kids—three of them biological, two we brought in imported from Russia a number of years ago when they were ages 12 and nine.
Dennis: Wow. I hope to find out more about that. Explain to our listeners what Family First is and how All Pro Dad, and this book you’ve written, are a part of what you’re doing.
Mark: Family First is a national, non-profit organization established in 1991. So, we’re just about 21 years old, if I’m doing my math right. We have three programs. One is called All Pro Dad—that we’re going to talk about a little bit more today. We have iMOM®, which is a program for mothers, and then, the Family Minute® daily radio feature, which is heard on about 350 mostly mainstream stations, actually, across the country.
Dennis: All Pro Dad, of course, is a division of Family First.
Dennis: You’ve got a simulcast that is coming up in August. Share with our listeners who might want to be a part of that.
Mark: Yes, we have a really neat simulcast that will be simulcast to hundreds of churches, all across the country. We’re doing it in conjunction with LifeWay®. Tony Dungy is going to be a key component of that, and we’ll have other NFL® players and coaches. We’ll be doing that from the Indianapolis Colts® facility. We are really fired up about that. I think it’s going to be a neat thing that will impact a lot of dads and their kids. So, it’s not just for dads. It’s an interactive simulcast where dads and kids will all be participating.
Bob: So, are there football drills involved? Are there going to be passing routes run or what?
Mark: Oh, yes. We are going to do a lot of drills; but at the same time, we are going to teach them biblically-based life lessons that they can actually implement in their homes.
Bob: Well, we’ve got a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com if folks want to find out more about the simulcast event and what’s going on with All Pro Dad.
Dennis: This book that you’ve written, All Pro Dad: Seven Essentials to Be a Hero to Your Kids, really came out of a deficit in your life, with your father.
Mark: Yes, I’ll tell you. My dad is this incredible guy. I really think he could have been President of the United States. That’s the way I look at him. I love him. We have an incredible relationship and actually, always have.
However, ever since I can remember, he was an alcoholic. Anyone with alcoholism in their family’s life knows that that can cause a lot of pain, not only to the individual but also the family, as well. Also, what comes out of it is—as you guys very well know—there are a lot of lies and deception associated—
Mark: —with that alcoholism. So, it’s very, very important for us to understand that and realize that out of that pain in our lives can come an incredible passion—a passion that we can pour out into the lives of other people. So, what that did for me, Dennis and Bob, is that pain caused me to really be a man who cares about truth, who cares about ultimate truth. So, really, I see my role, in our culture today, as being a truth warrior—spreading the word about truth for marriages—as you guys do—truth for parenting and truth for life.
Dennis: What did your dad lie about?
Mark: Oh, there was—it was constant—things going on in our home. Lying about drinking, about smoking, about where he was, what he was doing. It was an ongoing thing and very challenging.
Dennis: You couldn’t trust him, then?
Mark: Yes, it was a trust factor. So, I found in my life, Dennis—that I’ve had to learn how to really trust people. It’s a struggle even today about really, really trusting in people, ultimately.
Now, having said that, I always want to make sure I strive to honor my mom and my dad, even through all of this. Like I said, he and I have this incredible relationship. So, it’s this love relationship that we’ve had all these years that has been a great blessing to me; but that also doesn’t do away with the pain we experience. Again, we can sit here and talk about how we’re victims of what occurred in our lives; or we can take that pain and move it into a passion—a passion to love and lead other people.
Bob: The fact that you’re transparent about your dad’s alcoholism in your book would be an indication that there’s been a lot of healing take place over the years and a turning point for him, where he’s turned away from what was his pattern of the past?
Mark: Yes. It’s really neat to see what’s occurred in his life, and he is doing very well now. He’s 82 years old. He and I just went swimming, and went into the Jacuzzi just a couple of weeks ago, and spent a lot of time together.
Even during those years, we spent time together. I mean, he was a really amazing philosophical, deep guy who I spent a lot of time with, just talking to and talking about very important things of life; but he had this struggle—he had this addiction and this real challenge that caused a lot of pain and difficulty in his life and in our family’s life.
Dennis: You write throughout the book how Susan is kind of the truth teller in your relationship. In fact, I was going, “Man, Susan is—she’s a tough cookie.” I mean, I’m not the only one married to a strong, strong woman; but she doesn’t mind correcting you and doesn’t mind pointing out things that you’re doing with your kids, or with her, that are really not according to the Scriptures.
Share with women how she’s earned the right to be able to speak that truth into your life because I imagine right now we have some men who can identify with your background and some women who are married to men who grew up in a background like that. Those women are going, “How do I relate to my husband who came out of this alcoholic background?”
Mark: I really do think it boils down to the word, “love”. Now, we can think of this word, love, as being something trite and, “Oh, that sounds great, but how do I apply that to my life?” Really, love, as Christ demonstrates that unfailing love to us, is really strong; and it’s courageous. It’s doing what’s best for the other person, no matter what it costs me personally. It’s all about giving selflessly and sacrificially to the other person.
So, how that applies in our lives, and in my wife’s life and relationship to me, is that she loves me. I know that she wants what’s best for me and what’s best for our family. She has earned the right to speak that truth into my life. So, if I am running over her or doing something I shouldn’t be doing, she has earned the right to just speak it bluntly into my life.
I think anybody who is a guy like me, who is that Type-A personality—you could run over your wife. If that wife isn’t careful, she can just sit down and take it; but fortunately, she stood up.
Dennis: You tell a story, early in your book, about how she came to you about your relationship with your son, Marky, and how she really watched you relate to him and how you were showing disapproval and correcting him. Share that story with our listeners.
Mark: Yes. Dennis, in my walk to be an All Pro Dad—I’m always striving an All Pro Dad, but I’m never really arriving. All my life, I’ve really studied this stuff and learned about it; and I’ve done my very best to really implement it. So, my words were conveying to him, “Hey, Marky, I love you, no matter what. I love you unconditionally;” but when he would say things or do things, my look and my tone of voice would demonstrate disapproval to him, rather than approval.
So, we need to show our love unconditionally to our kids—that we love them no matter what—not only with our words but also with our behavior, our tone of voice, and our actions.
Dennis: And Susan pointed that out to you.
Mark: She pointed that out, and she is excellent at pointing these kind of things out to me. Dennis, I know you’ve had that blessing of—from the” junior” Holy Spirit, as well.
Bob: Well, I’m just curious. The first time your wife kind of steps up and confronts you on something—that can be a little threatening—can cause a guy to get angry or to pull back. How did you respond when she started speaking truth to you?
Mark: Well, I think, Bob, that one thing that we can do—our reaction can be one of two or three things. It can be either a very defensive posture, where we say, “Look, don’t talk to me that way. I’m not going to listen to what you have to say;” or it can be—again, “She’s earned the right to say those things to me. She’s earned my trust. So, I’m going to listen to her when she says those kinds of things to me.”
Dennis: You scooted by a word that you used to describe Susan, and you said she was courageous. We, generally, don’t think of love being courageous; but it really is. I think wives need to realize your words can really build up your husband. You can say these things to your husband as long as he knows—what you said Susan did, which is, “She believes in me. She loves me unconditionally. I know she’s looking out for my best interest.”
Bob: Well, it’s important for a wife to do that with an attitude of respect, with an attitude of—
Bob: —honor for her husband. Otherwise, she’s just nagging him; but if he knows, “She’s on my team. She really does love me,” then, he can hear that a whole lot better than if he just feels like he’s getting pummeled by her—
Bob: —all the time.
Mark: If she has consistently made those deposits into his account and really shown him that love in his life, then, she will have earned the right to say those things and do those things as it relates to her husband.
Bob: Mark, I’m just curious about when family and fatherhood, in particular, came on the screen for you as your life’s mission because you could have gone in a lot of different directions; but at some point, you said, “This is what I’m going to invest my life in.” How did that happen?
Mark: Well, it was kind of neat. I really had a passion for family a lot of my life because, even through those challenging years, my mom and dad always talked about the importance of family. My mom and dad stayed together—are still married, even after all those years. Their marriage is still challenging, but they’ve stuck it out. They’ve stayed together for well over half a century, and that’s an amazing thing. They taught me that.
I realized that family is, ultimately, the most important thing, other than our relationship with Christ. That’s how God uses the family to carry on our faith, in many ways, from generation to generation. So, the neat the thing that occurred in my life is right before Susan and I got married. We had been seriously dating. I knew family was important; and she did, too.
One thing that she said to me—she said, “Hey, Mark, before we get more serious, let’s do this weekend conference.” It was with a couple of our friends. I was like, “Alright.” She had already earned that trust in my life. It was like, “Okay, I don’t know what this is, but I’m willing to go. Sure, sounds good.”
We flew up to Atlanta, and we went for this incredible weekend. This guy named Dennis Rainey and another guy named Crawford Loritts were in this big hotel, and they were doing this Weekend to Remember®—
Dennis: You stumbled in as a single guy, not even engaged?!
Mark: I’m a single guy! I walk in and all of a sudden—it may have been you Dennis—“Everybody raise their hand—who is married.” Of course, 95 percent to 99 percent of the people in the audience raised their hand. “Okay, who else is just engaged?” You know the rest of the people raised their hands. Then, there’s me and maybe a couple of other people—
Dennis: —and Susan, by the way.
Mark: Who else?! And Susan. Yes. [Laughter] And Susan, by the way. We raise our hands. I’m looking around; and I’m going, “Okay, I get it. Here’s what we’re doing.”
Dennis: You married an aggressive woman; didn’t you?
Mark: Hey, it was an incredible weekend, though.
Dennis: She calf-roped you into going to a marriage conference—
Dennis: —as a single.
Mark: Hey, and I even went to a couple of those same weekends after that time. So, that’s how impressive it was.
Dennis: I want to know when you moved from being a victim to being responsible. It’s interesting how God turns our wounds of the past into what my friend, Dan Gerald, calls, “holy scars.” You know they heal, but there is still a wound. You can’t dismiss the wound of what your father did. When did you do that?
Mark: Let me say it like this—I have to tell you, Dennis and Bob, I really never saw myself as a victim. I saw this as a war—that we’re in this serious battle—even at a young age, I realized it.
My dad’s dad was an alcoholic. He died when my dad was only nine years old. So, my dad was rudderless in many ways, in terms of his father. A lot of these things relating to fathers and fatherhood, as you know, are generational. They’re cyclical until someone decides they are going to stand up, they are going to be courageous, they’re going to stand strong, by the grace of God, and they’re going to do something about it to change that cycle.
I saw it as, “This is something that God is doing in my life”—and that doesn’t take away from—that there were wounds. There are scars there; but I said, “You know what? I’m going to do something about this. This is no longer going to be a part of our family generation.”
Bob: Was that conviction something that was born in you, even before you got married? I mean, did you head into marriage thinking, “We’re going to make this different than the background I grew up in”?
Mark: Yes, it was very important to me, not only to break that cycle of alcoholism, but also to break that cycle of not having a mom and dad who were really intimately in love and had an incredible marriage—that was very important to me, as well.
Bob: Working on the same page, yes.
Mark: My wife, also—she came from a family where her parents were divorced when she was in college. So, she—we both had to work through those challenges in our lives.
Bob: Then, at what point did it move from being a personal conviction to something that you said, “I’m going to make this the mission of my life”?
Mark: Bob and Dennis, I really don’t know when that occurred exactly; but I kind of felt God’s prompting in the late 80’s—actually, around the time when we had gone to your marriage conference. I was kind of—there was a spark in me.
Actually, I remember, even at that marriage conference, going in afterwards, into a room where they were talking to people about possibly being involved as missionaries for FamilyLife. My wife and I went there and talked to some people about it. I kind of felt this prompting that there is more for us than just what I was doing. At the time, I was practicing law. Of course, now, I’m a recovering attorney. I was doing real estate law at the time but realized that there was going to be some changes in my life.
Dennis: So, you actually went to a staff opportunities meeting for FamilyLife and were disobedient to God.
Mark: We were disobedient to God.
Dennis: You should have been on this staff.
Mark: You know, “Father—
Dennis: You could be running this thing now.
Mark: —forgive me for my iniquity.” [Laughter]
Dennis: I hear the passion in your heart, Mark, and I’ve seen your work over the past—well, more than two decades—calling men to step up. You really want to equip men to be responsible husbands, but to be the kind of father that is engaged—is purposeful. You wrap your whole book—I really like kind of the outline of your book:
“Know Your Makeup—Who Am I?
Know Your Mindset—What’s My Purpose?
Know Your Motive—Why Do I Do What I Do?
Know Your Method—How Can I Love Others?
Know You’re a Model—What Should I Model to Others?
Know Your Message—What Do I Need to Share with Others?
Know Your Master—Who or What Am I Living for?”
There’s one last assignment I have for you. I want you to just hang around here. I want Bob to kind of share some of the details here about your book, and what’s going on with your simulcast, and something we’ve got coming, as well; but hang with me for just a second because I’ve got a unique assignment for you, here, at the end of the broadcast.
Bob: As you get ready for that assignment, let me let listeners know, first of all, that All Pro Dad has a national simulcast coming up in August with Coach Tony Dungy and NFL players. It’s designed for dads and sons. We’ve got a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to the All Pro Dad website, where you can get more information about this upcoming, national simulcast.
The same month, we are doing our Stepping UpNational Men’s Simulcast. That’s taking place Saturday, August 4th. It originates in Chicago. It’s going to be hosted by churches all around the country and, actually, around the world.
Crawford Loritts, Robert Lewis, James MacDonald, Dennis Rainey—all speaking at that event. It’s a four-hour, Saturday event designed as a kickoff event, a rally event, for men this fall. There is more information available about the Stepping Up National Men’s Simulcast on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com—just click the link you find when you get there.
There is also information about the Stepping Up video series that FamilyLife is putting together, which will be available for use this fall. You can find out more about that when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link you see; or if you need more information about either the video series or the national men’s simulcast, call 1-800-FL-TODAY—that’s 1-800-358-6329—and ask about it.
While you’re on our website, we’ve got information about Mark Merrill’s new book, All Pro Dad. You can order that from us, if you would like. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Look for the information on the book, All Pro Dad, as well as other resources available for fathers in time for Father’s Day. Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information.
Then, finally, I wanted to let you know if you don’t already have a copy of Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, we’re making that book available, this month, to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation.
Your financial support makes this daily radio program possible. You keep us on the air, not only on this station, but on our website 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all around the world. We appreciate your partnership with us. Again, when you make a donation this month, you can receive a copy of Stepping Up.
If you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and click the link that says, “I CARE”, and fill out the online donation form there, we’ll automatically send you a copy of Dennis’ book; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make a donation over the phone and just ask for a copy of the book, Stepping Up, when you call. Again, we are so grateful for your partnership with us, here, in the ministry. We appreciate you joining with us in your financial support.
Dennis: Well, we’ve been talking today to Mark Merrill, author of All Pro Dad. We’ve talked about your father and how, even though he was an alcoholic and was not trustworthy when you were a boy, how he really repented of that. He stayed married—he and your mom—and you mentioned that you’ve really tried to honor your dad.
Some of our listeners who listen regularly know that from time to time, Mark, I’ll turn to a guest, like you; and I’ll say, “Mark, what I want to do right now is leave the studio. I want to seat your dad across the table from you. I want to give you 120 seconds to speak to your dad and to honor him for what he did do right and the impact that he’s had in your life.” Would you do that?
Mark: I’d love to.
Dad, I love you. I’ve always loved you. No matter what has happened in our lives, I’ve always loved you through all the challenges, through all the pain, through all the difficulty. Nothing has changed my love for you. I’ve always known that you loved me. You are an incredible man. In fact, I’ve told you many times I think you could have been the President of the United States. People love you. You have awesome gifts, and you are valuable because of who you are. You were made by God and for God.
Dad, you have taught me so many things. Even in the midst of all this, you’ve taught me the importance of family; you’ve taught me the importance of a relationship between a father and his son; you’ve even taught me the importance of marriage, even through all of your struggles; you’ve taught me a love for the outdoors. For all those things, I’m very grateful.
And one thing that I’ll never forget that you’ve taught me, as well, is how to persevere—how to persevere through all the pain that all of us experience in our lives and how, ultimately, to look to God for the ultimate solutions. I love you, Dad.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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