Dad’s Assignment: Practice Patience and Kindness
About the Guest
At what point did you feel confident as a parent? Perhaps you're still waiting for that moment. Mark Merrill, author of "All Pro Dad", talks about his own struggles modeling patience and kindness in front of his family, and reveals what he has learned about God's love for us.
At what point did you feel confident as a parent?
Dad’s Assignment: Practice Patience and Kindness
Bob: Every son needs to know that his father loves him unconditionally. Here’s Mark Merrill.
Mark: Just a few years ago, my wife and I adopted two children from Russia. One was 12 years old, and one was nine years old. The nine-year-old son—he was detached. He did not want to receive love from a father or, certainly, a Heavenly Father; but consistently, even though he would say things to me—he’d take a swing at me even—I would consistently look at him and I’d say, “Grant, I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. You are my son, and I love you. There’s nothing, nothing, nothing that you can do that will separate you from my love for you.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 8th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What are the things that make any man an All Pro Dad®? We’ll talk with Mark Merrill about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. At what point in your parenting did you start to feel like, “Okay, I think I’m getting a handle on this”? Was that when your kids were little; when they were teenagers?
Dennis: Well, when Barbara had our first born, Ashley, the doctor handed her to me; and, “I got this. I’ve got this nailed!”
Bob: You knew right away. [Laughter]
Dennis: Oh, my goodness. That’s a great question, Bob. Honestly, I don’t think I ever had that kind of confidence. I think children were given to us by God to cause us to trust Him. I think they are redemptive. They saved me from myself—self-focus, self-confidence, ego. I mean, there is no way to—whether you raise one or half a dozen, like we did, or a dozen—it really doesn’t matter. Children are not robots.
Dennis: They are going to expose your Achilles’ heel as a dad or as a mom.
Bob: Well, the paradox for us, as men, is we know God’s called us to lead our families, lead our kids; but all of us go, “I kind of am not sure.” There’s a lack of confidence because we’ve never been down this trail before. Some of us didn’t have good modeling. Even if we had good modeling, you’re still not—
Bob: —you are still not charging forth like, “I know exactly what I’m doing.” All of us have that insecurity; don’t we?
Dennis: Yes, and we need coaches.
Dennis: We need someone to come into our life and be a coach. We’ve got—well, the next best thing to Tony Dungy in the studio. Mark Merrill joins us on FamilyLife Today.
Mark: Hey, good to be with you. Bob, wow!
Bob: You’ll take that introduction, won’t you?
Mark: Wow! I’m impressed by—
Dennis: You’re in good company.
Mark: —that introduction.
Dennis: He works with Tony Dungy in a ministry called All Pro Dad. Mark is the founder and president of Family First®. All Pro Dad is a division of that. He and his wife Susan raised five in Tampa, Florida; and he’s written a book called All Pro Dad.
You’ve outlined this book, really, in a way that is meant to do what Bob’s talking about—coaching a dad to know how to be all pro. Is there the hope that a man can feel like, “Yes, I’m going to Hawaii. I’m going to play in the Pro Bowl”?
Mark: In the Pro Bowl? You know first of all, Dennis and Bob, I would say that I am not an All Pro Dad. I’m always striving but never arriving. It’s a lifelong journey. It’s something that we become as men, and it’s something that we do as fathers. It’s really interesting because a guy named Chuck Noll—you guys will remember him—
Mark: Four-time Super Bowl winning champion, head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He said, “Champions are champions, not because they do anything extraordinary, but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.” What he was saying is, “You guys have got this misconception of what it takes to be an all pro.”
He said, “You guys think it’s these ESPN® highlight-reel kind of things that it takes to be an all pro.” He goes, “No, that’s not it.” He goes, “You’ve got to know and execute the fundamentals. There are fundamentals that it takes to play the game. Knowing and executing those fundamentals, day in and day out, that’s how you win. That’s how you become a champion, and that’s how you become an all pro.”
It’s the same way to become an All Pro Dad. You’ve got to know and execute those fundamentals, day in and day out. The fundamentals of fatherhood, really, ultimately, boil down to love and leadership.
Dennis: You know, it is interesting—Jesus said, “He who is faithful in little, much more shall be given to him.” I do think that a huge portion of parenting is for a man just to attempt to be faithful—to do what God’s called him to do, today, as a father, and to not quit, to not bail—
Bob: Well, and you talk about love and leadership as being the key components of being an All Pro Dad. It brought to mind a study that was done years ago at the University of Minnesota, where they boiled parenting down. They said, “There are really two questions every child is asking Mom and Dad. They’re asking, “Do you love me, and can I do whatever I want?” They said, “How you answer those two questions really determine the kind of parent you’re going to be.”
“Do you love me?” One of dad’s assignments is he’s got to make sure that his sons and daughters all know that he desperately—not just that he tips his hat to loving them—it can’t be the kind of thing where a dad goes, “Oh, they know I love them. You know I bring them—yes, they know.” No. They’ve got to know it, deep down. Dad has got to be actively demonstrating aggressive love for his children; doesn’t he?
Mark: No question about it. So, the answers, respectively, are, “Yes,” and, “No.” “Yes, I love you,” and, “No, I will not always let you do what you want to do.”
Bob: That’s the leadership component where a child, who if he’s going his own direction—if he’s following his own passions, he’s going to head off in the ditch—and Dad’s got to be there and say, “No, we’re going to put some boundaries around your life to help you here.”
Mark: You know, I’ve really had to learn how to demonstrate that unconditional love in my kids’ lives; and I thought I knew a little bit about how to do that. Then, just a few years ago, my wife and I adopted two children from Russia. One was 12 years old, and one was nine years old. The nine-year-old son grew up in a very challenging environment. We call him “The Jungle Book boy”. He lived, oftentimes, outside in the woods of Siberia in Russia. Can you imagine—
Mark: —being outside, especially in 40 below zero degree temperatures, in a God-forsaken country like that? He grew up in a very challenging environment. He grew up with a mother who was an alcoholic and oftentimes beat him—his father did, too—when he was younger. He had no one showing him any love. He just said, “I’m going to do this on my own. I’m going to make it on my own.” So, when we got him out of the orphanage and brought him back to Tampa, there were a lot of challenges that we had to go through with him—as we have to do with all of our children—but specifically with him—he was detached.
He did not want to receive any of that love from us. He did not want to receive love from a father or, certainly, a Heavenly Father, as well; but consistently, even though he would say things to me—he’d take a swing at me even—I would consistently look at him—and I’d even grab him in a bear hug and I’d say, “Grant, just like Christ loves us, I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. You are my son, and I love you. There’s nothing, nothing, that you can do that will separate you from my love for you.”
Dennis: I’m just thinking, as you are telling that story, you shared earlier how you grew up in a home with an alcoholic father. So, you knew what it was like not to trust. You knew what it was like to have that arm out at a distance, pushing somebody out. God used your wounds in your life as a boy to prepare you to reach out to a boy from Siberia—to love him. Remarkable.
Mark: Isn’t it amazing the sovereignty of God and how He brings this all together; but Dennis and Bob, I didn’t order this. I don’t want that. I don’t want pain!
Dennis: Well, of course not! We have children and then, come the lessons. I mean, think of the lessons you’ve learned about the love of God through your two children you have chosen. You chose these two—to go get them and to redeem them out of a situation where they didn’t have a family.
Mark: Yes, I have had to learn, though, at the same time—it’s just what we mentioned before—my job is to be faithful and obedient. I’m not responsible, and I can’t take responsibility for the results. That doesn’t mean we throw our hands up in the air and say, “I can’t do anything about this,” but we’ve got to really strive to do the best we can do, as parents, under God’s authority. Then, He’s going to take care of things. We’ve got to believe that these children are under the hand and authority of God.
Bob: Do you find that a lot of dads—they just find it hard to be open and expressive in demonstrating and verbalizing love for their kids? Or do you think most dads—that comes naturally to them?
Mark: You know, I think most dads have struggles of their own. They’re trying to get there in their own life. That’s something I do address in the book. I talk about these seven M’s that every man must know to effectively execute the fundamentals of love and leadership well.
In the first chapter, I talk about makeup—“Who am I?” Because if he doesn’t know who he is—that he was made by God and for God, that he has immeasurable dignity, value, and worth—then, he’s not going to be able to convey that to his children. So, it’s going to be a cyclical issue. There are a lot of things that men really need to know about themselves in order to be and at least strive to be an All Pro Dad.
Dennis: You point out a couple of things about our identity as men. You say, “We’re not what we do.” In other words, it’s not our vocation that determines our identity. It’s also not the culture that determines—the herd peer pressure that determines our identity. You tell a story about a bunch of sheep who followed one sheep; and I couldn’t help but thinking, “All we like sheep”—
Bob: —“have gone astray.”
Dennis: —“have gone astray, each to his own way.” This sheep went his own way. Tell them the story of what the sheep did.
Mark: In 2005, there were these villagers in Gevaş, Turkey, who reportedly witnessed a sheep which had wandered away. That sheep walked off a nearby cliff, but the story didn’t end there. Suddenly, all of the other sheep in that area decided to follow. It was reported—true story—that 1,500 sheep, worth well over $100,000, walked off that cliff to the rocks below. They didn’t know they were going to a very bad place—only that they were following the sheep in front of them—
Bob: So, wait—so, the question our parents always ask, “If your friend jumped off the bridge, would you do it?” The answer is, “Yes, probably.”
Mark: If you’re sheep and if you don’t know who you are. That’s what gives you your value—who you are. In fact, in the book, I talk about how identity is who you really are. Image is how others view you. Identity is conceived; image is manufactured. Identity never changes; image changes. Identity has eternal value; image only short-term value. Identity relies on internal qualities; image, external. Identity has immeasurable value; image has relative value. Your identity is unique—you are one of a kind—image is common.
Dennis: There is one book that has been used in my life, repeatedly, to remind me who I am, what my identity is. It’s the Bible because I tend to compare with other people. I tend to conform with other people. It’s just amazing, as a man, as a human being, we don’t think rightly about ourselves. To think rightly about ourselves, we have to understand who God is and who we are. He tells us in the Bible both of those things: Who God is and who we are.
Bob: Then, we have to believe it and live according to it rather than being conformed by all of the messages we’re getting from the culture.
Mark: No question about it. It’s easy to say, and it’s much harder to do. Let me give you a current illustration. I walk up to this incredible FamilyLife building today. I see what Dennis Rainey has done here. I see what Bob Lepine has done over the last 20- plus years with this radio program. I’ll have to tell you. I looked at it and I said, “You know what? Why couldn’t I have done that? Why couldn’t I do the things that they’re doing?”
I was looking up to you guys, and seeing what you did, and what I didn’t have instead of saying, “Look at what God is doing in my life. It may be different. It may not be as substantial; but what God is doing in my life is very, very important.” That not only applies to me but to every other man out there. Every man has a purpose, and we need to really understand that.
Dennis: Comparison is a curse.
Mark: It is.
Dennis: It’s a curse because you can always find somebody who’s wealthier, more successful—
Bob: —yes—smarter, faster—
Dennis: —in a better “place”, it seems.
Mark: It really occurs in marriage, too. You guys have seen this, probably, time and time again with guests on your show. I remember my wife and I had this couple—who we’re very, very close friends when we were younger—and still friends—but we looked at them, and they were lovey-dovey with each other. We looked at them, and my wife said, “You know what? Why can’t we have that kind of marriage that they have? Look at them! Look at the way they talk to each other.”
Mark: “Look at the way they treat each other.” Well, you can probably guess what happened. What happened is—about two years later—they had been having severe struggles that we didn’t know about. They went through a horrendous divorce that devastated their family, tore their children a part. So, we don’t always know what’s going on behind the curtain.
We can’t always be looking at other people saying, “Look how much better they have it than me at their office, in their marriage, and with their kids.” “Look at their kids, how awesome they are.” We don’t know what’s really happening in their lives because everybody has pain, and everybody has struggles that they go through.
Bob: Mark, we’ve talked about a dad engaging relationally with his kids and really demonstrating and articulating his love for them. Do you think it’s equally hard for a dad to be the leader he needs to be and to step in and say, “No,” when he needs to say, “No;” or to lead with wisdom and compassion?
Mark: Let’s face it. As dads and as parents, we want to say, “Yes,” to our kids. We don’t want to say, “No.”
Mark: If they want to do something, we sound—we think that that sounds great. We want to be able to say, “Yes,” to them. It’s really hard to say, “No.” Not just, “No,” one time; but it seems like we’re consistently saying, “No,” to our kids. At least, we should be saying, “No,” to our kids with a lot of things.
In fact, there are so many things—as you guys know—even though there is nothing new under the sun, there are so many things in our culture today that are adversely impacting our kids. It just seems like it’s coming in—in waves more so now than ever before. It’s just a big challenge. It seems like I spend, literally, an hour or two each day just defending and protecting my kids and building those Nehemiah walls to protect them from outside forces.
Dennis: I spent some time, over spring break, with my son, Samuel, who has got four children. We were watching the Final Four®. I was really proud of him because—to your point about guarding your family—when commercials would come on that were inappropriate for his son to see, who was watching the game with us, my son would—who had the channel surfer—he would click away.
Bob: The Weather Channel® was always where we went during commercial breaks because The Weather Channel was a pretty safe place to go, but you’ve got to go somewhere.
Dennis: I’m just telling you, Mark, I really believe in you, and your ministry, and what you’re about because if men don’t guard and protect the next generation, evil will prey upon our children. It will conquer them and destroy them, their legacies, and their mission on this planet.
Mark: No question about it. We’ve got to do everything we can; and we have to realize, as men, that we’ve got to have a new kind of mindset. We’re just not a provider or even just protector—we are those two things, but we have to remember that we need to have a new mindset as men.
I like to illustrate it this way—think of the Navy Seals. These guys are not only physically tough, but they are mentally tough. They’ve got the mindset that their job and their mission is all important. In the same way, as fathers, we need to understand that our job is the most important job that we have here on earth; and our mission to love and lead our kids is all important.
Dennis and Bob, our greatest fear as fathers shouldn’t be of failure. It should be of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter. A father’s mission matters! It has eternal value and significance.
Dennis: To go back to the subject of identity and what we talked about earlier, you make a statement in your book, Mark, that I really like. It is succinct, but it ought to challenge every man—and for that matter, every woman, young man, or young lady, who is listening to this broadcast. Here’s your statement. You say, “You were created by God and for God. Your identity is that you’re made in the image of God, created by Him. Secondly, you were redeemed by Him through Jesus Christ, if you’ll place your faith in Him as One who paid the price for your sins.”
Mark: He is the perfect father. We talk a lot in our culture about role-modeling. If we want the ultimate role-model, we have to look to the perfect Father. If we want to be or even strive to be an All Pro Dad, we’ve got to look, and be conformed, and be more like our Heavenly Father. That’s how we can become an All Pro Dad.
Dennis: I would agree with that; and just to a man, who is listening right now, you will never be able to be the man you were created to be, or the husband, or the All Pro Dad if you’re attempting to do it without God, and without referencing and using His playbook, the Scriptures, to guide your life. It simply will not happen. It’s not going to occur.
Bob: Well, it may be that the action point for a guy, who is listening today. Instead of thinking about, “What kind of dad am I called to be?”, he first needs to think about his relationship with God and, “Is it right?” Is he rightly related to God? Is he yielded? Is he submitting? Is he a man of prayer, a man of faith, a man of the Word? All of these things need to be foundational. They need to be in place for a guy before he stops to think about being the husband and the father that God’s called him to be because it’s out of that foundation that the other things come.
I just encourage listeners—on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, we’ve got a link that says, “Two Ways to Live.” It really sets out two different paths that people are on. One path that involves living, based on the way that seems best to you, and another path that leads you in a God-ward direction. I’d encourage you to click on that link and just ask the question, “Which path am I on? Where am I?”
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “Two Ways to Live”. Then, follow through what you see there. Let me also encourage you, while you’re at FamilyLifeToday.com, there is information about Mark Merrill’s new book, All Pro Dad. You can order a copy of the book from us, if you’d like. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Mark and the All Pro Dad team, along with Coach Tony Dungy, are planning a national simulcast in August with some NFL® football players, and dads, and sons. There’s more information about that simulcast at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can click on the link there.
While we’re on the subject of simulcasts for men, FamilyLife has a Stepping Up National Men’s Simulcast taking place on Saturday, August 4th. It’s from 9:00 in the morning to 1:00 in the afternoon, Eastern Time; 8:00 until Noon, Central Time. Then, it’s being rebroadcast for the Mountain Time and the west coast, as well. James MacDonald, Robert Lewis, Crawford Loritts, and Dennis Rainey are all speaking. This is a rally time for men—a kickoff meeting for the fall.
We’ve got a lot of churches that have started signing on as host churches for this event. If you’d like to host this at your church, talk to your pastor. Send him to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link for the Stepping Up National Men’s Simulcast; and then, get information about the Stepping Up video series, that’s coming out in the fall, as well. Again, you’ll find all of this at FamilyLifeToday.com; or give us a call at 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, then, the word, “TODAY”.
Finally, I should mention that those listeners who don’t already have a copy of your book, Stepping Up, or maybe they are interested in getting a copy that could be passed along to somebody as a gift, this month, we’re making copies available to those of you who are able to help support our ministry. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. The cost for producing and syndicating this radio program is covered by folks, like you, who make a donation from time to time and say, “We’re with you. We like what you’re doing.”
This month, if you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the button that says, “I CARE”, and make an online donation, we’ll automatically send you a copy of Dennis’ book, Stepping Up. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone. Just be sure to ask for a copy of the book, Stepping Up, if you call. We’ll know to send it out to you. Again, thanks for your partnership with us. We do appreciate you.
We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to talk to a young pastor who thinks every husband needs to take responsibility for dating his wife. We’ll talk about how you do that as a man. That comes up on Monday. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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