Building a Family Legacy:
Honoring the Life and Ministry of Dr. James C. Dobson
“Great beginnings are not as important as the way one finishes.”
These words of New York Times best-selling author, child psychologist and parenting expert, Dr. James Dobson, continue to challenge and inspire me—as a counseling professional, and as a father and husband. This past year, I had the joy (and agony!) of walking my daughter Megan down the aisle to marry a wonderful, godly man, as well as standing with my high school senior, Zach, when he signed on to play college baseball in an NCAA Division I program.
I could not be more proud of my kids, but far more than their accomplishments, I treasure their hearts to follow the Lord. Looking back at their formative years, I am reminded of just how significantly Dr. Dobson’s teaching shaped the decisions Julie and I made about the kind of home we wanted to create, what mattered most as parents, and how to love each other well.
And we are not the only ones. When Dr. Dobson left a successful career at the University of Southern California School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles to open a small, two-room office, little did he dream what God had in store. However, one thing he did know: “The family was falling apart, and I just felt I ought to do what I could.” So he named the fledgling ministry organization, Focus on the Family.
In the wake of a permissive parenting trend during the 1950’s, moms and dads were desperate for answers. “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man wholly committed to Him,” D.L. Moody once wrote, and never could a truer statement be said about Dr. Dobson. History was made when he filmed one of the first ever Christian parenting video series in 1978, drawing on the truths of Scripture. The message spread like wildfire and was seen by more than 80 million people—one third of the American population at the time.
Thirty seven years later, Dr. Dobson’s writing and teaching has been translated into 26 languages, and is now available in 149 countries. He has authored more than 80 books dedicated to the preservation of the family, been active in governmental affairs, and advised three U.S. presidents on family matters. Time Magazine named him, “the nation’s most influential evangelical leader” of our time.
In 2003, one year after celebrating Focus on the Family’s 25th year of ministry, Dr. Dobson stepped down from his role as President. As Chairman of the Board, he continued to be vitally involved in radio broadcasts, advocacy, and speaking, until 2010, when he ended his illustrious 33-year career at Focus. “I could easily have retired,” Dobson remembers, “and yet I felt the Lord saying, ‘The job’s not finished.’”
“We’re in a death struggle,” he continues. “I am particularly concerned about re-defining the family, because it wasn’t our idea… it was God’s idea, going back to the Garden of Eden, and we are about to throw it on the ash heap of history. I pray that we do not, because we will not recover if we do.”
Dobson now serves as Founder and President of Family Talk, a nonprofit Colorado Springs-based organization that produces his nationally syndicated radio program heard on over 1,000 radio outlets, and listened to by hundreds of thousands of families online.
Dr. Dobson’s humility, boldness, graciousness, and willingness to engage have set an example for us all. At 77, he remains as passionate as ever about protecting children, educating families and empowering parents. Dobson is not afraid to address the issues head-on, warning others of the challenges in today’s culture that threaten the wellbeing of marriages and families.
Yet, what I appreciate most about Dr. Dobson is his deep love, tenderness and commitment to his own wife, children and grandchildren. He is a man whose passionate beliefs intersect his daily living. I am convinced that no one has done more in our lifetime to defend and support the family. Through his radio program, books, and outstanding resources, he has shaped our homes, and multiple generations. That’s why I was so thrilled to present Dr. Dobson with the inaugural James C. Dobson Award, for Excellence in Marriage and Family Research and Advocacy, at the AACC 2013 World Conference in Nashville.
Taking the main stage, Dr. Dobson challenged us, “Like never before, the American family is endangered. Many children grow up in homes with parents who are overworked, distracted, exhausted, uninvolved or completely absent. This is no time for shrinking back. God has uniquely called and equipped us to engage the culture. We must not give up the fight or become distracted from our ultimate priority—which is to help build strong families and leave a legacy that will last for generations to come.”
Dr. Dobson’s parenting insights and wisdom are timeless because they are rooted in the truths of Scripture. When his son, Ryan, discovered the original recording of his dad’s first parenting series, the truths hit home as a young father himself. “It was so powerful... it was applicable to my life literally at that moment,” Ryan remembers, who urged his dad to re-release a parenting training series.
And so, the Building a Family Legacy project was born—to making available Dr. Dobson’s 40+ years of expert wisdom. “The people I was speaking to at that time  are now grandparents,” Dobson reflects. “It’s time to prepare a new series for a new generation.”
Building a Family Legacy includes a capstone written work, authored by Dr. Dobson, and an updated eight-DVD parenting series. In addition, I am thrilled to announce Light University’s collaboration with Family Talk to honor Dr. Dobson and capture his life’s work through the development of the James C. Dobson Center for Child Development, Marriage and Family Studies at Liberty University. The Center will carry on the legacy and work of Dr. Dobson and provide advanced training in three concentrations of study at multiple levels (graduate, undergraduate and certification) including: Marriage and Family Studies, Parenting and Child Development, and Family Advocacy and Public Policy.
So much has changed in our culture since 1977, but one thing remains the same: building a family legacy will not just “happen” automatically. It takes intentionality, wisdom, and willingness to take a stand for biblical values. The Scripture challenges us, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
“Culture flows like a powerful river,” Dr. Dobson points out, “and it is extremely difficult to prevent your kids from being swept downstream into unknown waters… you must not become distracted from your ultimate priority, which is to raise healthy children and introduce them to Jesus Christ.”
Dr. Dobson’s own spiritual legacy, passed on to his children, finds its roots in his great grandfather’s prayers. Each day, between 11:00 a.m. and noon, George McCluskey faithfully prayed for his wife and children, his children’s future spouses, his grandchildren and even great grandchildren—that God would raise up generations of servants from his lineage.
George McCluskey went to be with the Lord many years ago, but his spiritual legacy lives on in the life and ministry of his great grandson, James Dobson, Jr, and now his great, great grandchildren, Ryan Dobson, who is an ordained minister, and Danae Dobson, who has written 24 Christian books. They both love the Lord and they are faithfully serving Him.
This is the power of family legacy. May it also be said of us, when one day we are with the Lord and our great grandchildren carry on the work of God’s Kingdom.
If today we choose the declaration of Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” we will lay a foundation for the fulfillment of God’s promise to “[show] love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Joshua 24:15; Exodus 20:6).
We dare not sit passively by as our culture shapes the next generation. What will your legacy be?