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Author Interview

What It Takes to Be an All-Pro Dad

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - An article on fatherhood in February?  It’s supposed to be a month devoted to romance, expressing our love for that special someone, or at least dreaming about such things.  These types of articles are supposed to be published in June when you are trying to figure how to best honor your dad.  Ties, fishing, and golf quickly come to mind.

But when you really think about it what could be more important than a father expressing his love for his children?  Having a positive fatherly influence can make or break everything in a child’s life including how they approach choosing the man or woman of their dreams.  Thus, the need for an article on fatherhood in February.

Author Mark Merrill has devoted his life to strengthening the family.  As the founder and president of Family First, Mark believes that knowing and executing a set of essential fundamentals are the key to becoming a dedicated, loving dad.

I recently sat down with Mark to discuss his book, All Pro Dad (Thomas Nelson), why it is important for a father to be their child’s hero, and the one thing men need to know about themselves to be an effective parent.

You have dedicated your life to being an advocate for effective fatherhood.  While being a good father is critically important today your passion for it is inspiring.  Why? 

I grew up in a home with my mom and dad present, my dad was a hard worker and he spent a lot of time at the office.  He was an incredible guy and taught us so many things of what it means to be a man, yet at the same time, he struggled with something that his father also struggled with, and that was alcoholism.  It caused a lot of pain in his life, but it caused pain in our family’s life as well. Most people have someone in their life who has gone through some type of alcohol or drug addiction, and they know that that causes a lot of pain. But one of the biggest things that those kinds of addictions can cause is that there’s a lot of lies and deception associated with it.  I experienced that myself with my own dad.  I determined over the course of time that, you know what, truth, absolute truth is absolutely critical, and we need to get that message out about the truth about alcoholism and drugs, but also the truth about marriage, the truth about parenting. There are so many lies that are being circulated in our world today about what it means to be married, what marriage is for, what are we to do as parents. There are so many lies associated with that, and so I kind of see myself as a truth warrior, that we need to get out a message of truth.  All truth comes from Scripture, and that truth needs to be conveyed to people all across the country, not just in our churches, but out in the mainstream arena as well.

In your book, All Pro Dad you write about the importance of fathers being a hero and authority figure to their children.  Why do you believe this is so critical?

I think you and I would both agree that all kids need a loving dad, but they long for a hero to lead them. This is what I try to convey in the book: I talk about love, the fundamentals of love, and also the fundamentals of leadership. I think, often, fathers think that their job and their mindset is that they are there just to be a protector and a provider.  Those are very important, Scripture talks to us about protecting our children, about providing for our families.  I think a father needs to take it a step further, and have a new mindset. I like to use this illustration. I think of the Navy SEALs. I’ve watched some specials, and read some stuff about this group. These guys are incredible. They’re physically tough, but people don’t realize how mentally tough they are. They know that their job is all-important, that their mission is all-important. So, I equate that to fatherhood.  Our job as fathers is all important, and our mission to love and lead our kids is of ultimate importance.  I think a lot of fathers understand what leadership is like in the business arena, and out in the world today, but they don’t understand what that means in the home.  What does it look like?

You have a mission at home to love and lead your kids. You have a job description, and I talk about that in the book of what exactly that job description is. And then I give specific goals and action steps that we need to take within our own homes, to be the kind of leaders that we need to be.

Your book is based on seven basic insights on being an effective father. What are they and how do they all interrelate?

The first fundamental that I write about is leadership.  Then we move into these seven essentials that every father needs to know about himself to execute that well. So, it’s not just seven things you need to teach your kids. These seven things are concepts that I dissected and analyzed and said, here are seven things that every father needs to know about himself so that he in turn can convey them to his kids, and be that leading hero that his kids need him to be. So, I break them down into seven M’s.  The seven M’s a father needs to know are his makeup, his mindset, his motive, his method, his model, his message, and his master.

Is there any one of these seven essentials that you consider to be more important than the others?  In other words, one that serves as the catalyst for the other six.

I suggest that every man has to take a deep look inside of himself, and not just answer it superficially of; who or what are you living for? Answer that question, who or what are you living for.  It can’t just be, “Oh, well, God’s first, my wife’s second, kids and then friends, and then I’m third or fourth, or whatever.” I need you to say, “Okay, look, just as the earth revolves around the sun and keeps a constant orbit as a result to the gravitational pull of the sun, our lives as men and as women as well, will revolve around what we depend upon for our happiness.” So, I think we need to take a deep look at ourselves, and consider what am I really depending on for my ultimate joy, my ultimate happiness, my ultimate satisfaction in life? Because that’s going to be my God, that’s going to be who I ultimately worship. And so, if we as fathers don’t depend upon the perfect heavenly Father as our ultimate source of joy and happiness, then we will have failed as fathers. If we don’t get this, we miss it all. Our heavenly Father is the perfect Father. He’s the one that we should look to above any book that’s ever been published, we need to look at His Word and understand who He is, because that’s going to be the ultimate road map that gives us life, and gives our children a life and hope for the future.

Changing gears, in “All Pro Dad” you compare fatherhood to football. How so?

Towards the end of a football game, you see one team that is down by a few points, and another team that is back on their own 40, 50 yard line. And so, what do they do, the clock’s running down, they throw the, what? The Hail Mary pass. So, they throw the Hail Mary Pass, and it almost always doesn’t work. But every once in a while, you’ll find one that works. But almost always, the Hail Mary passes don’t work. It’s the same way in fatherhood. Hail Mary passes don’t work in fatherhood either. Fatherhood, as I see it, is moving the ball down the field, one yard at a time, day in and day out, focusing on those fundamentals of love and leadership, and that’s how you become successful as a father. That’s how you become an All Pro Dad, and the bottom line is all of us are going to get the flag thrown on us, heavily, as my wife throws that flag, sometimes, on me. I have fumbled the ball. I throw interceptions. I blow it. And I’ve done that in my life.

What do you think dads need to know about themselves, personally, before they can even lead their family effectively?

I think it’s very important for a father to understand his makeup. It’s not something you put on your face.  The first key to understanding your makeup is to understand your identity. Our identity is who we are.  It’s what gives us value. Our value lies in who we are, not in what we do. Our identity is that we are made by God, and for God. God does not create junk. We are handmade and custom designed and fully loaded by God for very important purposes in our lives.  It’s very important for a father to understand that their value lies in them as individuals, as people, because of who they are, how God created them in the image of God. Because if we don’t know ourselves, we’re not going to be able to validate that and affirm that in our kids.  Our kids need that.  One of the greatest things that I think a lot of our kids are lacking today, especially when they become young teens and then teenagers, and young adults, is understanding their identity. No one’s ever told them just how valuable they are as a person. A lot of times everything is conditional. It’s, “Oh, I love you if you do well on the baseball field, the football field, or if you make good grades, or if you get into this college.” And it should be, “You know what, you need to work on this, this is something I need you to change, and we need to address this. But you have to understand something.” I told my daughter this last night, when we were talking about it and I wanted her to work on it. I said, “But you have to understand something, honey. I love you no matter what. There’s nothing that can change that. I love you always unconditionally, just like Christ loved us.” And we need to instill that in our kids, that there’s nothing, absolutely nothing that can ever separate our love from them, just like there’s nothing that we can do that will ever separate our Heavenly Father’s love from us as well. So I think understanding that identity is really important.

Related to that is what a lot of kids, and actually a lot of adults rely on today, is image versus identity.  Image is how others view us. Identity is who we are, and a lot of people confuse the two. Image is, and there’s some importance to it, because you want to make sure you convey the right thing to other people and they see this is how you’re living your life in a good way, but people convey their image to others by the house they buy, the clothes they purchase, by the tattoos they sport. There are all kinds of things that we use to convey our image, but that’s not ultimately what’s important. It’s our identity.

Final question for you.  After people read the book All Pro Dad, what do you want your readers to understand or take away from that experience?

I want men to realize that this (fatherhood) is a lifelong journey, that being a dad is their most important job, that they’re always going to be striving toward that goal but never arriving. Ultimately, I want them to remember that the legacy of love that they leave behind to their children will be the greatest legacy that they will leave for them. There’s no amount of money, there’s no amount of material, goods, or anything else that they could leave for their children that would really matter, but leaving a legacy of a loving, leading father, ultimately, will impact not only their lives, but also their children and hopefully many generations to come.

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