FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Christ Made Me a Better Dad

with Rick Johnson | December 15, 2016
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Rick Johnson, author and founder of Better Dads, tells how he came to faith in Christ during his fathering years. Johnson explains how his parenting changed for the better once he understood the meaning of grace and forgiveness. Once an angry and impatient man, Johnson's changed demeanor influenced his family to embrace Christ.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Rick Johnson, author and founder of Better Dads, tells how he came to faith in Christ during his fathering years. Johnson explains how his parenting changed for the better once he understood the meaning of grace and forgiveness. Once an angry and impatient man, Johnson's changed demeanor influenced his family to embrace Christ.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Rick Johnson, tells how he came to faith in Christ during his fathering years. Johnson explains how his parenting changed for the better once he understood the meaning of grace and forgiveness.

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Christ Made Me a Better Dad

With Rick Johnson
December 15, 2016
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Bob: Rick Johnson knew he wanted to be a good dad…a better dad than his father had been to him. What he didn’t know is that what he was really looking for was spiritual transformation not just practical tips.

Rick: I mean I was actively looking for information to be a better husband, a better father, before I was a Christian. But there’s hardly anything out there and so once I became a Christian, not only do you get this healing that you get, but you also all of a sudden there’s all this plethora of these awesome resources that weren’t available before, that now all of a sudden, can help you to be the kind of person that you want to be and the kind of dad that your kids deserve.

This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, December 15.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.

 We’ll hear today how Rick Johnson found the keys to being a better dad when he found that life was really not all about him.



Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.


Bob: I’m about to ask you a question I was trying to think how I’d answered it, too. If you were to go to your kids…

Dennis: So would you like me to ask you the question then?

Bob: No, because I don’t know that I have an answer to it.

Dennis: Because you may be just setting it up so you can answer it.


Bob: I don’t knowthat I have an answer. If your kids were picking a highlight memory, I guess all of them would have different memories. Is there any one shared memory that-

Dennis: Oh,


Bob: --that your kids would lock in on?

Dennis: Raising six kids all the way through adolescents, so many varied memories, birthday parties, vacations in Colorado, shared experiences going to Disney Land or Disney World,




Getting away on a lake and learning how to water ski. I mean we had so many different memories, I have no idea what they would choose.

What about yours?

Bob: It would be interesting because I think there are things like holidays or vacations that kids often come around to as --


Dennis: Right

Bob: --as those big memories. But then our kids would probably talk about the times when Dad would ask one of his probing questions at the dinner table and everybody would just kind of groan. It’s like, “Oh, dad, please no. Do we have to go there?”

Here’s a particular one. When our oldest child, Amy, first brought her husband home, Jack, (this was before they were married while they were just beginning their relationship). And at the dinner table I just asked Jack, I said, ‘so share with all us a spiritual milestone or a highlight from your life’.


And our kids were like freaking out that dad would ask a question like that. First dinner of the young man who my daughter has brought home. So even to this day, at holiday meals, they will say, “Anyone want to share a spiritual highlight from your life?”


With everybody else who—

Dennis: Give them to the stranger in off the street. Let’s bring him in here.

Bob:  And probe for his deepest spiritual moments. Those are some of the things they would come up with.

Dennis: Let’s ask our guest on the broadcast, Rick Johnson, who has written a book, Ten Things Great Dads Do.

Rick, do you know how your kids would answer Bob’s question?

Rick: Well, I know how I would say they would answer. But they’d probably come up with something completely different that I wouldn’t even have a memory of probably.

Bob: But what would you say?

Rick: Well, we did a number of things. One of the things I did every summer with one or the other is we would go out on a wilderness camping trip. We had some great times just going out with what we could live off the land with, and catch fish and—


Bob: Now wait, live off the land, you’re talking about what would you take with you?


Dennis: You’d take any food with you?

Rick: No, well, we’d take freeze-dried food. If we couldn’t catch any fish, we would eat freeze-dried food and stuff like that. But we’d go out for three, four, five days.

Dennis: Did you have a tent?

Rick: Yes, we’d have a tent that we could carry on our backs. I know probably the best time we had was me and two other guys all brought our 15 year old daughters up on a mountain wilderness area.

Dennis: A wilderness trip with 15 year old girls?

Rick: I know. They were awesome. They were troopers. They didn’t have…of course no bathroom, but you know every time I run across one of those girls that’s the very first thing they talk about. ‘Remember that trip that we went on, that camping trip that we went on?’ So they had a great time.

Dennis: You came to faith later in life. So as a dad you were about half way through the process of raising your two children when you came to faith in Christ.



Rick: Right

Dennis: How did you come to faith in Christ and how did that impact your ability to father going forward?

Rick: Right. Well, I again being raised in the environment I was raised in I followed a lot of the footsteps that were modeled for me. Got married then and we didn’t have kids right away so we were still kind of not living a very good life. Once our kids were born, I decided that I didn’t want to do any of that stuff anymore. I didn’t want to pass on some of that legacy, some of those things that I was following in those footsteps.

So I quit everything and I kind of threw myself into society’s legal narcotics…Business… Started a company, became pretty successful, and after a number of years we had everything that society should say makes you happy. We had money, we had cars, we had homes. We had…Well, I was miserable.


In fact so miserable, I can remember driving down the highway numerous times thinking, if I just flick this steering wheel into the telephone pole there, all the anxiousness, and anxiety and anger, all that stuff will go away. Thankfully I didn’t want to leave that legacy for my kids either.

I started trying to figure out what to do. I didn’t really have any friends. So I thought I’m   going to look at men I admire throughout history and see what they have that makes them special. I studied the lives of all these men. The only common denominator I could find between every one of these guys was they were all Christians. That was a real eye opener for me because I was raised that Christians were hypocrites and religion was a crutch for weak people.

Dennis: So you hadn’t grown up in the church at all.

Rick: No, I don’t think I had ever heard the message of the gospel the whole time growing up. I started studying the gospels on my own, in an attempt to disprove them. Okay? Because I was an environmental scientist, I looked at them from anthropological, from geological, all these different angles. It was definitely a search.


 After a year I found that I couldn’t disprove it and it was true and I had to accept Christ as my Savior. Of course that opened up whole new things. I think my kids were 8 and 10 at the time. So they really have a before Christ and an after Christ dad vision probably.

Bob: And what was the most dramatic thing that changed in your family when you had that spiritual wheel alignment?

Rick: I think the most dramatic change was the changes that happened to me. Of being forgiven, of feeling this feelingness of grace, and love of a father that I had not necessarily gotten.

Dennis: So you had something to give that you hadn’t ever experienced before.

Rick: The other thing that happened is I was actively looking for information to be a better husband, a better father before I was a Christian. But there is hardly anything out there.


Once I became a Christian not only do you get this healing that you get but you also all of a sudden all those plethora of these awesome resources that weren’t available before, that now all of a sudden can help you to be the kind of person that you want to be and the kind of dad that your kids deserve.

Bob: With your kids, if they were to describe Rick before Christ and Rick after Christ, what would they say was the biggest shift they saw?

Rick: I would think they would say I was an angry man.

Dennis: How did they see your anger before Christ?

Rick: While I was hard on other people, I think I was harder on myself which people wouldn’t know. But I think people would think I was a pretty hard man before I came to Christ and probably, impatient…very impatient. A lot of yelling. Thankfully I wasn’t into the physical abuse that I had experienced. But I am quite sure there was some abuse of words and things like that.


Dennis: Emotional?

Rick: Emotional abuse.

Dennis: In your book you write about how boys and girls…our sons and daughters…get their self perception, a good bit of it from how a father relates to them and the words that he uses to them and about them. You really found that there was a power of words that influenced your kids as they grew up.

Rick: Yes. I mean it’s one of the great powers I think that God has endowed us with as fathers that our words matter. One of the earliest memories I have of growing up is being a very young boy, being in bed at night with my little brothers and sisters all huddled around me and just crying out to God to make the hitting and the screaming in the next room stop. I didn’t know anything about God but I can distinctly remember doing that. God didn’t answer those prayers then.


Fast forward 35…40 years. I had become a Christian and the first thing people tell me is now you need to pray. I’d prayed before and it didn’t really work, right? I thought, I am supposed to pray and I’m going to do it faithfully even though I don’t have a lot of expectations. One of the things I prayed for every day for probably a year or two was…

I didn’t have a lot of friends then. I didn’t have a lot of men that I could look up to. I just prayed for God to bring friends into my life. Probably six years later, my son was in high school, and he comes home one day and he says, ‘Dad’, he says, ‘the Social Studies teacher said that men today don’t have any friends. They only have acquaintances. They don’t have anybody that they can call at two o’clock in the morning if they are in trouble.’ He said ‘that’s not true.’


My dad has dozens of guys that he can call at two o’clock in the morning.’ I thought that is so true. God answered those prayers without me even knowing it. That model for our kids, for them to understand.

When I went into full time ministry, my daughter, I think, was 17 at the time. I remember her coming to me and saying ‘dad, how are we going to live?’ I said ‘Well, I’m pretty sure God will take care of us.’ She said ‘what if He doesn’t?’ I said ‘well, we’ll worry about that when the time comes.’ She saw now 15 years of God providing for us, of our mortgage being paid, of never missing a meal. Today, she’s a godly young woman with a growing young faith. That model I think as a father that we exhibit for our kids is hugely important, maybe more important than our words are.



Dennis: You are talking about modeling faith.

Rick: Exactly

Dennis: Just a simple faith. You started weeping about that.

Rick: Don’t tell people that.

Dennis: No, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in your tears. In fact, if anything, I’d be proud of those tears because God heard the prayers of a born again man and blessed him. And your kids saw it. What greater gift could you give your kids?


Rick: That’s true.

Dennis: How do you feel about that?

Dennis: You’ve got to feel like you’re a blessed man.

Rick: Absolutely.

Dennis: I mean, you didn’t come from a cookie cutter perfect Christian family. You came out a tough spot.

Rick: Yes, It’s a true blessing definitely.


Bob: We are talking to Rick Johnson and he’s written a book called, Ten Things Great Dads Do. Rick, you started working on this book about the time that parenting the second time around was becoming a reality for you. After your kids had left the nest you are now-- -you and your wife --raising a four year old daughter. This was not what you expected that the journey would be like. But it is where God has you.

A little bit of a chance for a do-over and to be able to do with a four year old, things you didn’t know to do with a four year old the first time you had four year olds. What are you doing differently with a four year old daughter today than the first time around?

Rick: That’s a great question. Again, I think, there are some advantages: the whole patience, the whole experience thing and disadvantages as well. I think one of the challenges as a grandfather and a father, our roles are naturally different, our God inspired roles are different.



As a father my natural role is to not only provide and protect but also to teach, to provide self-discipline. As a grandfather my natural role is to spoil my grandchild. Those are two very different roles. Yet, you are forced to somehow try to figure out how to make—frankly my wife struggles alt with that not being grandma, even though she is called mom…mommy quite a bit. That, I think, is one of the biggest challenges that there is.

One of the things I think I learned finally as a father that love covers a lot of mistakes. Because as a grandfather, it is so easy to love this little girl I’m hoping that it covers a lot of mistakes. Because I still I make mistakes.


I don’t know if you forget some of the stuff you learned but, you know I still I make mistakes. Sometimes, I still get impatient and things like that.

Bob: Would you say that you were thrifty in how you dispensed love when your kids were growing up?  When they were young? Did you tell them that you loved them? Did you hug them? Did you do the things that expressed love? Father to child?

Rick: There are a couple of things to answer that. Is one, it’s hard to love other people when you don’t love yourself. So that was a challenge. But I do distinctly remember when my kids were born. Having growing up in a home that did not have a lot of physical affection and missing it. And saying to myself, I am going to force myself to give these kids hugs and kisses, even if it is uncomfortable and it was uncomfortable because I didn’t have it modeled for me.

But I forced myself to do that while my kids were growing up. I think it pays dividends in ways…


…for instance with my son. If we have had a disagreement, I can walk up, put my arm around him, pat him on the back. It kind of breaks an impasse. He’s a grown man now, 30 years old. Every time I see him he comes and gives me a kiss on the forehead.

 My daughter, same way except for when she hit puberty, and the aliens invaded her body then she didn’t want anyone to touch her, right? But I had to let her know, Look, I’m still here. She needs that. And at 18, when they left, she’s back to now wanting to hug and stuff like that occasionally.

Bob: And with your four year old daughter today?

Rick: Oh…she gets nothing but hugs and kisses. There is no barrier whatsoever with giving her…

Bob:  Sothe dad who is listening who would say, ‘It’s tough for me to say I love you, it’s tough for me to hug these kids and kiss them. It just feels awkward.’ You just say press through it?

Rick: Well, actually I have a book coming out in October about overcoming toxic parenting. One of the things I talk about in there is the research that I’ve done on developing new neuro-pathways in the brain. And the way we do that is we just do what you said.


We start doing something and we do it enough that it eventually that pathway gets strong enough that it supersedes the old pathway that we had in our brain. The older one doesn’t necessarily go away but the other one becomes second nature. If we do it enough we would become more comfortable with it.

As the years went by and I was giving my kids more hugs and more kisses and wrestling on the floor with them more often it became more natural and less uncomfortable.

 Bob: C.S. Lewis said, and this is a paraphrase, but he said something to the effect that the best way to acquire a virtue is to pretend that you already have it. It’s a great reminder that when something looks awkward, you just pretend like you have it, do it and you’ll cut some new neural pathways in the brain.

Dennis: I love telling the story about hugging my boys when they were growing up.


But then when they became young men and they developed a beard, feeling their shaven face, even though it was peach fuzz to start with, against my beard and giving them a big hug, and a good…just a stiff good hug there for them.

Sharing that story at the Weekend To Remember ® marriage getaway with other fathers and saying “Guys, you’ve got to move past your discomfort zone.” You talk about this in your book. The zone of where we are not comfortable. At the end of the talk this is invariable, Rick, there will be a line of men and some of those men will be standing in line, some of them for up to 30 minutes.

Rick: Wow

Dennis: They will come up to say…

Rick: ‘Will you give me a hug?’

Dennis: …‘Will you give me a hug?’ because I have never had one.

Rick: Wow

Dennis: And I’m looking at you, Rick, and I’m thinking of the work that God has done in your life.


I’m thinking He took a lost 40 year old man who wrestled on the floor, and was a  bear on the floor, wrestling. He healed a 40 year old man’s heart and He turned him into a bear who gave a bear hug. To his own kids and now to a four year old little girl. It’s a great story of redemption. You need to know your story is going to bring hope to a lot of men who didn’t come from a perfect background who would like to be standing in line right now for us to give him a hug.

Just to lock beards and say “yes, it’s good to be a man.” I think God’s proud of you, Rick. He’s proud of you for stepping into your discomfort zones that you write about, and loving your kids. Not only doing that well, but also reaching out to other dads and equipping them to do the same.

Rick: Well, thank you. You don’t know how encouraging that is at this time in particular.


That means a lot to me.

Dennis: Well, there’s a lot going on in your life, if you’ve got a four year old granddaughter.

Rick: Right

Dennis: I don’t know all the circumstances but I do know that God will meet you  there and He will empower you to do what you need to do and I’m confident you will do it.

And Bob there’s a lot of men listening and a lot of wives who are married to them who know that their husband needs a hug. Needs some encouragement about how to be a dad. This book, Ten Things Great Dads Do may be just what they may need.

Bob: This will help give you some ideas, some thoughts. You can read through it and see where your own strengths are and where are your gaps as a dad and how do you fill in those gaps?

We’ve got copies of Rick’s book, Ten Things Great Dads Do, at our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order from us online at or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to get a copy of the book.



Again, the title is, Ten Things Great Dads Do.Call to order at 1-800-FLTODAY or go online to

Now today’s a big day for Brock Bailey and his wife Courtney. They are colleagues of ours here at FamilyLife, a part of the staff at FamilyLife. Brock and Courtney are celebrating 15 years together as husband and wife. It’s their anniversary today. Congratulations to the Baileys and to all of you who are celebrating an anniversary today.

FamilyLife Today exists so that more couples can celebrate more anniversaries. We are the Proud Sponsor of Anniversaries ™. Our goal is to help more couples celebrate more anniversaries by effectively developing godly marriages and families. Those godly marriages and families can change the world one home at a time. We’re grateful that many of our listeners see that priority along with us.


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During the month of December, a particularly critical month for ministries like ours, we are hoping that many of our listeners will consider making a year-end contribution to support FamilyLife Today. In fact if you do, your contribution is going to be effectively tripled. We have had some friends who have come to us and they have said “for every donation you receive in December we are going to match it with twice as much funding.”

For example if you were able to give $50, that would free up $100 from the matching gift fund.



We have been keeping our eye on how this is doing. Our friend Michelle Hill is here, she is our matching gift monitor. Michelle give us the latest.

Michelle: Well Bob…we are seeking partners to help us unlock what is currently a one and quarter million dollar match.

And - as of today - three thousand one hundred and fifty folks have partnered with us toward that goal…but Bob, today is special because today we’ve crossed the half million dollar mark! So, we’re seeing great progress, but there’s still plenty of opportunity for folks to triple their gift thanks to the match.

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Now tomorrow we want to encourage you to tune in to hear about what God was doing more than 40 years ago. The events that led up to the founding of FamilyLife back in 1976. We’ll hear from the people who were there more than 40 years ago tomorrow. I hope you can tune in to hear the story.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with 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.

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