FamilyLife Today®

It’s Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men

with Truett Cathy | January 1, 2010
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On today's broadcast, Chick-fil-A president and founder, Truett Cathy, tells you how you can make a difference in the life of a child.

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  • On today's broadcast, Chick-fil-A president and founder, Truett Cathy, tells you how you can make a difference in the life of a child.

On today’s broadcast, Chick-fil-A president and founder, Truett Cathy, tells you how you can make a difference in the life of a child.

It’s Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men

With Truett Cathy
January 01, 2010
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Bob:  Our children need us as moms and dads the question is how often are we available?  Here is 86-year-old Truett Cathy.

Truett:  When you've talk with your children, you have to talk at their convenience, not when it's convenient for you.  A lot of times they're ready, but you're not ready to listen.  And so you have to grab those times of opportunity – rare opportunities probably – just to listen to a kid, and you know, when you sit in front of a TV screen for two or three hours, or you're off on a golf course leaving the home, that's not quality time.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 1st.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll hear today the wisdom of a dad and now a grandfather who did his best to keep his priorities straight.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. 

Dennis:  Happy New Year!

Bob:  Happy New Year!  Are you going to call it 2010? 

Dennis:  I think I’m going to call it 2010. 

Bob:  Just don’t call it 010.  It’s either 2010 or “20” “10”.  I guess you could just call it 10. 

Dennis:  I guess we could.

Bob:   You really have something that is on your heart as we start this new year for our listeners, right?

Dennis:  I do.  I want to encourage listeners this year to get in the Bible.  As a husband and a wife, a mom and dad and your children, as a single mom with your children, just read a verse every day.  If you miss a day don’t beat yourself up.  I believe in light of the culture and how difficult it is to stand for Christ today I think we need to be getting the Bible in our marriages and in our families. 

Bob:  And to remind folks about this at the beginning of each day here during the month of January we are going to take just a minute or two and introduce a verse or passage.  In fact we are going to use the verses that are found at the beginning of the Moments With You daily devotionals.  It’s the devotional guide that you and Barbara wrote.  Each day begins with a Scripture verse and we’ll use that verse and give couples something to interact about as they kick off the new year.  What is the verse for today?

Dennis:  Genesis 1:27, “God created man in his own image in the image of God he created him.  Male and female he created them.”  Now that is a great verse for a family to kick around because it takes a mom and a dad, husband and wife to ultimately have a family.  It would be good to talk about what that means today.  Then take the discussion question that is found at the end of the Moments With You devotional that says in what ways in the past and the present has God blessed your life through your family? 

He made us to be image bearers which means a husband and wife are reflecting who God is to their children and to the world.  There is blessings and privileges that come with that.  Take a few moments at the dinner table and talk about how God has blessed your family in the past and also in the present.

Bob:  Again, at the beginning of each program this month we’ll give you a different passage to kick around and consider and we hope you’ll use that as a way to engage your family and have all of you thinking a little more about that Bible in 2010.

Now, I know you had talked about the possibility of coming to the studio today dressed in a cow suit I’m glad to see that you chose not to do it.  You might want to explain to our listeners why you would even consider it.

Dennis:  Anyone in the Southeast – well, I guess, maybe 35, 36 states – may recognize the cow commercials, because it's talking about …

Bob:  Oh, the "Eat more chikin."

Dennis:  "Eat more chikin," yeah, "Eat more chikin."

Bob:  So you're here with the "Eat more chikin" logo today, right?

Dennis:  I'm not dressed in a cow suit – in case our listeners are wondering …

Bob:  Go with me on this – it's theater of the mind, Dennis.  You've got to go with me on this.

Dennis:  Somehow picturing you and me interviewing the CEO and Founder of Chik-fil-A with me dressed in a cow suit …

Bob:  That's probably not the image we want to go with – good point.

Dennis:  Truett Cathy, the founder of Chik-fil-A joins us on our broadcast, FamilyLife Today.  Truett, welcome to our broadcast.

Truett:  Yes, it's my delight to be here with you, Dennis.

Dennis:  Truett is the proud father of three children, two sons and a daughter.  He has 12 grandchildren, about to have his first great-grandchild, and he and his wife Jeannette have been married for 56 years.

Truett:  Yes.

Dennis:  And heads up a huge fast-food company, and I guess one of the greatest claims to fame that I can give Truett is that five of my six children have worked for Chik-fil-A.

Bob:  Intentionally – you sent them there to go to work.

Dennis:  Absolutely – because they're not open on Sunday and, secondly, their values are to honor God in all that they say and do, and they teach young people how to treat a customer, how to embody biblical principles.  When I heard that Truett had written a book called It's Better to Build Boys than to Mend Men, I told you, Bob, let's get him in here, and let's talk to him about this, because I believe, Truett, in the message you're talking about here. 

This is a generation – in fact, I just want to quote some of the statistics from your book.  Ninety percent of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes; 71 percent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes; 85 percent of the youth in prisons grew up in fatherless homes; and 75 percent of all adolescent patients in drug treatment centers come from fatherless homes.  You're passionate about men building boys.

Truett:  Yes.  God can't make a man out of anything except a boy.  You've got to prepare early for his later life.  If you start early enough you can give proper direction but we’re in a world of materialistic things and we are very conscious to give our children the needs and things that we didn’t have as kids but we are failing on giving them important things.  The important things are here to stay.  It is important to realize that you’ve begun building a teenager for the cradle up.

Dennis:  Now, Truett, you grew up in a home with a father and a mom, and yet you say you grew up in a home that was fatherless?

Truett:  I would say so.  I had a father figure there, but he had gone through the depression of the '20s, and he never overcame that.  It was necessary to move to Atlanta, and my mother became the breadwinner of the family.  She rented a house, she took in boarders, didn't furnish a room but a bath and a room and two meals a day.  So that's why I got started in, really, the restaurant business.  She's taught me how to shuck corn and shell peas, set the table, and go shopping with my mom at the corner grocery store there, and that was the time that you could buy Coke, six for a quarter.  And I thought in my mind at age 8 that if I accumulated six bottles and a quarter that I could buy those and peddle them around to my neighbors for a nickel apiece and recognize a five-cent profit.  I knew if I ever had anything in life, I had to work for it, so that was very good for me.  At the time, I didn't think as well.  As I look back at the formative years, I always believe from that experience, the harder you work the more successful you would be.

Bob:  Truett, let me ask you – growing up with a dad who was absent, do you remember, as a boy, wishing Dad was around more?  Or when you got to be older, do you remember thinking, "I wish my dad had been more involved in my life?"

Truett:  Well, he was there.  That was kind of the bad part about it, because of the fact he – I don't think he ever cheated on my mother and never experienced alcohol, but he had a very hot temper.  He was very strong-minded, and maybe in the fashion that he was brought up – that you dare not sass your dad or disagree with him, and he was the last person I would go to if I had a problem.

Dennis:  The last person?

Truett:  The last person.

Dennis:  Why?

Truett:  Well, because he would look at it from his personal standpoint – how he was brought up, and one of the things I hold in my mind – maybe I should discard – but I had a paper route, which I carried seven straight years, and much of that money I earned went to the family, and, at the same time, my dad, you would dare not disturb him on Sunday morning when I had to get up early before daybreak to go and carry papers, and that was the largest of the day so you couldn't handle it on a bicycle without making a lot of extra trips, but I dare not ask him, though I might have been sick or the weather was terrible – you just did not – he would refuse to go with me.  I knew better than to disturb him.  So that's not the kind of father that I could imagine being an ideal father.

Bob:  Do you think your passion for older men building in the lives of younger men is related to the fact that your dad didn't do that with you?

Truett:  Well, I missed out on that, because I could see other boys with a paper route, their father was with them to help them, and they could put the papers on the running board back then.  But I did have a man that helped me on my paper route.  His son carried papers, so he would spot mine – that's what we'd call it when a package of each block or space so you wouldn't have to travel with a big bag of papers back and forth on a bicycle.  So that was very meaningful to me, and he took up time with me, and at the end, my mother was in ill health, so we got a house – an apartment – at government housing.  Back then, I think we was paying something like $85 a month for everything – for the rent, for the utilities, and so forth.  But even – we couldn't make it there.  We had to go back to keeping boarders, because that was our livelihood.

But it's been good for me.  I've learned some lessons.  I've tried to improve on that situation.

Dennis:  You actually have taught Sunday school for the past 50 years …

Truett:  … that's right …

Dennis:  … to 13-year-old boys.

Truett:  Yes.

Dennis:  Now, you do that because you believe in passing on what you've learned to the next generation.

Truett:  Well, I'm sure that had a bearing on my desire to be that because of my Sunday school teacher, and the effect that he had on my life when I was coming up.

Bob:  Do you think 13-year-old boys are different today than they were 50 years ago?

Truett:  Absolutely.  I feel like 13-year-olds are doing what 15-year-olds used to do.  So, really, I should go back and maybe teach 11-year-olds, but, really, 13 is last because a lot of them have already experienced sex and drugs and alcohol, and you have to overcome that.

Bob:  What issues need to be driven home by moms and dads and Sunday school teachers and aunts and uncles and teachers and coaches?

Truett:  Well, every year, as a new class comes in – I get a new class every year – I give them a questionnaire, and one of the questions I ask – what would you change in your homes if you could change it?  And my present class, the number-one thing – objection – that a good percentage of them state, "I would stop the arguing."  If you've ever been around two people that's arguing, it makes you feel very uncomfortable when you can't side with either one of them and just hear them argue and think about living in a household where the mother and dad is all the time arguing, cutting each other.  I had one boy in my Sunday school class, and that was back when I had a small class, when I was taught 11-year-olds.  I had set that I was going to have a perfect class.  That mean they was all there, they brought the Bible, they're staying for church, they studied the lesson and give in the offering.  We used to do that in Sunday school.  We don't do that any longer, but that's what we call "100 percent."  I had 10 boys, so my challenge was let's have a perfect class.  No teacher that I know of has ever had a perfect class; I never had.  And so I had them all there, and all 100 percent – they brought the offering, the Bible, and everything, but one boy, he wasn't going to stay for church.

Well, I kind of scolded him at the time.  I said, "Now, could you stay here for church if you wanted to?"  He said, "Yes."  And so I scolded – "Come on and stay for church so we can have 100-percent class," and he refused, and at the end of the class, he said, "Could I speak to you?"  I said, "Yes."  He said the reason I don't go home is that my dad is there, and my mother and my sister is in church, and it's just he and I, and he gives me his undivided attention.  And I said, "Well, isn't he there Saturday, and don't you get to spend time?"  He said, "Yes, but he's drinking beer and arguing all day long, but when I go home after Sunday school, he seems ready to listen to me."

So I said afterwards – I apologized to him for scolding him, because I said, "You made the better decision."

Dennis:  Interesting.

Truett:  Going home and listening, be with your dad, just you and your dad.  So I think dads miss that opportunities to spend quiet time, quality time with the children.  And, you know, when you set before a TV screen for two or three hours, or you're off on a golf course leaving the home, that's not quality time.  Quality time, as I say, is bedtime, on a one-to-one basis.  Oftentimes, kids are very anxious to talk with you and share with you.  When you talk with your children, you have to talk at their convenience, not when it's convenient for you.  A lot of times they are ready, but you're not ready to listen.

Dennis:  You know, Truett, you've got something in your book that I wanted to share with our listeners at this point, because you've already mentioned two or three of these things.  It's called "Seven Reminders for Building Children," and one of them was stop arguing in front of your children.  Another one was – "You may think children have outgrown the desire to be rocked to sleep at night.  They haven't." 

Still yet another – "Every child I know who overcame long odds and grew into a responsible adult can point to an adult who stepped into his or her life as a friend, a mentor, and a guide."  That's good stuff.  "Don't be too concerned that your children don't listen to you.  Be very concerned that they see everything you do." 

Truett:  That’s important.

Dennis:  You believe for young people today to see their parents doing the right thing is a more important sermon than a spoken sermon.

Truett:  Absolutely.  You can’t have beer sitting in the refrigerator and then expect your kids to not drink alcohol. 

Bob:  You had a conversation with a father on board an airplane about the subject didn’t you. 

Truett:  I did that.  He recognized me and I sat down with him with bulkhead seats and we started talking.  During the conversation we talked about concern he had for his 15 year old son and 17 year old daughter and the many temptations that young people have today that maybe we didn’t have when we were youngsters.  We talked about drinking and drugs and sex and there is a lot of temptation for our young people. 

The thing that bothered me was that during the conversation he stopped the stewardess and ordered a beer.  So when he got that beer in his hand I didn’t want to turn him off so I asked the Lord to give me some words to wake this guy up.  For him to see that what he is practicing is in violation of what he is preaching at home.  I asked him if he let his teenagers drink and he said no.  He looked down at the beer in his hand and got the message without me saying a word further.  He even thanked me for it and told me he appreciated me bringing that to his attention.  I think a lot of times our children observe those good things we are doing but are failing to give them the things they really need.

My daughter Trudy was at the university and came home on a weekend and she said to me Dad, you know the thing I remember so favorably about you.  I asked her what that was.  She said the times you used to come to my bedside and permit me to tell you all the things I did that day. 

Now what I thought Trudy would remember about her dad by was the nice home we lived in, nice clothes, new automobile I bought for her when she was 18 and a good education.  Those things were secondary.  What impressed her was me just giving her my time just the two of us together.  It doesn’t cost anything we just have to do it.

Dennis:  I want finish your list of seven things here.  Number five – "Be so consistent in your discipline that you're boring."  You're talking about just being down the line so your kids can count on you and what you stand for as you discipline them.  Number six – "Children will never believe in the covenant of marriage unless they see you living it with their own eyes."  I want to tell you something, I really agree with that.  I agree with you.

Truett:  Well, I had two boys in my Sunday school class, and their parents were going through a divorce.  They also had a three-year-old in the family as well as those two teenage boys, and they were going to get a divorce because the husband was cheating on her.  And she said, "Michael, don’t cry.  Your mother loves you.  Your daddy loves you.  We don’t love each other.”  But you know that’s not very satisfying to a boy.  They need a mother and a dad. 

Single parents are doing the best that they can.  It’s bad when the mother has to play the part of a mother and a dad.  A boy needs a dad.  A girl needs a dad.  But it’s up to the parents to make it work. 

Operating a business and operating a family you have to work at it.  Success does not come easy.  Home is the same way.  I think some parents think there has to be a perfect marriage or no marriage but that isn’t the way it works.  Even though I’ve been married for 56 years, I wish I could say for 56 perfect years, but there has been peaks and valleys in our marriage where we have disagreed.  God made us all different.

Bob:  Did you ever have a time in the valleys of your marriage when you looked at your wife and thought…

Truett:  I always thought that man was the head of the household.  That is foolish thinking.


I finally found out that a happy wife is a happy life.   A lot of times you have to see it from their viewpoint.  We are blinded and we think our decision is the best decision. 

Dennis:  I want to finish your list of seven reminders for building children.  The last one is – "How do you know if a child needs encouragement?  Well, if the child is breathing, they need encouragement."  How do you encourage boys?  You talk about in your book it's better to build boys than to mend men.  How do parents build boys by encouragement?

Truett:  Well, encouragement has been right by what you do.  Parents are the prime example, but, you know, words of correction are good, but even better than that, words of encouragement.  Among the employees that work for you, it's easy to find fault in your employees and what they're doing wrong, but you also want to find them doing something right and same way with your children.  If they clean up their room and cleaned up especially good, commend them for it.  And when you tear them apart when they do something wrong, but when they go out of their way to do things right, we'll recognize that and commend them for it.

Parents are made not only to give instruction but give encouragement.  Encouragement goes a long way.  I have a lot of people that encourage me, but I've never gotten an overdose of it.  I'm always waiting for somebody to encourage me.  Every day is not a perfect day, every day is not a rose garden, but it's how we handle the difficult situations that make the difference.

Bob:  Whenever you sign one of your books for somebody, you include a citation, a Bible verse from Proverbs.  What's the verse?

Truett:  Well, Proverbs I've latched onto, which I learned early in my life was Proverbs 22:1 – that a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.  Now, I went to public school, and it was required that on Monday morning in your homeroom that you brought a Bible verse with you.  From those Bible verses, the teacher would determine what would be the Bible verse for the week. 

So for a little fellow that didn't receive much recognition, that my Bible verse was selected and Proverbs 22:1 – that a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches – I don't know what an impact it had on my life, but I feel like it has a lot, because the longer that I live, the more I appreciate the fact that a good reputation, a good name, is something that you have to earn.  It's not anything you get, and it stays with you.

I teach my 13-year-old boys about, well, I told them that a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.  My first question to them – how many of you would like to have $1 million.  You know, all hands go up – yes, mom and dad get a new home, dad would get a new pickup truck with shotguns, and I could get my bike, and all those good things that we all think at 13, if you had enough money, everybody can have a good time.  But it doesn't come that way.  And one boy asked me, he said, "Well, what happens if you already have a good reputation?"  I said, "You have to earn it every day.  It's not anything you can earn one day and keep.  You have to re-earn it every day." 

And being in the food business, Chik-fil-A, we have to remember to do things right each and every time, not just sometime, but each and every time, because the customer have a good experience in a place for 50 times, and then be disappointed of treated rudely, they're liable to never come back.

Dennis:  Truett, I know one of the things you teach boys is to respect authority.

Truett:  Yes.

Dennis:  Why is that such an important principle to pass on to the next generation of young men?

Truett:  Well, in my counseling with boys – some of them, you know, drop out of school.   One boy I know got a job washing dishes in a restaurant and he came by my office to get a ride to Jonesboro and on the way I asked he what he was doing.  He said he was out looking for job because I just lost my job because the guy who used to work there came back.  He said as soon as I find a job I’m going to move from home. 

I said Kevin that is the worst thing you could do.  If you can’t take orders from your parents how can you expect to take order from your boss?  We all like our independence.  People resent being told what to do.  I mean, that's kind of the nature – we like to do our own thing.  But, growing up, you have to teach the chain of command and obedience, and it's so important, and it reflects on people in their career.  Sometimes they are high-tempered and haul off and quit the job or sometimes refuse. 

We've had one of my foster kids lost his job with Chik-fil-A because he refused to take the trash out.  He said, "That's not my job."  But, you know, working a business, you have to work together.  You have certain responsibilities.  It doesn't mean that you're limited to that, but we expect all of our employees to mop floors, clean restrooms. 

I tell the young people, if you want to get ahead in business, choose to do those jobs that other people don't like to do.  You can distinguish yourself by doing that.  It doesn't enumerate [ph] the level, but it proves the fact, if you have people that don't want to clean the restrooms and mop, you make it a point to volunteer for that. 

And when you clean a restroom, that means cleaning the restroom, and it's a lot of joy when you do a job and do it at your very best, and this individual, I told him, you know, you clean the mirror in the lavatory.  When you get to the commode, I said, "You clean that commode just like you want to drink out of it.  I know that doesn't sound very nice, but that's exactly what I meant, because a lot of people's definition of clean is one thing, and another is quite different.

Bob:  … something else.  I know we've only got a few minutes left with you – how can I get the recipe for the carrot-raisin slaw?

Truett:  Well, could you tell me the two major ingredients in our carrot and raisin salad – think now, that's a difficult question to ask, because it's a secret -- the two major ingredients.

Bob:  Carrots and raisins, right?

Truett:  Hot dog, you get it, you got it.

Bob:  That's all I need to know?

Truett:  Those are the ingredients.  You can figure out what the rest of it is.

Dennis:  Actually, what I want is, I want the spices.

Bob:  You want the chicken recipe.

Dennis:  I want the spices.

Bob:  We don't have the colonel, we've got the general right here. 

Truett:  Well, let me ask you – can you keep a secret just between you and me, you can keep a secret?

Dennis:  Yes.

Truett:  Well, so can I.


Dennis:  You know, our listeners, I think, have picked up on why Chik-fil-A is such a great place to work and why I chose, for five of my six kids, to work there and why Barbara and I were really behind that.  Truett Cathy is a great boss, but, more importantly, he's a great man.

Truett I appreciate you as a CEO and I want to brag on you.  You said you can always use encouragement. 

Our country today needs more CEOs and chairmen of the board like Truett Cathy who protects the next generation of young people by holding to standards of decency, morality, and not working on Sunday.  He calls young people to tell the truth and not get by with stealing, lying or cheating.  He is a true patriarch. 

I feel like this visit that we’ve just had for our listeners has been an opportunity to eavesdrop for how God turned a boy who maybe he didn’t have a father who built him as he should but God sure did.  We have an opportunity to experience that grace and pass it on to the next generation. 

Truett:  My privilege.

Bob:  You’ve given us a lot of wisdom today and you’ve given dads a lot of wisdom in the book It's Better to Build Boys Than to Mend Men and I like what Truett said about this book.  It’s a book you can read on an airplane between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  It doesn’t take a long flight to get through this book but it’s full of practical wisdom for dads.

Dennis:  It is.  It is a lot of common sense.    And, again, Truett, thanks for being on FamilyLife Today.

Bob:  I have to tell you all this talk about being a better dad has made me hungry for some Chik-fil-A chicken strips, sauce and a chocolate milk shake.  Here’s the sad thing some of our listeners have tried Chik-fil-A but they live in a part of the country that they can’t get it.  I know this because I tweet back and forth on twitter when I’m at the drive thru or I’ll post something on Face Book about it and I’ll get a note from my friend Jan who lives in Montana and she says quit talking about Chik-fil-A.  It’s hours from here.  Enough of that.  I’ll stop talking about that. 

Let me encourage you to stop by our website today at especially if you are looking for more help on how you can connect as a dad with your children especially with your sons. 

I’m thinking about the book that our friend, Dr. Robert Lewis has written called Raising A Modern Day Knight that many of our listeners have gotten a hold of and it’s given them a strategy or plan for helping boys become men.  Again you can find it on our website.

Let me also take a minute here and say a word of thanks to you who over the last several weeks have been very generous in contacting us and making a year-end contribution.  We have been trying to take full advantage of the largest matching gift that we have ever received as a ministry and I don’t have the final numbers today.  We probably won’t for another couple of days but we will let you know on our website whether we were able to take full advantage of the matching gift offer.  Thanks again to those of you who were able to give.  We’ll keep you posted.

Well, I hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend.  I hope you can be back with us on Monday.  We are going to be talking to a pastor from Austin, Texas and his wife Will and Susie Davis.  We’ll talk about the power of prayer in a marriage relationship.  We 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'll see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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