FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Mentoring the Next Generation

with Tom and Toni Fortson | June 12, 2008
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“Eliminate the leader--the man from the home, and the family is up for grabs.” Those are the words of Promise Keeper President, Tom Fortson, today’s broadcast guest. Tune in to hear Tom share a heartwarming story about his own father’s love for him.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • “Eliminate the leader--the man from the home, and the family is up for grabs.” Those are the words of Promise Keeper President, Tom Fortson, today’s broadcast guest. Tune in to hear Tom share a heartwarming story about his own father’s love for him.

  • 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.

“Eliminate the leader–the man from the home, and the family is up for grabs.”

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Mentoring the Next Generation

With Tom and Toni Fortson
June 12, 2008
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Bob: If you wanted to destroy a culture, and you were putting together a game plan, where would you start first?  Tom Fortson, who is the president of Promise Keepers, knows what he would do.

Tom: Take out the leader.  Take out the man.  Eliminate him, and then the family is up for grabs.  Mom is up for grabs, the children are up for grabs because the God-ordained leader has been removed.  So if I were developing a battle plan to destroy the family, let me take out the husband, let me take out the father.  Then I can pick off everybody else.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 12.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  One way to take out a leader is to confuse him or have him be unsure of himself.  We'll talk about how that's happening among men in our culture today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I've got a question for you and, I guess, for our guest as well today.  Back 10 or 15 years ago, when the Promise Keepers movement was just getting started, we used to think there is a lot of confusion in the culture today among men about what it means to be a man.  All right, now 15 years later, has that confusion been resolved?  Do more guys understand what it means to be a man today than they did 15 years ago?  Or do you think we still have a big problem in this area?

Dennis: Well, I'm going to ask our guest on FamilyLife Today, Tom Fortson.  Welcome back, Tom.

Tom: Thank you, Dennis.

Dennis: Glad to be here.  Tom is the president of Promise Keepers.  He and his wife, Toni, were speakers at our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences for a number of years, and he's a good friend.  They've been married over 36 years; have three adult children and one grandchild, and Tom's been leading Promise Keepers for a number of years, and I'm going to let him take the first crack at this.  I know what my opinion of this is, and I'll be surprised if it's not the same as Tom's.

Bob: Well, since Tom's just written a book called "Manhood:  Let the Truth Be Told," you should know the answer to this – do guys understand what it means to be a man today?

Tom: Well, let me address the issue.  I can't say that I have the answer.  But I don't think so.  One of the characteristics of men today is that they are confused over masculinity – what it means to be a man.  Why is it that in some of our communities there are so many single parents?  Where is the protection?  Where is the commitment?  We have a problem.  It's ungodly.  The consequences of what we see is men going their own way, doing their own thing, and the consequences are we have a redefinition of the family.  There is confusion.  God is not the author of confusion.  So if God is not the author of confusion, then who is sending this confusion?

Now, we need to be loving, and we need to speak with grace, but I want to let the truth be told.  It's a problem, Dennis, and it's spreading.

Dennis: And the thing is, Tom, is the hope for them recovering is the Christian community.

Tom: Yes.

Dennis: And so they must understand that we will embrace them but with truth and with definition.

Bob: So in spite of the fact that over the last 15 to 20 years, we've had more books on the subject, more conferences on the subject, more radio programs on the subject, we've been trying to send a message that says "Here is what a man is, here is what a man looks like, here is what a man does."  Somehow that message is not penetrating deeply into the culture.  Is it because the culture is screaming back louder than we're shouting?

Tom: I think you have a battle going on.  I think that's a good pickup.  There are kingdoms out here.  If I can use a biblical term, there is the kingdom of darkness, and there is the kingdom of light.  That's why Christ is the King of kings, and we proclaim Him as King.

But there is a battle going on here.  There are demonic spirits out there, and I don't want to get – I want to use the right terms, but there is a battle, and it's almost like it's a standstill.  As we intensify and bring clarity on what it means to be a man, don't think that there is going to be another force that counteracts that.

So it's almost like the game is being played on a front line, if you use a football illustration.  The offensive and the defensive line, the game is being fought on the line of scrimmage.

Dennis: The volume has been turned up, there is no question about it.  I mean, can you imagine seeing what we're seeing on television, hearing what's being taught in public education in high schools, colleges, universities across the country?  Can you imagine that being taught 30 years ago?  No, not at all, and so what you have is – if you had strong families, maybe you could counteract it, but the problem is the family has slowly been disintegrating along with all this where the family is not a proactive force.  It's been neglectful and, at points, it's been abusive.  There have been husbands and wives, moms and dads, who have had unhealthy relationships with their children that have added to the problem.

Tom: So let me go back to the family – take out the leader.  Take out the man.  Eliminated him, and then the family is up for grabs because the God-ordained leader has been removed.  So if I were developing a battle plan to destroy the family, let me take out the husband, let me take out the father.  Then I can pick off everybody else.  So I think we need to, in addition to Mom and Dad, we need to go after that man who does not know what it means to be a father, a husband, to be a provider, to be a protector.  So he should not, as a young boy, as a young man who is obviously feeling out his oats, he needs to understand you don't get involved sexually with another young girl because you have violated her. 

When was the last time or who instructed him that's a violation of God's moral law?  Well, a father should, a dad should do that, but we've already now begun to destroy that family that he is going to be a part of when he decides to say, "I do" when he gets married.  Well, already he's entered into a relationship that's broken because of a pattern that he's developed prior to marriage.

Bob: I think what you're saying is very important here.  We can publish books, hold conferences, have radio programs, do weekend retreats for guys; we can sound this call, but if there is not a dad, a husband in place to model that, to instruct it, this is not the kind of thing that you can teach once and then a guy goes, "Oh, manhood, okay, got it."  It's the kind of thing that has to be learned repetitively, you've got to see it modeled, you've got to kind of imbibe it on a regular basis before it makes any sense, and the condition of the culture is not a healthy condition for the development of healthy manhood in the next generation.

Dennis: Tom, you talk about in your book how men need to be modeling, as Bob was saying, but they also need to be mentoring and molding.  What exactly do you mean by that as it's applied to this area of being the spiritual leader of your family?

Tom: Well, for an example, my children had to see Toni and I in conflict.  They had to see us resolve …

Dennis: They had to see that?

Tom: Well, that's a good point.  They did see it.


Bob: They got the opportunity.

Tom: They did see it.

Dennis: I know Toni, and she's no pushover.

Tom: No.

Dennis: I've got a feeling that this came as a natural ebb and flow, and it's not that it would be all her fault, by the way.

Tom: No, no.  And so where is that modeled?  How do you resolve conflict?  Well, they have to see it.  Or my son or daughter will enter into a relationship, well, they'll say, "Well, this is not supposed to happen.  Mom and dad didn't argue."  Well, yes, they did, they had intense fellowship together, but they also saw Mom and Dad ask each other for forgiveness.  It's modeling, and we knew we had to practice it.  We knew that we didn't run from the kids when we had these discussions.  We were aware that they were around.  Maybe it was not as intense, you know, when they were around, but we knew they needed to see, "How are we going to resolve this?" Because they know Mom and Dad aren't getting along right now.  So they need to hear, "Honey, would you forgive me?  I made a mistake."  And were intentional about that.

But what happens to a young man when he gets married?  He is now a husband, and he does not know how to resolve conflict.  He gets angry, he gets angry, and he slams his fist down.  Well, that's because he's hurt.  How does he resolve that issue and his wife doesn't know "Well, why are you acting that way?"  She doesn't know that he's hurt, and he does not know how to say, "Honey, would you forgive me?  I've gone too far."  He has not seen that modeled, and he goes into a relationship not understanding what it means to be a husband or a father, and he blows it.  Why?  Because where was his dad?  He didn't have one.

Bob: Right.  Now, you're the father of two daughters and a son, right?

Tom: Correct.

Bob: And so your kids had a chance to see you and Toni model healthy marriage, what biblical manhood looks like, but were you intentional with your son about doing some active mentoring?  Did you take him out and have man-to-man talks with him?  Did you take him to the Scriptures?  How did you raise your son to be a man?

Tom: You know, you can always look back and say, "I wish I could have done it better."

Bob: "I wish I'd done this," yeah?

Tom: But he and I have had talks.  We have walked together, talked together, we have run together.  And many times he would say, "Dad, well, you know, that's now how I think."  Well, that's fine.  What does the Bible say?  See, go back to the source.  I'm not going to always be around, but the Bible and truth was here before I ever came around.  So he understood that in our home this was the source of truth.  Dad could be wrong on his counsel, but let's see what does the Bible have to say about it?

And one thing about our home, they knew Dad wasn't perfect.  They knew Mom wasn't perfect.  We didn't live perfect lives, but they knew that we were going to stay together no matter what.  There were no exit signs in our home.  That allowed for security.  That was taught to him.  So we all look back in our Hall of Fame and in our Hall of Shame about raising children.  There will be some things that I would do different.  I was not necessarily close to my dad, but one thing that he did teach me – this is the source of truth.

Bob: The Book, the Bible, right.

Tom: The Book.  And so what do I do?  I am modeling – he modeled it for me, that aspect of my home, I carry it into the next generation – no perfection, but we know that this is the final quarter of arbitration right here.

So there are various stages of Tommy's life.  One of the things that I wanted him to know that I did not hear from my father is that he loved me.  So if you would ask Tommy about whether your dad loves him, he would say, "Yeah, Dad always tells me."  I want him to know he needs to tell his children that you love them, you love them.  There should be no point in their life where they have to ask themselves, "Did Dad ever say he loved me?"  Now, you make sure that you say it.  That's a teaching moment, that's a mentoring moment.

Dennis: Tom, we started out this conversation talking about how we create clarity for young men, and it's interesting where we've gone.  We talked about the lack of clarity of the culture and what the culture has done and how it's created confusion.  Then we came back to the source, and the definition of the standard of what it means to be a man – the Scriptures.  And as we have talked about teaching and mentoring and molding our children with the Scriptures, we have now come to the area called "relationship" and loving.  And you just said a second ago that your dad didn't tell you …

Tom: Yes.

Dennis: … he loved you?  Now, I want to ask you to do something intensely personal – what kind of impact did that have on a boy growing up – to not have a father express his affection both verbally, physically, emotionally, for his son?

Tom: My dad worked three jobs when I was growing up.  I clearly remember – when you talk about the emotional impact – I clearly remember him coming to a Little League game, and I just happened to hit a homerun.  I remember clearly the count – three balls, two strikes.

Dennis: You're smiling.

Tom: I remember – I remember the coach saying, "A walk is as good as a hit."  Well, not when your dad is in the stands.  I did not want to walk, and I remember – it just happened, I wasn't that good.  I hit the ball, reached over the right side of the plate, it was obviously a ball, I hit that ball, it went over the right field fence.  I remember coming around the base, it was a homerun.  I was coming around second base, and I saw my dad in the stands saying to everybody, "That's my boy, that's my boy."  And I couldn't wait to get into the car so that my dad could tell me, "Son, I'm really proud of you, I'm really proud of you."  I got in the car, waiting and anticipating …

Dennis: You were how old?

Tom: I was about 12 years old.  Now, you talk about the impact – I'm 12 years old, I'm 60 now, I remember this very clearly – my dad didn't say anything.  My dad didn't say anything.

Bob: He didn't say "Great hit?"

Tom: No, he didn't say anything.  I went to my mom, I believe I had tears in my eyes, I can't remember clearly whether I did or not, but I told her about it, and she said, "Your dad loves you.  You need to know your dad loves you."  My dad was not emotional.  Now, he taught me to love Scripture, but he was not emotional.  So we're talking impact. 

It had a great impact on my life that he never said it.  I was 46 years old, I'm working for Promise Keepers, and my – I knew my dad did not have long to live.  He died within a week of this incident I'm going to tell you.

I took him out in the car, and I'm with Promise Keepers.  You know how you get emotional when you hear guys talk about their love for their dad or the absence or the affection, it wasn't there.  And I'm in the car with my dad, and I said, "Dad, I need to hear something from you."  I'm 46 now.  I said, "Dad, I need for you to tell me you love me."  I said, "I need to hear that."

Now, I didn't think I needed it, but I needed it, and I didn't have long with him, and I did not want to – I wish I had a moment.  Here is my moment – what looked like eternity or seemed like eternity – he turned his head and said, "Bubby" – that's my nickname – he said, "Bubby, I love you."  I said, "Okay, Dad, that's all.  Thank you, I just needed you to say that."  I needed it emotionally as an adult to know and to hear that he loved me.  And I heard it.

Now, I have over-compensated that with my son, because I don't want him having that experience.  He did teach me the Word of God.  He did teach me that this is what he treasured.  He did not know how to express it because he didn't have a dad.  His dad died; was killed when he was a young man, but it was my mom who told me that he loved me.  So through her eyes, through her voice, I knew it, but I wanted to hear it from the man in my life.  And I heard it a week before he died.

Dennis: And what happened in your soul on that evening when you heard that?  I mean, it looks to me like you've got some tears in your eyes right now.

Tom: I didn't know what I needed.  I needed a dad who said, "Bubby, I love you."  I needed to hear that.  That was part – I was healed of something that I was longing for.  Now, I knew it, I sensed it, I saw the work ethic, I saw the provision, but I think hearing it was a healing moment – so much so that I wanted to move on quickly.  Maybe I should have just allowed it to flow and for the two of us just to sit there silently for a while, and I heard something I wanted to hear since I was small.

Dennis: I can imagine, Tom, that that moment felt a bit dangerous because of the power of those words.  I mean, there are no more powerful words to hear from your father.  You know, when Jesus was baptized, there was a voice – "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."  I think there was some modeling taking place for all of us in that moment of the third person of the Trinity.  I mean, my goodness, you wouldn't think He'd need to hear it, but the Father stepped out of eternity and made the statement publicly.

And I think our boys and our daughters, they need the truth of The Book just like you've said.  That's where the confusion is going to be clarified.  But it's like the confusion also needs to be clarified as well with a relationship of love and compassion and of two hearts knitted together, man to man.

Tom: Yes, yes.  And, you know, Dennis, as you and I dialog here – and Bob – as we sit here, I have a wife who is very patient and understanding, and she knows all of this.  We grew up together.  But I wonder how many wives don't know their husbands and don't know the relationship between her husband and his father?  I think that's a key aspect of marriage because so much of that man's father is going to come into that relationship, and if he never heard his father say that "I love you" – what impact is that going to have in that relationship with his wife?  And I would say it has an impact. 

She needs to know the type of father her husband had, and the impact that he had on him because that's coming into the marriage.  That's coming into the relationship, and that relationship needs healing.  I encourage men to go back and reconcile with your father.  If he has not told you he loves you, ask for it.  Say, "Dad, I never heard you tell me you love me, and I need that as an adult."  Why?  I experienced that.  You know, I was the leader of Promise Keepers.  I come in with that pain, and I can see it in other men.

Bob: I think about the tens of thousands of men who this summer are going to be at one of your Promise Keepers events, and you've got them going on in different regions of the country all summer long.  Guys can come to our website at to get information about where these events are being held and how they can attend one of these events and how they can bring their sons with them to these events.  What a great moment for a father and son to be able to go to a PK event like this together.

Dennis: And maybe they've never said I love you?

Bob: Well, there may be some of that that goes on, yeah.

Dennis: To your son – what a great place for it to occur, in the midst of the worship, the preaching, the teaching, and the equipping that occurs of men encouraging men.

Bob: And these events are going to cause guys to be challenged, to be stirred up.  In fact, I was thinking, if a dad and a son were going to go to a PK event together, what they ought to do is get a copy of Robert Lewis's book, "Raising a Modern Day Knight" and maybe get the CD set of our interviews with Robert where we talk about dads raising sons to understand what's at the core of masculinity and listen to those together on your way, driving to or from the Promise Keepers conference. 

We've got information on our website about how you can get a copy of Robert's book or how you can get the CDs.  Go to, and on the right side of the home page, you'll see a box that says, "Today's Broadcast."  If you click that box, it will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about the book "Raising a Modern Day Knight," about the CDs that go with that, and there's information about Tom Fortson's brand-new book, which is called "Manhood."  That would be another book that would be great for a father and son to read through together so that they can both gain clarity on what's at the core of what it means to be a man.

Again, our website is, all the information about these resources is available there.  When you get to the home page, look for the box in the right side of the screen that says "Today's Broadcast," and click through there to get more information about these resources.  Or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we can make arrangements to have the books or the other resources you need sent out to you.

And you know what else would be good to listen to?  This month we're making available a CD to our listeners as a way of saying thank you when you make a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  It's a CD that features former Army Ranger and Green Beret, Stu Weber, talking about manhood and how you keep manhood in balance, what it means to be a man, and what it means to do it right.  That CD would be another great CD for a father and son to listen to on the way to a Promise Keepers event, and we're happy to send it to you as our way of saying thank you this month when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.

You can request the CD when you donate online at  There is a keycode box on the donation form.  Just type in the word "Stu," s-t-u, and we'll know that you'd like a copy of the CD sent to you, and we're happy to get it to you.  Or call and make a donation at 1-800-FLTODAY and mention that you'd like the CD on manhood with Stu Weber and, again, we're happy to get it out to you.  It's our way of saying thanks for helping to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with your donations.

Now, tomorrow Tom Fortson is going to be back with us, and we're going to talk about what manhood looks like in the face of adversity.  I 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 tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  


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