FamilyLife Today® Podcast

My Man, My Protector

with Tom and Toni Fortson | June 13, 2008
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Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with Promise Keeper President Tom Fortson and his wife of more than 36 years, Toni, about a man’s responsibility to protect his family spiritually and physically.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with Promise Keeper President Tom Fortson and his wife of more than 36 years, Toni, about a man’s responsibility to protect his family spiritually and physically.

  • 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.

Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with Promise Keeper President Tom Fortson and his wife of more than 36 years, Toni, about a man’s responsibility to protect his family spiritually and physically.

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My Man, My Protector

With Tom and Toni Fortson
June 13, 2008
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Bob: It is in the midst of adversity that the reality of who we are is often tested.  For Promise Keepers' president, Tom Fortson, a diagnosis of cancer was a spiritual reality check.

Tom: There was a cry of the heart because I sensed the end.  I immediately went to the end, and when I went to the end, at that point, as I'm thinking through the end, I recognized there was a strong need for somebody to rely on.  And I recognized that God has given me a partner, and it was my wife.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 13th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll hear today how Tom Fortson responded to his diagnosis of cancer and about the spiritual lessons learned.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.

Dennis: Bob, you know the saying that goes, "We're friends to the bitter end?"

Bob: Yeah.

Dennis: And that this is probably the bitter end?


I think I've probably done that with the guest on today's program.

Bob: You are testing the limits of the relationship, is that what you're saying?

Dennis: Yeah, that's right.  We've been talking this week with Dr. Tom Fortson, who is president of Promise Keepers, and used to be a good friend, goes way back a number of years ago with me.

Tom: Still are.

Dennis: And he and his wife, Toni, have been speakers in the past at our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, and I kept looking over Tom's shoulder out into the studio waiting area at his wife, Toni, who had this big grin on her face, like …

Bob: She was listening as Tom was talking about manhood and …

Dennis: She was, and I kept looking at her face, and I'm going, you know what?  She's got something she wants to say.  She needs to be in here in the studio.  And so this is the bitter end of my friendship with Toni.

Bob: Is that why you were smiling, Toni?  You were saying "I want to get in the studio and talk to you guys?"

Toni: Well, not really, and I'm surprised that you've invited me in, but, you know, I was smiling because I thought things were going to well, and I thought what you were sharing was being communicated in such a way that it's going to encourage the men, and I think a lot of wives will be listening as well.  I think they'll be encouraged, too.

Dennis: Toni, Promise Keepers teaches men to be protectors of their family, and in Tom's new book that he's written, "Manhood, Let the Truth Be Told," there is a story that is shared in that book of a ruckus that was created at your front door that represented a great illustration of how a man protects his family.  Would you share that with our listeners because I think they'll appreciate this.

Toni: Yes, I remember the story, and I remember the incident very well, and it was a surprise, because we were all in bed, and our children were in bed.  They were young, very young at the time, and someone tried to break in, and we were just shocked.  We didn't really live in a neighborhood where that happened, and so it was a surprise to us and, of course, we women, we hear everything, even the grass growing at night.

And so we heard this noise, and I woke Tom up, and I said, "Listen to that," and he realized that it sounded like someone was breaking in so …

Bob: Is this the middle of the night?  Three in the morning or something?

Toni: It was late at night, maybe 1 or 2 where we had been asleep, but women never really sleep.  We're always …

Bob: The radar is always on.

Toni: The radar is always on.  So he did get up and realize someone was trying to break in.  I went and got the children and put them all in the closet because we just didn't know what was going to happen, and so he goes downstairs, and he sees this guy trying to break in through the side window at the door, and he actually broken the glass and was putting his hand in, he was trying to reach around and unlock, he thought, I guess, to open up the door with knob.

So Tom was shouting at him and telling him to go away, giving him a chance to leave, and he remembered there was a baseball bat nearby in the corridor there, so he grabbed this baseball bat, and I guess he was going to knock him out.  I don't know, I was just trying to keep the children back in the back and encourage him a little bit.

So this guy continues to press his way in …

Bob: No, no, no, hang on, I've got to find out what the Louisville Slugger is thinking here.  When your wife nudged you and woke you up and said, "I hear a noise."  What were you thinking?

Dennis: You weren't thinking, "Sweetheart, there's a baseball bat downstairs.  Go get it, sweetheart, and take care of it."

Tom: No, not at all.  I'm thinking this is a dream, why are you waking me up?  But then, all of a sudden, reality sets in – something is wrong.

Bob: You heard the noise.

Tom: I heard the noise.

Bob: You went downstairs.  When you saw a guy reaching his hand in through a broken window trying to get in your house, the adrenalin is starting to pump, isn't it?

Tom: Listen, I was scared.  Let me put that on the table.  I just – I didn't go down immediately because there is this time– "What should I do?  What is this?"  I dialed quickly for a friend – I should have dialed 911, but I didn't.  I called my friend, no answer.  In the meantime, the noise is getting louder, I just left the phone.  Toni went and got the kids and put them in the closet, and I'm downstairs.  So I'm downstairs.  I can hear her shouting, you know, "Be careful."  And I got the bat, and you can take the story.

Toni: Well, he did get the bat.  He didn't have to use it.  The guy actually withdrew his hand, and Tom looked through the window and saw him on the step and apparently, he had been shot.  We could see a bullet hole, and I don't know why – well, there was some blood, but I expected more.  I just looked out the window, and he was kind of in shock, and I think what we found out was there was some kind of ruckus going on, and he escaped from some kind of conflict with another group of men and had been shot, and he was trying to protect himself.

He thought – and he may have been on drugs at the time, but he thought he could get inside the house to protect himself from more people coming after him.

Bob: Tom, the impulse in a man that you're supposed to protect, guys will say, "You know, I'd step in front of a bullet for my wife."  Well, you get a night like that, and you're walking downstairs, and you see somebody coming in, you've got the baseball bat, it is pretty unnerving.  That's where the rubber meets the road, at least in one aspect of what it means to be a man, isn't it?

Tom: It is.  I didn't have a lot of time to think about what was going on.  Instinctively, you want to protect.  I knew that Toni was upstairs, I knew that the children were upstairs.  I didn't totally know the circumstances.  I didn't think through, this is what I'm supposed to do, I'm supposed to be a father, a protector.  It was just something that happened.  It happened rather quickly, although it seemed like a long time.

What I did learn, that he had gone to the house next door and didn't get in, and the house next door, the lady's husband was not home.  I'm glad he came to my house in the sense that I was home.  The lady next door had two young kids.  What would have happened if he had broken into her home, and her husband was not there?  So there was a man in our home, I did do all of that, I did not think about being courageous, I didn't think about, "This is what I'm supposed to do."  It did happen, it is a true story, there are records to this effect, but the big idea is that there was a man in the house.

Dennis: Yeah, and that's what I want to pick up on with Toni.  Toni, you've seen the man in the house for 36 years.

Toni: Yes, I have.

Dennis: He has been more than a protector with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat, too, right?

Toni: Yes, he has.

Dennis: How have you seen Tom as the spiritual protector of your two daughters and your son?

Toni: Well, Dennis, that's a big one.  But you know what?  It comes to mind right away to say that it's amazing how he's developed the relationship with the girls and created the ability for them to talk to him about issues and about things going on in their life.  I think that is so important.  He has created an atmosphere where they call him.  They'll ask his advice about things.

We have one married daughter right now, and so she leans more on the relationship with her husband right now, but our oldest daughter, she's not married yet, and her and her dad have a great relationship.  Tom has taken on the main man in her life right now, and he protects her in giving her a sense of there is an umbrella over her and until God sends someone in her life to be her life partner, I have a strong sense that she believes that her dad is there for her no matter what.  He has created that kind of relationship, and even though my other daughter is married, I think that she would call him in a heartbeat if she really needed some advice outside of anything that, you know, basically her husband and the two of them weren't able to work out, which they do very well at.

Bob: You know, I think you make a great point, and that is all of the responsibilities we have as dads to be provider, protector, leader – all of these have to be done in the context of a strong, healthy relationship if they're going to make any sense at all, if they're going to work at all, and that's the foundation from which we operate.

I'm thinking back to this intruder in your house, and it occurs to me that you had a different kind of intruder show up at your door years later, and this was not a middle-of-the-night intruder.  This was an intruder who made his presence known at a doctor's appointment when you got a diagnosis that you weren't expecting.

Dennis: Yeah, Bob has encountered this intruder as well.

Tom: Yes, you're referring to the news about cancer, and it was an intruder, it was a surprise.  It's life, and you need to be prepared for these type of things.

Bob: How did this happen?  Were you just on a routine checkup when the doctor came and said "We've got some abnormal results?"

Tom: Well, I think it took a – it was a process – they initially called them "suspicious cells."  So I had time to think about it.  It's probably too much time.  And through a series of events, three visits to Mayo Clinic, the first issue was taken care of.  But on the second visit, it was just a routine checkup regarding the first surgery, and they sent me through a number of tests, and I sensed that there were some concerns. 

They discovered that I had cancer in the kidney.  All of that has been taken care of now, after three visits to Mayo Clinic, but what I realized is that eternity stares us all in the face, and sometimes it takes something like this to ask some key questions – have I done what God called me to do?  Have I been the husband that Toni – that she wanted, that she needed.  Was I the type of father that my children needed or wanted? 

So I believe, Bob, as a result of this, God has given me a second chance.  Now, He doesn't always give you a second chance to go back and do some things that you didn't do.  I remember clearly Toni telling me that "We're not finished yet.  There are still some dreams that are unfulfilled that God is going to allow us to have." 

Dennis: Wait a second, Toni is grinning over here.  Rather than you tell us what she said, tell us about that, Toni.

Toni: Well, Tom's right.  When he found out he had this cancer, I think a lot of men tend to look at the end, and I just didn't sense that this was the end.  And I felt like God still had quite a bit for him to do, and I was trying to give him the encouragement that he needed to not give up, to not toss in the towel, to not feel like that, at this point in his life, he's not going to be as good as he had been, or he wasn't going to be able to do as much as he had done.

I just saw this was a pause, and, as women, we are there to encourage, to inspire, to build them up, to help them see the vision that's still before them, and that's what I felt like was needed.  I did not see this as we need to look back and see if we did it all right.  I'm thinking we need to look forward; we still have a long way to go.

Bob: When Tom got the diagnosis, when he came home from the doctor or called you from the doctor and said, "Well, it's not good news."

Toni: Well, I was there, actually.

Bob: Were you?

Toni: Oh, yeah.  When we found out we were together, and it was a surprise because he had just went through prostate surgery, and that came out clean, and we were really grateful.  So this little bout with this cancer thing on the kidney …

Bob: Now, wait, "This little bout with this cancer thing on the kidney?"

Toni: Well, you know what?  Cancer is big, and the fact that they found it on his kidney, they did say that it was a small enough situation that they felt that they could alleviate it with some surgery.  So when I put that in light of, you know, other problems with cancer that other friends of ours have had – I don't mean to belittle it, but I do want to express gratefulness that it could have been a lot worse.  I guess that's what I'm saying.

Bob: You're a pretty optimistic person, aren't you?

Toni: I try to be.

Bob: A positive thinker?

Toni: I try to be, I try to be.

Bob: Were there dark moments in your thinking where you thought, "This could be – as much as I think God's not done with Tom yet, and we still have dreams," this might be God's time to call him home.

Toni: I thought about that, I thought about that.  I mean, I think any woman who has this concern, whether it's her husband or children or whatever, you do think that, but I am optimistic, and I just felt like whatever was going to happen here, we were going to figure out how we were going to handle it, and if it was negative, and if it was going to be something that was more serious and develop into a more serious situation, then I had to figure out how we were going to get through this and find out how we can move forward.  And that's where I felt I was with this situation.

Bob: Tom, when you're standing in the kitchen watching a guy trying to break into your house, and you've got the Louisville Slugger there, you kind of know what you're supposed to do.  But when a doctor comes along and says, "Well, it's not good news," it's a different kind of intruder.  What does manhood look like in those moments of a man's life?  What does it mean for a guy to be a man when you get that kind of news?

Tom: Initially, I go to the Creator of the Universe in the person of Jesus Christ.  That was my first cry, and there was a cry of the heart because I sensed the end.  I think Tony was right.  I immediately went to the end, and when I went to the end, I recognized that God has given me a partner, and the cry of the heart, it was not audible, but the cry of the heart went to my wife, and there was a strong need for somebody to rely on.  And it was my wife.

It wasn't hard, because she knew I was hurting.  She knew I was unclear about life, and as I reflect back on that, what happens to a man who does not have the God of the Universe in the person of Jesus Christ, when eternity is staring him in the face, or does not have a woman who loves him who is there, he can cry out to, because, remember, I'm talking about the cry of the heart.

Sure, I could have said, "Okay, we will work through this," and put up a front of being physically strong or mentally strong.  I was not.  I wanted to face reality – reality said that death is staring me in the eye.  We're all going to face that at some point.  But manhood, to me, is transparency.  Manhood, at that point, is not to be strong, necessarily, or to be the protector or to be the provider, but the ability to say, "Here is where I am.  Here are my needs."  To show forth that "This is who I am and at this point I have a strong need to be with somebody," and I think Toni saw that, and she was there.

Bob: You know, I've been in the situation where the doctor says, "Well, this is not the diagnosis we'd hoped for.  The news is not what we had wished, and we've got to go down this path" …

Tom: Yes.

Bob: And at some level, it does cause you to kind of do some inventory of what's going on in your life, of where you've been and where you're going and should God give you more time?  What are you going to do?

Tom: That's a good word.

Bob: Now, the reality is for every person listening, they may not be sitting in a doctor's office getting that diagnosis, but we can tell everybody who is listening that death is coming.

Dennis: One hundred percent guaranteed.

Bob: That's right.  The diagnosis is you're going to die, we just don't  know when.

Tom: That's right.

Bob: Now that you've got that bad news, now you can do some inventory and figure out where you go from here, can't you?

Dennis: You can ask yourself three questions – who am I?  Where did I come from?  And where am I going? And your spiritual address in terms of who you are and that last question, where are you going and where you're going to end up – are really the key questions.

Tom: They are.  They are, Dennis, and, Bob, I like what you just said about the inventory.  And they may not get the news like we got the news, and how graciously the doctor presented the news to you.  They may not hear it that way, but they, at some point, the destiny issue has to be answered, and I do believe that if the truth be told, and the truth is being told, it's found in Jesus Christ.

Dennis: It is, and to that man or woman who is listening right now and doesn't know Him, my suggestion is you turn the radio off, and you settle the issue with Almighty God.  Because He is offering a gift of forgiveness and cleansing from sin, from all the shame, all the wrong you've done in your life, and He is offering son-ship, being a daughter, being a son, a family member, and He's offering eternal life, which is back to Bob's inventory, and how it's what you do, moving forward, and where you take it from here, and Jesus Christ came to be your Lord and Master.

Tom: Yes.

Dennis: Take Him at His Word, and if you need some literature or some help, we've got folks standing available right now who would be happy to send you a book at no cost that will explain to you how you can develop that relationship with Christ and come to know Him personally.

Bob: And the book you're talking about is a book called "Pursuing God," and, again, we're happy to send it out to anyone who wants more information about what it means to be a Christian – how you begin a relationship with Jesus Christ, and how you grow in that relationship.

You can call our toll-free number, which is 1-800-FLTODAY and simply say, "I want to know what it means to be a Christian.  I want to become a follower of Jesus Christ, and we'll be happy to send you a copy of the book, "Pursuing God" at no cost.  It's our gift to you, and we trust that God will use this book to help you grow in a relationship with him, a relationship that will literally change your life.

Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY.  Just call and say, "I'd like to become a Christian, and I'd like a copy of that book that you have available, and we're happy to send it out to you.

Let me also invite you to get in touch with us to find out more about the book Tom Fortson has written on the subject of manhood.  It's called "Manhood, Let the Truth Be Told," and we've got it in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can request a copy of that book from us online at, or by calling 1-800-FLTODAY. 

If you go to the website, when you get to the home page, on the right side of the screen you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click through that box, it will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about Tom's new book, "Manhood, Let the Truth Be Told."  You can order it from us online, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY– 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  Someone on our team will make arrangements to have Tom's book sent to you.

Let me mention one additional resource on this subject of manhood and masculinity that we're making available all month long.  When any of our listeners make a donation of any amount this month, we want them to feel free to request a copy of a great CD – this is a message from an Army Ranger and a former Green Beret, Stu Weber, who is now a pastor and an author.  The message is called "Applied Masculinity" and Stu talks about what it means to be a man and what balance looks like for us, as men.

We're happy to send this CD out as our way of saying thank you for your financial support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  So when you make a donation online at, and you come to the keycode box on your donation form, just type in the word "Stu," s-t-u, and that will let us know that you'd like a copy of the CD from Stu Weber.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, and make a donation over the phone.  Just mention you'd like the CD from Stu Weber and, again, we're happy to send it out to you as our way of saying thanks for your partnership with us.  We appreciate your financial support.

And with that, we're going to have to wrap things up today.  I hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us on Monday.  We talked about manhood this week, we're going to talk about biblical femininity next week.  Nancy Leigh DeMoss will join us to talk about the essence of biblical womanhood, and 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 Monday 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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