FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Who Are Your Mentors?

with Rick Johnson | December 14, 2016
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Fathering expert Rick Johnson recalls the alcoholic home he was raised in and the mistakes he made early on in his marriage. Johnson talks about the men who helped shape his own parenting style, and encourages men to either find a mentor or become a mentor to another man.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Fathering expert Rick Johnson recalls the alcoholic home he was raised in and the mistakes he made early on in his marriage. Johnson talks about the men who helped shape his own parenting style, and encourages men to either find a mentor or become a mentor to another man.

  • 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 talks about the men who helped shape his own parenting style, and encourages men to either find a mentor or become a mentor to another man.

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Who Are Your Mentors?

With Rick Johnson
December 14, 2016
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Bob: What are the things that dads do that make them a cut above? Rick Johnson is here to talk with us about that today. Stay with us.


 And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.

I don’t know if I told you I’m going out of town this weekend. We're going to go see my son and daughter-in-law and our grandson and spend a little time over there. I got a text from my son this morning. He said, "I really miss you dad. Having a son makes me want to be around my dad more." 

Dennis: Oh, wow.

Bob: Excited for you to get here on Saturday.

Dennis: Those are texts that you save right there.

Bob: You do save those, don’t you? Isn't that nice?

Dennis: It is very nice. We're going to help dads do better. In fact we’ve got the author of Ten Things Great Dads Do. Rick Johnson joins us on FamilyLife Today. Rick, welcome to the broadcast.

Rick: My pleasure.


Dennis: Rick and his wife Suzanne live in Oregon along with their grown children. He is a bestselling author and the founder of Better Dads. I've been looking forward to asking you this, Rick. I don't usually read the dedication but something caused me to read the dedication of your book. I just want our listeners to hear who you dedicate this to.

Bob: He dedicated it to you, didn't he? [Laughter]

Dennis: He did. He really did. No, he did not do that. He said I dedicate this book to all grandfathers.

Bob: Well, you'd be included in that group.

Dennis: I would be. Who have stepped up and are parenting their grandchildren.

You have a much tougher road than anyone knows, but without your presence so many more children would fall through the cracks of life. God bless you and give you the strength to persevere. You truly are better dads. Now here's a book for dads that you dedicate to grandfathers.



I’ve been in the book. This is not a grandfather book. This is a dad book.

Rick: No, right.

Dennis: Why did you dedicate this?

Rick: Well, I you know never stop being a dad, right. This has been illustrated to me very clearly—life circumstances. You know you're a dad for your entire life after you become one. Sometimes you’re a grandfather and you’re a dad, too, and that's an interesting dichotomy in and of itself.

Bob: You’re in that full circle situation through circumstances. You and your wife are now parenting one of your grandkids, right?

Rick: We are in the process of adopting our four-year-old granddaughter. Yes.

Bob: That's a circumstance or situation that most moms and dads don't hope to be in. When you get there, it's a tough assignment that God calls you to. In fact, we had our grandkids visiting recently. Our seven year old and our five year old and it had been a day that they'd been with us and my wife came in and said, "I understand afresh why God gives kids, little kids, to younger parents.


Dennis: [Laughter]

Bob: Because you had more energy the first time around than you did this time, right?

Rick: Well, there are definitely challenges. You know there are some advantages, too. I mean, you know

Bob: You know more now that you did then.

Rick: No, No. You forget surprisingly, you forget more than you think you would, but yes, I think as an older father I have more patience. I have a little bigger vision, I guess, of what fathering really is. I think as a younger father, I tended to be in the moment too much, you know.

Dennis: Right

Rick: Too stressed, too. It’s all a new learning experience, and now it’s a little bit easier I think, but the other side is that by 8:00 at night my wife and I are both ready for bed for sure.

Dennis: Let’s talk about your dad.  What did you get from your father that you are passing on to your kids?


Rick: Well, I was raised in an alcoholic home. I had an alcoholic stepfather, an alcoholic mother, a very abusive environment. So I think what I learned is what kind of dad I didn't want to be. Now, I was blessed mightily by the fact that I met my biological dad when I was 24 years old and we have developed a very good relationship. He's a good man. A lot of healing has taken place just having a dad that I can look up to, that I can respect who can say things to me like, "I’m proud of you, I love you". Even as an adult man those things were hugely important so I've been very blessed by that and been able to pass some of those things on to my kids as well.

Bob: I think you made a great point though. I share the experience that you had. I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father. And I got married knowing what patterns I didn't want to bring in. I think I thought at the time knowing what not to do was probably sufficient. It’s a part of the picture, but it's not the whole picture, is it?


Rick: Well, and know when we're raised in those environments where we have wounds and we develop these thought processes and we develop the neuro pathways on how to respond in a desperate situation, in a survival situation, they don't serve us very well once we get out of that situation and get into a healthy environment.

I can remember in the earlier years of our marriage I would say or do something and my wife would like, “That's not normal.” And I’m like, “Yes, it is. We did this all the time in my family.” It was like it wasn't normal. Thankfully she was patient enough and loving enough that she was able to see me through some of that stuff, but you don't know what you don't know. That makes it really tough for dads that come from that kind of an environment.

Dennis: I think one of the things you are modeling, Rick, I also want to underline here, is you took a wound and you’ve turned it into a scar.

You, uh, a holy scar, because you're trying to equip fathers


to do better with the task at hand today, and that from a guy who was hurt deeply in a home where you grew up.

Rick: Well, and let me just follow up on something you said earlier. Actually my second book that came out Better Dads, Stronger Sons I did dedicate to you and a number of other men who had been very influential in my life…as far as helping to heal some of those wounds by giving you the information that I needed to be a good husband, a good father, a good man,

Dennis: You know, you're hitting on something here that I don't want men, especially fathers to miss. We never outgrow our need to be mentored, regardless of our age, and I have to say you know I am a grandfather now. I have a lot of grandkids and I miss some of the men who mentored me because they've gotten their graduation papers and they've moved on to better territory, but I learned a lot from men who were a lap or two ahead of me in the race of life.



Speak to the listener right now, the man, or for that matter, the woman who is married to the man who doesn't have a mentor in his life, who doesn't have an older man building into his life to teach him what he doesn't know.

Rick: Well, and you bring up a huge point, Dennis, that I think a lot of men miss. I mentor a lot of men, but even at my age I wish I had an older man maybe who’d been through some of the things I'm going through that could help share with me some of the things that he's learned in life. Without that, I think we tend to be lost. I have a lot of women that actually come up and ask me about stuff like that. Well, how do I help my husband with that? I’m not sure women can actually help a husband. But I think some of the things that woman can do that are a helpful is to develop relationships with women whose husbands could be good mentors for their husband.


For me what was hugely helpful was to find a group of men I could be involved with that I could develop trust for that maybe they'd been through things I hadn’t been through with my kids or had kids that were older. But they could say things to me that I probably wouldn't have received very well from my wife. You know, things like you're wrong.

Bob and Dennis: [Laughter]

Rick: Or you're out of line here. Probably wouldn't have been very well accepted from my wife, but because I could trust and respect these men they meant a lot to me.

Bob: Now the tables are turned. You're trying to pour into the lives of other men. You've written a book called Ten Things Great Dads Do: Strategies for Raising Great Kids. Rick, I was interested by where you started this book. And the reason why is because for seven summers from the time I was in high school until the middle of college I spent my summers as camp counselor. The number one job for a camp counselor, I guess number one is to keep the kids safe, but number two is make sure they have fun and so having fun was at the top of my list


and I remember thinking when I got married and we started to have kids this is what the assignment is really all about. If you can just raise kids and they have fun all the time, you will have succeeded as a dad. Now I realize today there is more to it than just them having fun all the time. But having fun is a pretty important part of being a good dad, isn't it?

Rick: Well, it is and just a little brief background on this particular book. I'd written several books on fathering and the truth is, you know, I probably exhausted all of my knowledge on fathering by that point. But the publisher wanted another book on fathering and so I thought I'd been speaking to men for like 15 years now. The events that I speak at usually the men that are there are pretty good dads. They're there. They're looking for information. They're trying to be a good dad.

But over the years I've seen probably two dozen guys that just stood out as just exceptional dads.


So I've kind of kept track of them and stayed in contact. So when I was going to do this book, I thought, well, I am going to interview all these guys and find out what they think is important about being a good dad, because that is kind of fascinating to me.

So I did and these were the ten things that they thought were most important.

One of the things that I was most surprised about was one guy said that he actually judges the health of his family by the amount of laughter that he hears in his home. And I thought, Wow. That's amazing.

Now the challenge was, especially for a guy like me who comes from a background where I'm basically learning on the go, trying to figure out what is going on. It's a stressful environment. I'm serious about it, right? I mean this is serious business. I don't want to pass on the same generational legacies that were passed on to me that I had to try to break.

Bob: And you didn't grow up hearing a lot of laughter in your home growing up, right?

Rick: Absolutely, yes. So you know then the challenge is because you can't just go in and say, "We're going to laugh now, we're going to be a happy family."

Bob: Right.

Rick: You've got to create that environment and what does that look like because it is very important.


I think that is one of the bigger things that is most valuable about being a great dad.

Dennis: So you had how many children then?

Rick: Two

Dennis: Two children. What's your best snapshot of having fun with your family and you as a dad where you really felt like you were hitting it on the sweet spot and in that moment you achieved the objective.

Rick: Probably from the humor perspective was when my kids were little, toddlers and a little bit older, we spent a lot of time playing the bear game where I was the bear, got on the floor crawling around and they would come flying and jumping on me and screaming and the bear would toss them or give them a bear rub and it just seemed to be a great time. Mom was little concerned sometimes

Dennis: [Laughter]

Rick: it was getting a little rough but it was a great time for everybody I guess, except for mom maybe, I don't know.


Dennis: Talk about the Nerf and Strike Vulcan EBF 25 dart can.

Bob: Oh, yeah. I loved that.

Rick: You picked that up. That's the greatest present I've even gotten for Christmas I think.

Dennis: You got the present!

Rick: I got the present. Yes, it was a nerf gun that fires

Bob: Multiple rounds.

Rick: Oh, like there’s a whole box of ammo that goes with it.  We spend a good part of the day playing outside with these nerf guns that we got.

Bob: So if you met a dad today who was fun challenged, I mean he would look at his life today maybe like you looked at the early years of your being a dad, and would say, I'm serious. We don't have a whole lot of laughter and a whole lot of sumo wrestling or dirty diaper changing, whichever you want to pick. How would you encourage him to get started bringing fun into the equation?

Rick: If I had to give my younger self advice, I would tell myself to relax a little bit and it’s not as serious as we think it is. I think what I'd encourage dad,


you know, the biggest thing that we do in creating memories with kids which are hugely important as well, is to find things to do together, find physical things especially with males. That’s best how we relate with each other is through physical activities, through doing things together.

I think we can create a lot of fun and a lot of memories and take some of that pressure off by finding things, new fun challenging things to do. You don't have to be that creative, I don’t think, to find those things to do with your kids.

Dennis: One of the things you did was family vacations. Was there an all time winning family vacation you took with your family?

Rick: Well, I’ll tell you a little story. I don't know how appropriate this is to the topic we're talking about but probably I don't know 15 years ago now my wife and I took our kids on a vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We're having a great time. We decided to go on a snorkeling tour. The snorkeling tour you get a bunch of tourists on the boat early in the morning. They go out to a reef. They drop you off. You snorkel all day. You have fun.


So we're on this boat early in the morning and heading out to this reef. Unknown to me the crew of the boat apparently a tradition of this tour was to ply the male tourists with these shots of tequila, these poppers. I'm literally the only guy in the boat turning them down, right. I don't care what they do, but I just don't want to do it. So the crew takes it as a challenge now to get me to take these poppers, right, and so they're getting pretty aggressive about it, even questioning my manhood, right? And I keep turning them down.

Finally I'm getting pretty angry after ten minutes of this and this thought enters my head. It’s you know you’re on vacation; you’re out of the country. What's the big deal? Take a shot and get them off your back and you don't have to deal with it. Seems reasonable, but before I could do that, I look over and here's two little sets of beady eyes staring at me.

They've been watching right from the beginning everything that's taking place. And what does my wife and I've been telling them since they were little.



Don't do what your peers do. If your friends jump off a cliff, what am I going to do, right? I’m about to succumb to peer pressure. If I had done that, probably nothing that I’d ever said again on peer pressure, or anything maybe, would have made a difference because I wasn't walking the walk.

Bob: I think I’d have been tempted to take the shot and toss it over my shoulder and just say, “Here. Give me another one,” and see if they wanted to pour another one after that, right?


Dennis: You're really talking about building relationships with your kids and getting down on their level to do that. One of your favorite memories you said of your father was something where you walked in and found him playing with your kids one day.

Rick: Yes, I walked in one day and here's this large, 6’3” very reserved, quiet, dignified man sitting on this tiny little chair with this little straw hat on top of his head having a tea party with my two year old daughter


and it was just like that sign that says, I don't care how tough a guy you are. When a two year hands you the phone you answer it, right?

Dennis: Yes.

Rick: It's kind of the same thing.

Bob: This is an example and its one of the principles you talk about in your book Ten Things Great Dads Do. You say it’s important to get out of your comfort zone. Dads have to be willing to enter into a son or a daughter's world, even if it feels awkward to go there, right?

Rick: Well, I think especially when it feels awkward to go there. I think it equalizes us. It puts us down on the same level. I think as dads at least maybe slightly insecure dads, maybe like I was, have a tendency to want to control things, make sure they're not going to look foolish, so to speak. So getting out of that comfort zone puts us on the same level as our kids. It allows us to really develop this bonding in this relationship that we might not get if we're in control and in charge of everything.


Dennis: And I would say just around having fun with your kids, one of our favorite resources that we've passed on to literally thousands of dads and moms around the country that’s a lot of fun and at the same time not only builds the relationship but builds in the lives of their kids is Passport to Purity.

And now a new resource called Passport to Identity, and basically it’s a father-son getaway to prepare a son for adolescence around his 10th, 11th, 12th birthday- that's Passport to Purity. And then Passport to Identity can be a father/son, a mother/daughter experience to equip them to handle the differing messages they're getting in the culture today around sexual identity.

Bob: Well, on listening to messages about purity or identity may not sound like having fun with your kids, but here's where you bring the two together, where you come up with some kind of an event that is the bribe,


so a dad says to his son, “How would you like to this weekend

Dennis: Go to the Cardinal game?

Bob: Yes, that's what I did with one of my kids, or let’s go motor biking together.”

Dennis: Let's go camping.

Bob: Yes, we're going to do something fun together and figure out what it is that your son or your daughter would really love to do. Use that as the bribe and say, "Hey, along the way, I want us to listen to these CDs or to the MP3s we got from FamilyLife that gives us some stuff to talk about. Now your son or daughter may not think, “Oh, gee, I can't wait to listen to those MP3s from FamilyLife about identity or about purity,” but if they're looking forward to a camping trip or a Cardinal game or whatever it is, they're going to be excited about the time, they're going to be having fun, and you can sneak in a little discipleship along the way.


Dennis: You can. In fact, what Rick's talking about in his book, Ten Things Great Dads Do, you're talking about having fun with them.


I think both of these resources, Bob, really illustrate what Rick's talking about here. You can have fun in the midst of having some great teaching, relevant teaching on issues that they're dealing with. I have to tell you I've met a lot of kids who've been through Passport to Purity over the years and now a few are starting to trickle in who have been through Passport to Identity. They have a good time because its father/son, mother/daughter and it’s around a shared experience which is what you talk about in your book.

Bob: We do have copies of Rick's book and we’ve got Passport to Purity and Passport to Identity all of them available in our FamilyLife Resource Center and you'll find information about all of these resources when you go to or you can call for more information at 1-800-358-6329 or 1- 800- F as in Family- L as in Life then the word Today. That's the phone number. Or go on line to


Get a copy of Rick's book and start to make plans for one of these weekend getaways with your 10 to 12 year old Passport to Purity. Or your 13 to 15 year old take them on a Passport to Identity getaway. Maybe it’s a month or two from now, but go ahead and get the resource and start making plans.

Now I missed an anniversary yesterday. We have some friends of ours who live in Canton, Ohio, Craig and Tawanna Anderson who celebrated their anniversary yesterday and I forget to say it on the radio so I hope the Andersons will forgive me and will accept our congratulations a day late. They listen to Moody radio out of Cleveland WCRF and they have been to a number of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. Congratulations to the Andersons on their anniversary.

Anniversaries matter to us as a ministry because one of the reasons we exist is to help more couples celebrate more anniversaries.


We want to effectively develop godly marriages and families. And those godly marriages and families are going to celebrate more anniversaries because they're going to thrive as they make Jesus and the gospel central to everything that’s going on in their marriage and in their family.

That's our assignment as a ministry—to provide practical and Biblical help and hope for marriages and families. And those of you who partner with us financially together we are reaching hundreds of thousands of couples all around the world with God's truth about marriage and about family.

We're grateful to have you as partners. In fact this is a time of year when people often consider making year-end contributions to ministries like ours. And in our case we've had some friends of the ministry come along and say, "We'd like to incentivize your listeners. We're hoping if that we agree to match their year-end donation that they will make a generous donation.”

 And in fact these folks are not just matching it dollar for dollar. But they have agreed that if you make a donation of $25, they'll donate 50 dollars.


Whatever you donate, they're going to effectively triple that donation. And our friend Michelle Hill has been monitoring our matching fund all month long. Michelle, how are we doing?

Michelle: You know what, Bob? We’re doing o.k! because donors like Ruth and Mike and Diane and over three thousand others have unlocked four hundred and forty thousand dollars of that one and a quarter million dollar match, and we’re so thankful for their partnership. ‘course Bob, we still have a ways to go to unlock the full matching gift, but we’re on the way and we’re encouraged.

Bob: We're hoping listeners will call today or go online today or mail a check today. You can do any of those things. Go to and donate online. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone. Or mail your donation to FamilyLifeToday at Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223.


And we hope you'll join us back tomorrow. Rick Johnson is going to be with us again. And we're going to hear not only more thoughts about what makes a dad a great dad, but we're going to hear about the spiritual journey that God took Rick on that brought him to an understanding of what life is really all about. He'll share that story with us tomorrow. Hope you can tune in 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 will see you back next time 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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