Despite his busy schedule as president of Colorado
megaministry Focus on the Family, Jim Daly makes it a priority to leave the
office in time to arrive home by 6 p.m. to spend time with his wife and two
But, as a recent conversation with his 9-year-old
demonstrated, he confesses that the balancing act isn’t always easy.
“He says to me, ‘Hey, Dad, you’re really not focusing on
your family’ and he gave me a big smile,” Daly said, wincing, as he recalled
the trip to drop his son off at school on the way to the airport.
“I said, ‘I’ll
be home tomorrow night and we’re going to wrestle in the basement’ and he said,
For Daly, the emphasis on family is not just a job, nor
simply a ministry, but a personal crusade. The 48-year-old father spent much of
his childhood in Southern California’s Morongo Valley as an orphan after both
his parents died by the time he was 12. Now, he’s striving to not only be a
good father himself but to encourage others to look at adoption, heal a
marriage or help a struggling teenager.
Daly, who attends a Colorado Springs church linked to the
Calvary Chapel movement, describes God as the ultimate father figure. One of
his favorite Bible verses is from Psalms, which describes divine protection for
the fatherless and widows.
“He’s for the
widow and orphan; he’s a father to the fatherless,” said Daly, who became a
Christian in high school during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp. “Those
verses all meant a lot to me.”
With Daly as Exhibit A, Focus on the Family has developed “Wait
No More” conferences to encourage Christians to consider adoption for children
who are languishing in foster care. Colorado officials credit Focus with
helping reduce the number of children awaiting adoption in the state from 875
to 550 over two years.
Yet Daly says he’s not satisfied with the drop: “We want to
keep on that number until someday it’s no child is waiting.”
As Daly adjusts to recent layoffs at Focus and breaks new
ground with expanded outreach efforts, he’s sticking with the ministry’s
well-known conservative positions on social issues.
In November, he signed the
Manhattan Declaration, a document that opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and
limits on religious liberty.
Now that founder James Dobson has stepped down as president
and chairman of the board, and plans to yield the microphone at his daily radio
talk show in February, Daly is slowly becoming the public face of the Colorado
Springs evangelical ministry. Yet Daly, who hasn’t decided how to fill Dobson’s
radio role, said he views himself as succeeding, not replacing, the well-known
broadcaster and psychologist.
often said, ‘Are you going to fill his shoes?’ and I laugh, first of all, and
then I say, ‘No one will fill his shoes,”‘ he said. “I’m asking the Lord to
just give me a new pair of shoes.”
One thing observers have already noticed is the two men’s
different styles. Where Dobson was unapologetically outspoken and sometimes
partisan, Daly is more winsome and more likely to seek out those with whom he
committed to the same principles and the same ideas,” said Tony Perkins,
president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, who also signed the
Manhattan Declaration. “They just may approach them from a different way.”
Daly, who worked at Focus for 16 years before ascending to
president four years ago, has also opened other new doors, reaching out to
20-somethings that make up more than 10 percent of his staff and seeking civil
dialogue with people who typically disagree with his ministry’s conservative
At the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington this fall,
Daly shunned the traditional podium and invited Esther Fleece, his assistant on
millennial relations, to join him onstage on side-by-side bar stools.
“(W)hen you look at that group, the value voter group, a lot
of them are middle-aged or older and they’re reinforcing one another’s
worldview and perspective, which is one I believe in,” said Daly. “But we’ve
got to engage and raise up the next generation of leadership.”
Fleece said the speech was a display of Daly’s “very
relational” personality: “He doesn’t talk at people. He talks with people.”
Those talks extend to groups that have been at political
loggerheads with Focus, including the Gill Foundation, a Colorado-based gay
rights organization that has been on the opposite side of the ministry’s
political arm in state political initiatives.
Though he differs with many of President Obama’s political
positions, Daly sees promise in the White House’s fatherhood initiative,
writing that “we need more men to follow his commitment to being a husband and
father.” Daly said Obama’s experience of growing up with an absentee father “resonated”
with his own story.
“We don’t have to give up our principles,” he said in an
interview, “in order to have a discussion with people.”