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From Generation to Generation

  • 2002 9 Sep
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From Generation to Generation

Shannon and Jennifer Kusilek had a problem. When their 9-year-old son spent the night at friends' houses, he sometimes watched inappropriate movies. They'd voiced their concerns to their son and the other families, but the situation didn't quite feel settled.

Then during a family car trip last fall, the Kusileks heard something on an "Adventures in Odyssey" broadcast that gave them a simple answer to their situation.

"We were listening to the episode 'All the Difference in the World,' " Jennifer explains. "The father on the tape told his son to call home before he watched any movies at a friend's house. So now that's a rule in our house.

"It was wonderful, because then our 6-year-old was also enthralled," Jennifer adds. "So right in the middle of an eight-hour car trip, I grabbed my Bible and opened it to 2 Peter 1:9, which was mentioned at the end of the program. We had a little devotional about how following Jesus means that we'll make choices in our lives that set us apart from people who don't know Him. It was really great. We've taken a lot of Focus on the Family's principles and made them our own."

And Jennifer knows plenty about Focus. Her parents, Dan and Phyllis Johnson, implemented Dr. James Dobson's ideas when she and her sister, Julie, were growing up.

"We raised our kids using the ideas in Dare to Discipline," Phyllis says. "And when Jennifer had children, I began talking right off the bat about the principles that I had learned."

The Johnsons are just one household that's seen Focus have a multigenerational impact on their family. Many others first learned of Dr. Dobson and Focus on the Family when their children were young -- but now their kids have kids of their own.

Prepared for Parenthood

Before Dan and Phyllis Johnson had children, they were listening to Dr. Dobson.

"I was pregnant at the time our Sunday school class started listening to cassettes of Dr. Dobson talking about the principles in Dare to Discipline," Phyllis remembers. "I've always been a voracious note-taker, so I took some notes and stored them away. Then my husband and I raised our girls using those things."

As instrumental as Dare to Discipline was in the early years of Jennifer and Julie's lives, the Preparing for Adolescence tapes were even more helpful as the girls transitioned into teens. (Julie now works at Focus on the Family.)

"I was about 9 or 10 when my mom started taking us individually to a hotel for a girls' special weekend," Jennifer says. "We'd listen to a tape, go shopping, then go out for dinner and listen to another tape. Then we'd sit in the sauna and listen to another tape. That was such a blessing that she took the time to do that."

Phyllis planned these events with each daughter for three years, each time listening to different tapes from the series.

"It gave me a forum to bring up issues," Phyllis explains. "I wouldn't sit down at the table one afternoon and say, 'Let's talk about peer pressure.' But listening to a tape would bring up questions that we could talk about."

Communication is still important to the Johnsons. Jennifer is married to Shannon Kusilek and has three boys.

"Jennifer and I talk every day," Phyllis says. "And we've chatted a lot about things regarding her kids."

Phyllis has passed on copies of Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child to Jennifer, who's put the books to good use.

"Dr. Dobson's ideas are totally ingrained with how my husband and I raise our kids," Jennifer says. "Little phrases that he uses, like 'I love you so much that I cannot allow you to behave this way.' I say that before every discipline I give, whether it's a spanking or just a talking to."

And as the Kusileks' children grow up, Jennifer has already gotten ready for next step.

"Now I have those Preparing for Adolescence tapes," she says. "And Shannon is going to get away on special weekends and go through them with our boys."

Tuned in to Parenting Dr. T.A. Body says Dr. Dobson has always been a tremendous resource for him. In fact, Dr. Body and Dr. Dobson's career paths have numerous similarities. Both are trained psychologists, and both turned away from the medical profession to follow God's call.

More than a decade ago, Dr. Body left the National Institute of Mental Health to go into ministry. Since that time he's founded the One Accord Community Church of God in Christ and a radio program called "Lifeline 2000."

"My radio talk show deals with the family and fundamentals of the Christian faith," Dr. Body says. "Now I've never told anybody this, even on my broadcast, but Dr. Dobson was the reason I wanted to start a talk show to deal with the black family. He was the person who got me thinking."

Today, Dr. Body's program can be heard twice daily on the 50,000-watt station WGUN in Decatur, Ga.

"I often quote Dr. Dobson on the broadcast, but I don't tell people he said it because I want to look good myself," Dr. Body says, laughing. "I'm kidding, of course. But I use James Dobson to death, because I'm talking about husbands, wives, parentingall that stuff."

Almost everything in Dr. Body's life is related to family. When he started his church 14 years ago it had eight members: six of his children, his wife and himself. Now One Accord has more than 1,000 people attending every week.

"And our church feels like a family," Eumika Body-Griffin says. "My dad strives to keep that feeling."

Eumika is Dr. Body's youngest daughter and the minister of praise at One Accord. Her husband, Kevin, is a gospel-jazz pianist and the minister of music. They're raising three children: Brooklyn, Kevin and Kerrington.

"Because I'm the last and was at home the longest, I spent a lot of time with my parents in the Word and as a family," Eumika says. "And that really helped me to be a godly parent." Eumika first read one of Dr. Dobson's books when she was co-producing her dad's radio show.

"I read The Strong-Willed Child years ago," Eumika says. "I remember it well. But my husband and I were just talking about getting it out and reading it again, because our two youngest children [ages 4 and 2] are extremely strong-willed."

Dr. Body dealt with a few strong-willed kids of his own. With eight children, 24 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, there's very little he hasn't experienced in family life. And as he looks at his family, he can't help but speak with pride.

"All the way down to my great-grandchildren, they are all godly and in the church," he says. "And they're raising their children with the same principles that Dr. Dobson gave out those many, many years ago."

Family Doctor

Tom Bradford has known Dr. Dobson for so long that it was still possible to telephone him directly.

"In 1971 a friend of mine gave me the book Dare to Discipline," Tom remembers. "I read it and identified with everything Dobson was saying. There was a lot of pressure in those days not to spank or discipline our children, saying you could mess up their little personalities. But here was a professional and a Christian who was basing his philosophy on biblical truth, saying you should discipline your children. That you do them harm if you don't discipline them, as long as you do it in love."

When Tom finished the book, he read on the flyleaf that Dr. Dobson was a psychologist and in charge of work on phenylketonuria (PKU) for five western states.

Both of Tom's sons had PKU, a dietary deficiency where the body can't absorb the phenylalanine that's in protein so it builds up in the brain and stunts brain development. His sons, Jim and Bill, were doing better than most children with PKU because they discovered the condition early on and put them on a very restrictive diet.

"They couldn't get any protein," Tom says. "No meat products, such as fish, chicken or beef. They couldn't have nuts, beans or dairy products. Fruit and some vegetables -- that's all they could eat."

Tom picked up the phone, called Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, asked for Dr. Dobson and got straight through to him. Tom told him how much he enjoyed his book and that his sons had PKU.

After talking awhile, Tom set up an appointment with Dr. Dobson. Two months later, the Bradfords flew from their home in Alabama to California. Following a series of tests, Dr. Dobson determined Jim and Bill did have classic PKU, but because of their age both boys could be taken off their restrictive diets.

"That was great news!" Tom says.

Over the course of the next 20 years, Jim and Bill grew up to be healthy adults, and Tom helped start the Alabama Family Alliance (now the Alabama Policy Institute), a state group that fights for family values in government. Tom also continued to follow Dr. Dobson's career in writing and founding of Focus on the Family in 1977. Then in 1991 the two met again when Tom visited Focus.

"We spent around 30 minutes together and had a great time," Tom says. "And we talked about my boys."

Several years ago, Jim met Dr. Dobson in Colorado Springs, although he doesn't remember meeting him as a child.

"I hate to say it, but I don't remember going to California and doing all those tests," Jim says. "But when I got married 19 years ago, I started listening to Dr. Dobson's radio program. I always like to hear Dobson's ideas, because he has very practical suggestions on how to handle daily stuff."

Jim and his wife, Carolyn, have three children ranging from 7 to 17.

"It's amazing how different three children can be," Jim says. "Their makeups are just light-years apart. So while the parenting principles remain the same, we have to re-evaluate and rethink how to communicate and handle issues with each child."

Jim says a lot of those parenting principles came from Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child. And he adds that he and Carolyn have enjoyed going through Night Light, a devotional book written by the Dobsons.

"I've probably got a half-dozen or more of his books in my room that I refer to," Jim says. "And we've got a cabinet full of 'Adventures in Odyssey' and 'McGee and Me' videos that the kids grew up watching."

Family Tree

Every Sunday at the Bingaman home in eastern Pennsylvania looks like a mini-family reunion. After church everybody gathers at Max and Martha Bingaman's house to eat dinner before evening church. And when you consider that Max and Martha have five married children and 18 grandchildren, it is a houseful.

"I have 30 to 35 here every Sunday, and I love it," Martha says. "Everybody enjoys coming, and we all live around here and go to the same church."

With so much emphasis on family, it's not surprising the Bingamans are good friends of Focus on the Family. And if you visit Focus' headquarters, you'll find a plaque that tells how the Bingamans donated the seven miles of red oak molding that adds a touch of beauty to the buildings.

But even before Max thought about supporting the ministry, he was impressed with what Focus on the Family stood for.

"I've always been blessed by how Dr. Dobson presents biblical principles to child-raising and families," Max says. "The first time I heard him was when our church had the Focus on the Family film series back in the '70s."

Max and Martha finally visited Focus on the Family shortly after the ministry moved from California to Colorado Springs in 1991. Around that time their oldest child, Chris, was diagnosed with cancer. Chris and his wife, Heidi, had four young daughters when they discovered the news.

"I was really impressed with the way Focus supported me," Chris says. "Besides the books When God Doesn't Make Sense and Conquering Cancer that they sent, they also hooked me up with Dave Dravecky's ministry, Outreach of Hope." (Dravecky, a professional baseball player, lost his pitching arm to bone cancer in 1991.)

Last year the Bingamans were back on the Focus on the Family campus with some of their children to record a broadcast called "A Traditional Family." Chris told his story of receiving a bone marrow transplant from his youngest sister, Mary Beth, and overcoming cancer.

"The Lord used the opportunity to be on the Focus broadcast to encourage others," Chris says. "That was a real privilege, and I got a tremendous amount of e-mails and letters from people dealing with the same type of cancer. I still keep in touch with many of them."

Chris and Heidi's daughters grew up reading some of Focus' magazines for children, Clubhouse Jr., Clubhouse and Brio. And they still look to Focus for helpful resources.

"My wife and I have found Plugged In to be an invaluable publication in helping us evaluate media for our teens," Chris says. "Sometimes it's good for our children to hear advice from somebody besides their parents. I really appreciate the honest critiques they've done."

Because of the length and depth of the relationship that the Bingamans have with Focus, they've had the chance to become friends with Dr. Dobson and his wife, Shirley. A couple of years ago the Dobsons visited the Bingamans' ranch for a weekend.

"Dr. Dobson and Shirley are wonderful," Max says. "I tell people, 'What you hear is what he is.' A lot of times [on other broadcasts] you hear something on the radio and you see something different in person, but that's not the case with Dr. Dobson."

Jesse Florea is the editor of Focus on the Family's Clubhouse magazine for children.

This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2002 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.