QUESTION: What has been your greatest challenge as a father? What did you learn from it?
JAMES DOBSON: Raising healthy, well-educated, self-disciplined children who love God and their fellow human beings is, I believe, the most challenging responsibility in living. Not even rocket science can approach it for complexity and unpredictability. And, of course, the job is even more difficult today when the culture undermines and contradicts everything parents are trying to accomplish at home.
Fortunately, we are not asked to do everything perfectly as moms and dads. Our kids usually manage to survive our mistakes and failures and turn out better than we have any right to boast about.
I certainly made my share of mistakes as a father. Like millions of other men of my era, I often had a tough time balancing the pressures of my profession with the needs of my family. Not that I ever became an ''absentee father,'' but I did struggle at times to be as accessible as I knew I should be.
As it happened, my first book, ''Dare to Discipline,'' was published the same week that our second child, Ryan, arrived. A baby always turns a house upside down, but the reaction to my book added to the turmoil. I was a full-time professor at a medical school, and yet I was inundated by thousands of letters and requests of every sort. There was no mechanism to handle this sudden fame. I remember flying to New York one Thursday night and doing 17 television shows and press interviews in three days, returning to work on Monday morning. It was nothing short of overwhelming.
My father, who always served as a beacon in dark times, saw what was happening to me and wrote a letter that was to change my life. First, he congratulated me on my success, but then warned that all the success in the world would not compensate if I failed at home. He reminded me that the spiritual welfare of our children was my most important responsibility, and that the only way to build their faith was to model it personally and then to stay on my knees in prayer. That couldn't be done if I invested every resource in my profession.
I have never forgotten that profound advice. It eventually led to my resignation from the university and to the development of a ministry that permitted me to stay at home. I quit accepting speaking requests, started a radio program that required no travel, and refused to do ''book tours'' or accept other lengthy responsibilities that would take me away from my family.
As I look back on that era today, I am so grateful that I chose to preserve my relationship with my children. The closeness that we enjoy today can be traced to that decision to make time for them when they needed me most. I could easily have made the greatest mistake of my life at that time.
I'm sure many fathers will read this response and find themselves today where I was back then. If you are one of them, I urge you to give priority to your family. Those kids around your feet will be grown and gone before you know it. Don't let the opportunity of these days slip away from you. No professional accomplishment or success is worth that cost. When you stand where I am today, the relationship with those you love will outweigh every other good thing in your life.
QUESTION: Would you say that most marital problems are caused by sexual difficulties?
JAMES DOBSON: No, the opposite is more accurate. Most sexual problems are caused by marital difficulties. Or stated another way, couples who have problems in bed often have bigger problems in the other 23 1/2 hours of the day.
(James Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903; or www.family.org. Questions and answers are excerpted from ''Solid Answers,'' published by Tyndale House.)
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