COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – He's been called one of the most influential evangelical leaders of our time, and for good reason. For the past four decades, Dr. James Dobson has devoted his life and ministry to preserving the family. He's best known for his long-running radio show, "Focus on the Family" and this year celebrates 40 years in broadcasting. CBN's Wendy Griffith recently traveled to his Colorado Springs headquarters to find out what's next for the iconic broadcaster.
Jim Dobson was born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1936, the son, grandson and great-grandson of ministers.
Wendy: "A lot of people don't know this but you had some rebellious years?"
Teenaged Rebellion Changes Everything
Dobson: "Surprise, Surprise....My Dad was gone a lot and my mother raised me. She was a great, great mother, but like a lot of kids when I turned 16 I began to think I knew more than she did. And I had been out somewhere, I didn't do anything really bad, but I came home and she said, 'I know where you've been,' and I said, 'Right. I'm going to do it again.' And I'd never taken her on like that and she looked at me and said, 'What did you say?' and I said, 'I've made up my mind there are some things I'm going to do my way.' And she just said, 'hmmm' and she had the phone sitting there and she reached over and took the phone, my dad was a thousand miles away, and she called him, while I was standing there. She had a simple message for him: 'I need you' ...and to my shock my Dad canceled a four-year slate of revival meetings and said I'm not doing that anymore. He got on a train and came home."
That decision changed everything for the young "Jimmy."
Dobson: "My Dad, by making that sacrifice, invested in me. We hunted, we fished, he was with me. It pulled me back from the edge. I was an only child so that time with my mother and dad was idyllic."
Dobson Takes a Different Path
But the young Dobson did not follow his forefathers to the pulpit, choosing instead the path of academia. That decision led him to become a child psychologist at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles. But his growing concern for the rapid demise of the family overshadowed his love for academia.
He says he could see what was coming to the culture – a breakdown of the family unit.
With his wife, Shirley, and two young children, Dobson left university life in 1977 to begin a radio program on 34 Christian stations called
"Focus on the Family." Unfortunately, that was when his own family began to suffer.
Heeding the Warning Signs in His Own Family
Dobson: "I was neglecting my own family and my Dad saw it. He wrote me a letter and I still have it today. He started off by saying how proud he was of me...but the world into which your children are born is very different than the world into which you were born and if you don't have time to invest in them and pray for them you'll lose them. I could cry today, it's been all those years. He said to me, when you sit where I sit, all this other stuff you're doing, it's wonderful, but I'm telling you, it won't matter anything."
Dobson cut back on travel and Focus on the Family took off. It eventually grew to 7,000 stations in 150 countries and at its peak reached 220 million people each day.
In addition to his radio show, Dobson wrote numerous best sellers, including, Dare to Discipline and What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women. He also started the influential Family Research Council and served as an advisor to five U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan.
Dobson: "He said, 'I want you to tell me what I can do to strengthen the family'. And I said, 'Why not a family impact study commission so that you can't mess with the family without knowing what you're doing to it?' There were four of those and he issued executive orders for all four and they stayed in place until Bill Clinton canceled them."
Interview with a Convicted Serial Killer
In 1989, Dobson shocked the nation when he met with serial killer Ted Bundy the day before his execution. Bundy told Dobson violent pornography led to his unthinkable behavior.
After more than 30 years at Focus on The Family, Dobson left in 2009 because of what he called "significant philosophical differences" with his successor. He began a new nationally syndicated show called "Family Talk" but says the message hasn't changed.
Dobson: "You cannot have a strong country without strong families. That's the next generation; those are the kids that are going to inherit everything from you, what you believe, what your spiritual views are, everything depends on that. And we are really playing with fire when we begin to rip into the fabric of that structure."
Wendy: "You have spent your life fighting for the family, fighting for traditional marriage, helping parents to raise good kids. When you look around today and you see gay marriage pretty much the law of the land and transgender becoming sort of the norm, do you ever get discouraged?"
Dobson: "Of course I do, because the family is the ground floor, that's the foundation for the entire culture; everything sits on that, our institutions, our government, our way of life, our values, our children, everything sits on that foundation."
No Plans for Retirement
At 81, Dobson says he has no plans to retire. He starts each day with 45 minutes on the treadmill before coming here to his office that looks more like a ski chalet - adorned with rustic furniture, family photos and a majestic view of Pike's Peak. And like Pike's Peak that towers more than 14,000 feet above Colorado Springs, Dobson says one thing remains paramount over all else – teaching your children to love the Lord.
Dobson: "There's nothing more important than introducing them to Jesus Christ. If you don't get that done and they die in an unrepentant state, according to my theology, you never see them again, boy if that doesn't put it in perspective...so to have an opportunity to influence those families is a great thrill for me..."
In honor of Dr. Dobson's 40th anniversary in broadcasting, Family Talk is launching the Dobson Digital Library. The project brings four decades of tried-and-true, family-centered content to a new generation of families on the worldwide web.
"The digital library is quite possibly the most important project we've ever undertaken, and that's why we've made it free for families and ministries everywhere," says Dobson.