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Building a Family Legacy 2.0: Dr. James Dobson Revamps DVD Series

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

With the way video programming is so fragmented today due to the way people consume it; the idea that any sort of program could generate anything beyond a microscopic rating seems implausible.

Therefore, it is confounding to think that more than 80 million people (a third of the U.S. population at the time) saw the original Focus on the Family video series Building a Family Legacy featuring Dr. James Dobson just three decades ago. The highly-successful series equipped parents and grandparents to build a lasting legacy of faith in their families.

Seeing a nation in desperate need of revisiting these simple, biblically-based parenting concepts, Dr. Dobson and his son Ryan have recently updated and re-released the original Building a Family Legacy along with four new episodes. Their hope is to restore the foundational principles of effective parenting found in Scripture.

Recently, I sat down with Ryan Dobson to discuss why this series has stood the test of time, what are the key precepts in cultivating a healthy family, and whether spanking your child still has a place in modern society.

In 1978, your father, Dr. James Dobson released a popular film series that was viewed by 100 million people. But it eventually had its run and faded into our rear view mirror. This fall, you and your father have redone the series, contemporizing it for today. Its rebirth, however, rests in large part on you encouraging him to re-release it. How did all of this come about?

About six years ago, I was in my parents basement getting something from my dad. I was down there rummaging around and found a big, long stack of DVDs. I was bored, but I thought I would find something to watch. The DVDs were just rubber banded together in these slim line cases, not professional, just computer paper that said, “Film Series: Film 1.” I thought, oh my goodness, this is not the original parenting series is it? I’ve got to watch that. I thought it would be funny, you know, my dad’s got wide lapels, big sideburns, and huge glasses. I took them home and started watching one on fatherhood and stopped about five minutes in, because I knew my wife would want to see it. We watched it together and just wept. It’s amazing, and I’m thinking, goodness gracious, my dad was 43 years old. How could he possibly be that good? We watched one after another.

I’m watching those films and thought, “I’m going to be a better dad and a better husband right now.” The series just gives you those tools right then. So I’m giving these films to my friends and they’re watching it, and I call my dad and I say, “Dad, this stuff is so good.” He replied, “Yeah, I know, 100 million people saw these.” And I said, “No, no, where do I get this? My friends want to buy it.” And he just laughed and said, “Ryan, this has been out of print for decades. Nobody wants to watch those old films.” I told him that I thought these films were amazing.

What is it about the content of this series that still stands up today?

The concepts didn’t change. It’s based on my dad’s Ph.D. in psychology and scriptural principles, and they’re all still true today. He was still pioneering a lot of that stuff, and into the 1960s, you had Dr. (Benjamin) Spock saying just let your kids do whatever they want to do. They’re going to be fine, and my father said, “No way. Kids are born with a temperament and a personality,” and my father said, “Kids are a blank slate. Everything is up to the parents,” and he was like, I don’t think so. Well, now we’ve done brain mapping and it’s mostly nature, not nurture. There is nurture involved, but you were born strong-willed or compliant, and all those different things. For this project we re-mastered three of the original episodes because the content, you couldn’t repeat it. It’s just too good. He did four brand new episodes, and I did one. Each one is designed to give parents tools to become better spouses and better parents.

I understand your father (James Dobson) wasn’t too receptive to the idea of bringing this series back to the forefront. True?

He laughed. Honestly when I said we should do this, he laughed and I just said, I don’t think he understands how bad people need this right now. When you think back to the 1970s when he was doing this, we had Jimmy Carter in White House. My parents got an 18% interest rate on our house in 1972 and that was a good one. They bought gas on odd and even days. They actually installed an extra gas tank in their car, because they were afraid of running out and not being able to buy gas. Look at the family today. We’ve got President Obama in office, interest rates are soaring, gas prices are through the ceiling, mortgage rates are rough, the economy’s in the tank, and the family’s in more danger today than ever before. We need this stuff. I have written a supporting book for this called Wanting to Believe. It’s not just about Christianity; it’s primarily about parenting. I want to believe that the stuff my dad teaches is true, and as I apply it to my life with my wife and my kids, it’s absolutely true. You can be a good parent. You can have a good relationship with your kids. We went through the 1980s and there was so much divorce, there was so much of the nanny state and kids being raised by other people and not their parents, and the dual income and all this stuff, and we lost sight of what’s really important and my father just brings it back into focus.

What’s different about the new series as compared to the original? Obviously the wide lapels and mutton chop sideburns have given way to more contemporary styles. But beyond that …

I’ll tell you what’s different. What’s different is you’ve got over 35 years of proven advice. Everywhere I go with my dad you have people coming up going, “I raised my kids on your books.” But what they’re not saying is, “I raised my kids on your books and you ruined them.” People are saying, “My kids love the Lord today. My kids have great marriages today. My kids have kids and they’re raising their kids off of your material.” But like a lot of books, if it goes out of print it doesn’t mean the material was bad, it just means a new generation’s come along and we’re trying to introduce a new generation to this material. And what’s changed, my dad wrote Bringing Up Girls and Bringing Up Boys, and Love Must Be Tough and on and on it goes, and there weren’t films to go with them and now there are.

What are some of the key precepts that this new video series really tries to key in on in relation to the healthy family?

A lot of it’s based on a relationship. One of the original episodes is called, Where’s Dad? I’m saying if you’re gone all the time and if you’re too busy to be with your family, you’re going to lose your kids, that relationship. Jesus Christ is the theme through everything. If you look at my dad’s new book, Your Legacy, it’s the first time he’s come out and just said, “This above all else is most important.” When he first started writing back in the early 1970s, Dare to Discipline, Strong-willed Child, all those things, he was still at USC School of Medicine, there was a publications board, it all had to be approved and he couldn’t be overtly Christian, but he was still threading it and weaving it throughout. In most of his books, the last chapter has a faith component. In this one he says straight out, “Of all things, this is most important.”

A hot button issue in recent years, recent days for that matter, is how you discipline your children. There’s the corporal punishment approach, the reasoning with your child approach, the just ignore them and hope the problem goes away approach. Is there an appropriate Christ-based way to disciplining your child?

Listen, if you go to Amazon.com, you look at Dare to Discipline; there is the vitriol that you have never experienced before. People freak out. “You beat your children?” Listen; let me tell you first-hand, I was spanked. Today, I have a phenomenal relationship with my dad. Why? Because it’s not one-sided. It’s not iron-fisted. It is not mean, it is not in the heart of anger or in the midst of anger. He loves me unconditionally. My dad loves me more than I’ll ever know, just like the Lord loves us more than we’ll ever know, and therefore the correction has to be there. Because he loves me, he’s corrected me. If I’m going to run into the street in the middle of traffic, he’s probably going to spank me because that is a big enough deal. I don’t want to see you die in front of me, and if you can’t get it through your tiny little head.

What’s your greatest hope for this project? What would you like to see happen with this re-imagined series?

My greatest hope is the same as my dad, that people would come to know the love of Jesus Christ through the family. I would like to change culture. I mean, think about it, 100 million people saw the first film series. We have no idea what kind of America we would live in today had it not been for my dad and those 100 million people trying to do what God called them to do, and I want to do it again. The family is in trouble, our country is in trouble and we need help, and the only place we can go to is the Lord, Jesus Christ for that, and we want to give it to people. These films are not esoteric—this is nuts and bolts, tools in the toolbox.

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