Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 09/14/22

Team Dad. As we celebrate World Gratitude Day, Jeff Kemp (who I actually spoke with in July) expresses why we all owe a debt of gratitude to all the unsung great fathers out there who are doing their best with often minimal appreciation from the world. Known for his 11 seasons as an NFL quarterback, the son of the late football player, GOP congressman and 1996 vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp, has teamed up with the Fatherhood CoMission to serve as an ambassador to help inspire leaders and influencers to champion the value of fathers.

JWK: Tell me about your work with the Fatherhood CoMission and why is it so important to you?

Jeff Kemp: I’ve always been concerned about the lives of kids in America that are neglected, damaged, abused (and) lonely. And, you know what? That traces back not to a kid problem but to a family problem. Most typically, it traces back to the lack of a dad in the life of a child. Many times there’s not a marriage that anchors that dad to the child’s life – or a marriage breaks up.

Beyond that, you know what? Over the last 40 years or so, society has been saying that dads aren’t all that important, that they’re kinda replaceable. It hasn’t been championing something that God says is absolutely central – which is fatherhood. God calls Himself a Father. Jesus tells the story of the father of the Prodigal Son and the bitter older brother. The father (in that parable) is amazing. He’s loving and he’s forgiving and he’s generous. He comes off the porch to welcome back the son who messed up  and ran the wrong way.

So, fatherhood is absolutely crucial to human life, to the life of children, to neighborhoods, communities and our society doing well spiritually and in (terms of) school, staying out of crime, not getting involved in gangs, less pregnancy, less abuse – both physical and sexual – all sorts of outcomes. Far less depression and risk of suicide are related to having a dad active in your life.

The Fatherhood CoMission is 200 leaders and 150 organizations that are all teaming up to strengthen fatherhood and remind dads that you matter, you count, you can turn your story around and there’s help for you.

JWK: How did you become involved?

JK: I was involved with a group called the Marriage CoMission that met for ten years to try to network, team up and unify around strengthening marriage because that’s so important to children. Some of the groups that were involved there were also involved in fatherhood. I guess ten you ago or so the Kendrick BrothersStephen Kendrick‘s a good friend of mine – made a movie called Courageous. It won a film festival award. They got a $100,000 prize for it and they donated the money to get started the regular annual gathering of fatherhood leaders so we could keep supporting with resources men that wanted to grow, improve and turn around their lives as fathers. I was in that early group that met ten years ago when we get started. I’m on the board. I do some ambassador and messaging work for the cause. So, for ten years now, I’ve been part of this neat team that’s coming together to encourage, value and fatherhood. We pretty much focus on helping one another do a better job and encouraging more collaboration. It’s the organizations themselves who do the direct work with fathers.

JWK: How many children do you have?

JK: Jeff and Stacy Kemp have four sons. They are all men now that are married and are having their own kids. So, we have four sons, four daughters-in-law and six grandkids and it looks like there are (some) more pregnancies in the family. We’re thankful.

JWK: Congratulations! I know you come from a football background and you describe fathering as a team sport. How so?

JK: Well, life is a team sport, honestly. God is a relational God – Father, Son and Spirit. There would be no such thing as love if there weren’t other individuals that you could love. So, God demonstrates love for Himself – between the Father, the Spirit and the Son – and God made us as relational beings as well. We’re made for relationship. That’s interdependence, not independence. That is teamwork.

Now, sports, I know this. A quarterback – which is what I played in the NFL for eleven years and four teams – can’t get anything done without his offensive line and his team: the running backs, receivers and tight ends. The quarterbacks sometimes get treated like they’re important but, you know what? They are nothing without a team – and, really, in life many people have many different gifts, talents and roles but, unless they’re combined together with others, they’re missing the fullness that God intended.

Fatherhood isn’t easy. There’s not a playbook they give you. There’s not a manual when that little baby comes in the hospital. For moms, it’s more natural. The maternal instinct – from nursing to responding to that baby’s cry to the tender comfort and minute-to-minute care and feeding of an infant – is pretty natural. Dad’s like “What do I do?! When’s the kid’s strong enough that I can throw him up in the air?! When am I going to go in the backyard and play with him?! When can I put him on a bike and take the training wheels off?!” That’s actually part of the role of fathers. Fathers do things uniquely to (them). We do many of the same things (as moms) – certainly love, affection, teaching and training – but dads kinda help kids develop their courage, their confidence and their ability to step out into the world, test their strengths, handle risks and adversity and bounce back from a fall or an injury. That’s one of the reasons why dads are so important but guess what? We don’t automatically know how to do this.

Other dads who you meet with and talk with and are maybe a mentor to you – who’s been a dad before you – give us a ton of help. I had a mentor – Don Wallace – who helped me tons, especially with my boys’ puberty and teenage years. I needed some different approaches. He had already raised two sons and raised two other of their friends who didn’t have dads involved in the lives.

These days I meet with a couple of men every week. I call them “my huddle.” These are my Level 5 friends. They’re not Level 1, 2 or 3. They’re deep Level 5 friends! We’re consistently in touch. We process everything in our lives. We admit our weaknesses and our temptations and the issues that we’re going through. I get some good ideas and avoid doing some dumb things as a dad because I process with these others guys. That’s what I mean by fathering is a team sport.

JWK: Do you feel that parenting is tougher these days with the issues related to social media, cyber bullying, Covid isolation and the current debates over gender?

JK: Yes, it is. It’s always been difficult. We’ve always needed support and guidance and the blueprints that come from God and His ways. God’s the most perfect father. Jesus is the most perfect person. Following those examples is a great help. There’s much wisdom in The Bible but The Bible doesn’t talk to us about social media directly. It doesn’t talk to us the bullying that’s occurring online. It doesn’t really directly address a book in the library like my wife saw the other day that says to five years olds (that) some people are born with a boy gender or a girl gender or no gender or change gender or they want a different gender. It just went into this very complicated and confusing explanation that you could be anything you define yourself as. That type of stuff wasn’t coming to parents years ago.

There’s, you know, right is right, wrong is wrong, gravity is gravity. There’s reality and there’s that which isn’t reality. I am not a judgmental criticize others point-the-finger type person but it’s harder today with truth up for grabs and a lot of confusing things going on (including) some very negative and comparative behavior going on on the internet. For kids to have a phone at nine years old, ten years old, twelve years old and to have their life become virtual and to have to deal with all of that, yeah, it’s harder.

So, a dad’s really, really big task is to build a great relationship with his (children), spend time with them and show interest in what his son or daughter is interested in and then to give them three big gifts.

Number One is the sense that they are unconditionally loved and they are worth everything in the world to them. Everyone’s gotta know that they are valued, that they are loved and, really, to know their identity. Your identity is God made you, you’re super valuable, you’re my (child), I love you (and) that will never change. You already received your identity as a child of God. You don’t have to be first-string on a football team, play the guitar well, get straight As, have no pimples or be popular to have identity. So, that’s Number One. You gotta give them that kinda loving sense of their identity.

Number Two, you gotta give them the blueprints for living – kinda like a value system or a GPS. You know, treat others the way you want to be treated, be honest, tell the truth, be responsible, be yourself, don’t be a victim and just mooch off others.

And then, thirdly, you really need to teach them how to have healthy relationships. That includes how to be a boy that knows how to get along with girls, how to be a girl that knows how to get along with boys, how to handle your sexuality, your attractions, your desires (including) lust (and) how to handle the naked and pornographic images that are all over our culture.

JWK: What role do you think the media plays in this? You know, Tony Dow of Leave It to Beaver just died. I mean you might execute that show slightly differently if it were produced today but, at the same time, it present a strong father and mother and did seem to aim toward teaching kids these lessons. Do you feel like we have anything like that on today?

JK: I remember Last Man Standing…(That was) pretty positive. You can find it here and there, the redemptive stories (like) Lord of the Rings and things of that sort (that) put fathers in a good light. But, no, overall you don’t find very many positive role models…We present a lot of drama and tragedy as entertainment. I think we have enough of that in our real life.

So, I would say, you know what?, be very careful to inoculate your children. I don’t say incubate them – meaning you have no TVs, no phones, no iPads, never see a movie. That’s unrealistic. I also don’t recommend inebriating your kids with entertainment. Watch any TV you want, have one in the bedroom, have a phone and take it anywhere you want without parental oversight, give your kid free access to the internet, don’t ask them questions about what their friends are watching on their phone and iPad when they’re with them on the school bus or wherever they are. That’s inebriation and that’s not going to lead to good things.

Inoculating means “Hey, we live in a world that has some positive and negative forces. We gotta train you to discern the difference and we’d love to teach you to focus on true, helpful constructive messages and discern for yourself.”

JWK: You of course have a very famous father, the late Jack Kemp. I think he would have made an excellent president. What did he teach you about fatherhood and what was your relationship like with him?

JK: Great relationship with my dad. I don’t think any human dad is perfect, and my dad wasn’t, but he was probably the most encouraging father you could ever have. He was very visionary. He gave me a really optimistic, positive vision for my future. He did the same for my sisters and my brother.

Encouraging. One time, I guess this was like in college or the beginning of my pro-football career, I was frustrated to be a back-up quarterback that didn’t get to play. He said “Hey, I saw you playing today! You looked great!” I said “Dad, I didn’t even get in the game!” I was all, you know, angry. He said “I know but I saw you warming up. You’re really throwing the ball well.” He would meet me after games, whether we won or lost, with a big hug and a kiss. He’d embarrass us. He was always positive. He didn’t make me feel pressure that I had to be a quarterback or be a starter. He’d encourage me that “You’re good. Your day’s gonna come. I believe in you. You’re a Kemp! Be a leader!” We threw the ball. He taught me to throw the ball. He taught me to ski. He took me on his speeches. He took me on some of his trips. He came home for dinner most every single night and made family dinner a priority – even if dinner was at 8:00 PM. Dad really valued bringing our family together. He was a great encourager. Those are some of the great things that I got from my dad. And, I should say, my mom did an amazing job of setting my dad up to be a good dad. They really did work together in that way.

JWK: What do you think he would have made – and what do you make of – politics today?

JK: Politics has always been rough and tumble. There’s always been ugly cartoons and characterizations of politicians by the other side and by the media. I don’t think we should be shocked at the bad part – but the sad part, that is worse, is that the internet, which has potential for great good because of how you can democratize information and tap into information at any point, also has these algorithms and profit motive in the news media that has narrowed people’s scope of what they listen to – just the right wing story, just the left wing story, just the conspiracy story, just the hateful approach. People aren’t getting the whole story. They’re not being objective and our politicians are very short-term oriented, trying to get elected each time and concerned about their media reputation and such. They’re not making long-term wise decisions, nor is the public.

So, politics is in a tough state but it’s always been challenging. I think pendulums swing and I hope that the pendulum swings back. Let’s not be as arrogant, overly-proud and narcissistic as our last president or as naive (in) trying things that aren’t gonna work and not really showing the right courage in speaking the truth like this present president. Let’s trust the people in America and let democracy work.

JWK: Have you given any consideration to entering politics?

JK: Over the years I’ve been asked to run for Congress and be involved. I’ve been involved in some policy and such but I’ve gravitated away from that type of career into shaping the values of our society and culture and eventually into directly strengthening men, their identities, their friendships, their walk with God and then marriage. My wife and I speak at marriage conferences all the time…So, I kinda just felt like, you know what?, that’s the place that I can make the greatest difference, where I feel God calling me.

Secondly, it was a better career than politics in terms of being home for dinner every night, coaching Little League sports and being the dad that I wanted to be for my kids. I appreciate politicians – the sacrifices they make – but it’s sad that they are on the road and campaigning all the time. It’s very, very tough on their families.

JWK: How can people become involved with the Fatherhood CoMission?

JK: Great question. I’m gonna give two resources. The first one is super simple. It’s FatherhoodCoMission.com. When you get there, you’ll realize that we’re kinda like the United Way. We’re a network of many other groups. So, go to the Partners Page and look for the topics you’re interested in. You’ll find, you know, five or ten organizations that work on single parenting or dads that have a distance from their kids or dads with daughters or dads with sons or urban dads, Bible studies for dads, whatever it is.

The second one goes back to the teamwork of fathering…This is particularly for men, leaders and dads. It’s a tool for building great friendship. I call it Level 5 friendship and connecting with couple of deep friends every week with a real honest conversation about what’s going on and supporting each other. I call that huddling together with Level 5 friends. The website to go to is MenHuddle.com. There’s a free ten-page playbook for Level 5 friendship that can help you deepen your friendship, get some support from another couple dads or husbands or business leaders or just friends.

JWK: Anything else you’d like to say as we wrap up?

JK: I want to thank every father out there. I want to remind every guy – I guess every gal too – you have a Perfect Father in Heaven – and that relationship, if you seek and develop it and receive it, can heal a lot of the hurt and the wounds that have maybe held you back in life. It can even help you turn around the story of your fathering and (help you) apologize or reconcile with a daughter or a son that you’re distant from. It’s not too late. Every dad can turn his story around. Humility and an apology is that pathway. Getting the love of God is something that gives us the ability to be humble and apologize.

I just want to say Thank You to you dads. You matter. Your kids need you. You count. You can make the future great if you seek the Heavenly Father who is your Perfect Father.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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