James Dobson's 'Building a Family Legacy' Conference Showcases Family Business – Part 1

LA MESA, Calif. – When Dr. James Dobson started his Focus on the Family radio broadcast in 1977, he had no concept of how big his influence would be on the millions of parents who would listen to advice on building solid Christian families. And neither did his son Ryan.

Now Dobson is celebrating a 52 plus year career by showcasing his family legacy and passing the baton to his son to carry the family's legacy into yet another generation.

Although Dobson literally handed a red baton to his son during the last evening of a recent four-night conference, it was merely a visual indication that Ryan would continue to work hand-in-hand with his dad to continue to develop and grow the family business – a unique one in that the goal is to strengthen the American family.

For Ryan, that is a tall order but one he is eager to embrace.

The "Building a Family Legacy" Conference, held over the last two weekends of June at Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif., was developed with the idea to "reintroduce" America to the same parenting principles Dobson first espoused in the late seventies.

Part one of this series examines the humble beginnings of Focus on the Family and how the "Building a Family Legacy" conference came to fruition.

Accidental Beginnings

The more recent project was the brainchild of Ryan, who was adopted by James and Shirley Dobson as an infant. After stumbling upon the original tapes while looking for some DVDs in his parents' Colorado home five years ago, Ryan thought it would be beneficial to produce a new, updated series as a way to highlight his dad's long and distinguished career.

"When I watched the videos for the first time in years, I thought it was funny seeing dad with long sideburns and big, wide ties like they wore in the '70s," the younger Dobson told The Christian Post backstage prior to one of the programs." I watched about five minutes of the program and then got tears in my eyes. There was so much good stuff in them – things that helped me with my own children – and I just knew it would help the rest of America as well."

Originally filmed in San Antonio, Texas, the series has been seen by over 80 million people – an astonishing number of viewers the show's producers can still not fully comprehend even today. The 1978 filming capped the first 17 years of Dr. Dobson's career as a staff psychologist at both USC School of Medicine and the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles and highlighted topics from his first book, Dare to Discipline.

"We had absolutely no idea how big this project would be," said Joey Paul, the executive editor at Faith Words and a longtime Dobson confidant.

Paul first met Dobson in the mid-seventies when he tried to obtain the rights to his radio broadcast; they were in the early stages at the time. The two corresponded via phone calls and letters until Paul ventured out to California to meet with Dobson in a cramped, two-room office he had leased to start Focus on the Family.

"Jerald McCracken took a huge risk by allowing us to use 16 millimeter tape," Paul told The Christian Post. "Thankfully, the program caught on at an unbelievable rate and was a huge success. If the executives at ABC (who owned Word Press at the time) had known at the time how much of their money we were spending to produce the show, I'm sure they would have cut us off."

The younger Dobson and Paul, along with several others who played various roles in the original production, may agree that the initial program came together by "accident," but they are also confident God's fingerprints were all over their efforts.

"Just finding the original tapes was a miracle in and of itself," said David Nixon. "We came across them after a secretary overheard a phone conversation and remembered where she stored the records of where the originals were shipped. After looking through some old archives in Colorado, we finally found them."

Albeit Ryan Dobson will not step into his dad's shoes, it is evident he will walk alongside of his father in another pair that will bring time-tested parenting principles to a younger generation that faces even greater challenges in raising boys and girls.