Ryan Dobson may be the son of a famous father but, like many adult children, he still likes to come home and rummage around hidden places for pieces of the past.
He was doing just that seven years ago when he stumbled upon an old film—taped by his father, Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson—sitting on a shelf in the family basement. Lacking commercial packaging, the case was simply marked “Film Series 1978.”
“I thought, ‘Oh, this is what I’ve been hearing about my whole life,’ because the stories that were told about me had been repeated back to me eight billion times,” he said with a boyish charm.
Produced when he was just 8, the classic seven-part series tackled such issues as the strong-willed child, daring to discipline, raising adolescents and marriage. Over time, the series was viewed by 80 million people.
Upon discovering the fathering video, Dobson said he watched about five minutes before stopping so that he could watch it with his wife, Laura.
“I wept. I did. It was so good,” said Dobson, who began sharing it with his friends. “There was an overwhelming sense of relief because I knew I was going to be a better parent and a better spouse. What a great feeling to be given the tools to be successful at maybe the most important part of your life.’
Others began asking for it. He told his father it was time to dust off the past and bring back the series.
“My dad said, ‘Ryan, that’s 30 years old. Nobody wants that anymore. It’s old. It’s been out of print for years.”
But, the self-professed rebel, who now works with his father at their four-year-old Family Talk ministry, wasn’t convinced the series should be relegated to relic status in the basement, so he began investigating options.
“We need to keep reminding people,” he said. “Fads come and go. We need to remind parents you can do this. Take it one step at a time.”
Two years ago, with many of the original film team members reassembled, the first taping session for the updated “Building a Family Legacy” took place at Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif.
Unlike the first series, which used just three cameras and a single recording device, the new project used four cameras and digitally superior audio to tape the Dobson duo, with two more cameras trained on the audience. Producer David Nixon also used what Ryan Dobson called exceptional cinematography to re-create critical scenes capturing his family’s spiritual heritage.
As many as 40 people have been involved throughout the filming project, Ryan Dobson said. Using live audiences, the series was also taped at churches in Orlando and San Antonio.
Dobson is exuberant that the project is nearing its Oct. 1-5 simulcast premier.
“We need it so bad. I now have a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old and you feel helpless, you just feel helpless,” he said of his son Lincoln and toddler Lucille. “(When) they handed me Lincoln for the first time, I just thought ‘I’m going to mess it up. I’m going to ruin this.’ You walk a tightrope everyday with your kids.”
His own father, in a brief interview after a taping session, admitted that the classic films even spoke to him all these years later.
“It was convicting,” James Dobson said. “I’m lecturing me, the same words. It is just so easy to fall in the same trap of letting the years go by and the kids get older. For me it’s been a rollercoaster.”
One culprit—a major stressor for today’s families—the elder Dobson said, is just plain busyness.
“One of the most damaging (influences) to the family has been nothing more complicated than the pace of living,” he said. “People don’t have time for each other. They don’t take walks with each other. They don’t sometimes have time for their children.
“The culture is at war with families,” the senior Dobson continued. “It mitigates against them, against the Judeo-Christian system of values and against what they are trying to do with their children. Their children are exposed to every kind of evil almost every day. From Hollywood and the Internet and just the culture … what happens in school, what they hear from the other kids. It’s not an easy time to raise children.”
Because of that James Dobson said he believes the need for an effective parenting tool is even more critical.
The younger Dobson agrees.
“Most people, unintentionally, just follow the path of least resistance,” Ryan Dobson said. “It’s good to be reminded over and over again, especially in the way that my dad does it, through stories and though humor and pulling on your heart strings. It’s entertaining and educational.”
The video series will debut during a week of national simulcasts set for Oct. 1-5.
For more information, visit www.buildingafamilylegacy.com.
— by Lori Arnold
Arnold is a San Diego-based freelance reporter.