"We spent the night on the floor that night, covering ourselves up in clothes out of the boxes and the next day, I was off to foster care."
Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, shares his personal journey of being a child in foster care and explains how going through that painful time created a passion in him to work on behalf of children in foster care and how, even as an adult, he still feels the effects of foster care in his life.
Jim was four years old when he first experienced “the monster.” His dad, who was battling alcoholism, waited with a hammer in his hand for Jim’s mother to come home; his intent was to do great harm. “This ugly guy showed up when he got to the end of his bottle,” Jim remembers, “and he was banging a ball peen hammer into the wall, saying he would kill Mom.” One of his older brothers snuck out to get help and his dad ended up going to jail that night.
The next morning, Jim, his mom and four siblings were on the move, trying to stay out of his dad’s reach. His mother eventually divorced his father and three-and-a-half years later, married “Hank the Tank”—a retired military drill sergeant who was very strict (literally did a “white glove test” on Saturdays), mean and physically intimidating.
After only a year and a half, Jim’s mom became sick, and Hank locked the door to keep the kids out of the room so as to not “waste her energy.” “She was dying of cancer, and I didn’t get to see her much the last six to seven weeks of her life,” says Jim.
Even in their hardship, Jim remembers his mother being a stable force in the family. “She was an awesome mom,” Jim remembers. Many moms tell him they relate and see themselves in his mom. She would often say through words or actions, “I can’t give you all these things, but I love you.”
Jim was only nine years old when his mother passed away. His 19-year-old brother, Mike, who was in the navy, came home from his ship to tell the devastating news to each of his siblings individually. “I’m sad that I only had nine years with her, she was my world. But she taught us some great things—she did the right things—from her heart.”
Hank was too distraught to attend the funeral, and while the children were gone, he packed up their things and sold the furniture. When the children came home, Hank met them at the door saying he couldn’t handle them and left. “We spent the night on the floor that night, covering ourselves up in clothes out of the boxes, and the next day, I was off to foster care.”
The family Jim was placed with had four sons of their own, ranging in ages from 18 to 8. Sadly, he felt lost and very rejected—he’d play alone, have a meager dinner, then go to bed to start again the next day. This family was so dysfunctional, especially regarding behavior and attitude, that it made his family look “like Mary Poppins.”
God’s grace and Jim’s natural optimistic attitude that gave him an internal compass to seek and find God are what got him through the difficult times with his foster family. “They made it clear that I didn’t belong,” which was devastating to the young boy. Thankfully Jim’s mother, who accepted Christ just days before her death, had taught him about heart issues—things like the Golden Rule, and being honest and not stealing. Seeing adults in his life lie regularly and without hesitation actually cemented the truth in him. It ended up making a huge impact in his life.
Effects of trauma in his childhood
One thing Jim realizes about himself (and his wife would say), due largely to his experience in foster care, is that it is difficult for him to get deeply attached emotionally. “I would board up to protect myself as a kid,” he explains. “But now, as an adult, I often have to figure out how to open up and be vulnerable.” He also admits to having to work to be more tender and not so practical.
Overcoming obstacles, finding your passion
Jim credits sports for helping bring structure into his life. He had Christian football coaches who took him under his wing, then participated in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. That was where he accepted Christ at the age of 15. Jim urges young people, in foster care or not, to look for a mentor and participate in something that has structure—be a part of a team, form friendships and then dig in spiritually to figure out why you’re here—what God created you to do.
And for the wounded child or teen, he advises against running to something that will bring short-lived comfort. Instead, he says, “Embrace the pain, find Christ in it, let Him heal you, then use it as your passion.”
Wait No More was born out of Jim’s pain and passion because kids are often treated as throwaway children. In reality, they are created in the image of God and need love. They need someone to tell them “You matter, you’re important and you’re loved.” Kids may test that love—through actions or simply asking “would you love me if…?” That question is simply a cry for help, and nowhere do we see that more than in foster care. Jim wishes someone had taken him aside, put their arm around him and gave him some honest perspective about the brokenness in this fallen world.
So many children are carrying an emotional load when they suddenly find themselves in foster care as he did. “At 4 years old, I didn’t have the capacity to process what was going on, but I always felt underinformed,” he says. When children experience dysfunction, some honesty can be very helpful—even if it has to be in a kid friendly format. “Children can bear a lot more of the truth than adults give them credit for,” he says. Many experiences in foster care cause children to grow up quickly, and they become very attuned to their surroundings, the motives of the people around them and what they are doing.
Hopefully, this episode has helped you right where you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal. If you enjoyed it, will you tell others?
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Meet Our Guest
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family and host of the daily radio broadcast, heard by more than 6.3 million listeners a week on more than 1,000 radio stations across the U.S. He has received several awards for his work on behalf of children and the family, and has written five books, including his autobiography, Finding Home, and his latest, When Parenting Isn’t Perfect, which released in June 2017. Jim and his wife of 31 years, Jean, are parents to two sons and have fostered many other children over the past 8 years. They live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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