Since 2005, Daly has been president and CEO of Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian organization founded by child psychologist and Republican activist James Dobson. Daly's childhood family sorely needed focus: the last of five children born to aging alcoholics, young Jimmy experienced his father's abandonment, his stepfather's rages, his mother's death and several years with a gloriously insane foster family living next to their own personal garbage dump. He apparently avoided beatings and sexual abuse, though his chirpy coauthor rarely plumbs the depths of Daly's probable anguish. Rather than looking inward, the young adolescent developed a pragmatic philosophy of survival: "Keep your expectations low. That way you don't get hurt." Somehow, despite homelessness and lack of income, he made it through college, studied overseas, married a good woman, climbed the career ladder and, sadly, still advises low expectations. "I believe it's time we were open with one another about the brokenness that we all share," he writes, though his story reveals much more of his family's brokenness than his own. Dobson fans-and they are legion-will find Daly's rags-to-(spiritual)-riches story inspirational; others may wish he had dispensed with his coauthor and spoken directly from the heart. (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Sometimes Finding Home isn't always a direct path.
"A Focus on the Family executive since 1989 and now its CEO, Jim Daly endured a cruel childhood. He survived his parents' divorce and then an abusive stepfather only to lose his mother to cancer at a young age. This up-from-the-ashes memoir gets even more grit and texture from the author's early experiences in a crime-ridden Los Angeles suburb. How does any human being survive such losses without losing his sense of what home and family can be? Smoothly written, this is a story that should inspire those whose life circumstances challenge their faith in themselves and humanity. Jim Daly's reading of his poignant story adds first-person legitimacy, though some of the emotional impact is flattened by his uneven delivery."
T.W. 2008 Audies Finalist © AudioFile Portland, Maine
- David C Cook
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AN IMPERFECT PATH TO FAITH AND FAMILY
By JIM DALY, BOB DEMOSS
David C. CookCopyright © 2007 Jim Daly
All rights reserved.
Message in a Bottle
There's so much about that night I don't recall. If pressed for details, I couldn't tell you about the murder weapon. Was the instrument of death a shotgun or a knife? A baseball bat or a club? I just don't know. A set of brass knuckles can do real damage, I've been told, but I never learned what went down for certain.
Although I never heard a shot, the word on the street was that a shotgun had been used. My best guess is that the killing was gang related. Perhaps a little payback in the decades-old turf war between the Crips and the Bloods for control of illegal drugs. Or, it might have been a clash between the Latino gang element, the Hells Angels, and an African American posse in our racially mixed neighborhood.
You'll have to forgive me for being sketchy.
I was only eight at the time.
There are two unmistakable images forever imprinted on my mind. First, the yellow chalk line scratched onto the pavement outlining the position where the body fell in the alley. Second, the blood stain—a brownish-red calling card left behind by the victim for the rain to deal with. My memory of those two images is clear because the murder occurred about ten feet outside of my bedroom window ... a real-life nightmare worse than any dream I'd ever had. Talk about inflaming the imagination of a child—no wonder I was afraid of the dark.
We were living in Compton at the time. Yes, the Compton—that concrete jungle of southeast Los Angeles popularized by rappers on MTV. Compton was, and still is, a rough place, no question about it. Drive-by shootings, crime, poverty, and vice were a way of life. For years Compton had the dubious distinction of being ranked as one of the highest crime cities in all of California.
And now we called Compton home.
Given the grave reputation of the city, I wasn't entirely surprised to discover our apartment had served as the backdrop for a homicide. And yet, let's just say it was a bit much for me, as a child, to process. I mean, the wall separating me from that savage deed was a mere four inches thick. I wondered how often this sort of thing happened in my new neighborhood. What if a more powerful gun was used the next time? A bullet could easily penetrate the thin layer of white stucco, make mincemeat of the flimsy drywall, and plow into my chest while I was sleeping.
Suddenly, my ground-floor bedroom, at the back of a two-story apartment complex and adjacent to a dark alley, made me feel exposed.
In midspring of 1970, my stepfather, Hank, and my mom, Jan Daly, had moved the family from the rolling hills of Yucca Valley, California, to the gritty streets of Compton to save a little money. I knew their goal was to eventually move to the serene ocean-side community of Long Beach, California, but that came at a price I wasn't sure we ought to pay. But hey, I was a kid. My vote didn't count. And so the wail of sirens replaced the song of birds.
Not only was Compton a dangerous place, it was noisy. Not a happy noisy like the sound of a merry-go-round at a carnival, where smiling tykes, munching cotton candy, lobbied dad for just one more ride—pleeeease! It was more of an unsettling noisy on par with the shrieks echoing from inside the haunted-house ride.
Whether white, black, or Hispanic, our neighbors had this thing about hollering and screaming and slamming doors day and night. Perhaps taking a cue from their human counterparts, the constant blare of TVs battled it out at full volume. When evening rolled around, the banging of pots and pans signaled the neighbors cooking dinner. The pandemonium was further accented by crying babies, barking dogs, kids playing stickball, or someone picking a fight in the street.
On some nights, red emergency lights splashed bursts of hot color against my windowpane. The eerie light show involved hues of police blue or fiery yellow depending on the rescue service that had arrived.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
After the murder adjacent to our apartment, I wanted to spend as little time at home as possible. Getting some distance from the scene of the crime was therapeutic. You know, out of sight, out of mind. Playing outdoors with the neighbor kids quickly became a priority and, it turned out, I held the keys to unlocking new friendships: a baseball bat and ball. These tools of the trade were hard to come by in the neighborhood, making me an instant hit on the block.
After school we'd play baseball well into the evening. The apartment complex was your basic inner-city arrangement of two-story buildings facing each other with an asphalt courtyard in the middle. Naturally, we had to be careful where we hit the ball since we were surrounded by windows.
One day a grown-up wandered into our game. I had seen him before, but I didn't know his name. He wore faded blue jeans and ankle-high brown work boots. His well-tanned, muscular arms protruded from a black sleeveless T-shirt. Turned out, he was the dad of one of the kids, a construction worker by trade, evidently home early from the job site—or out of work. Didn't matter. We just liked having an adult getting involved with us.
I was at bat when, on the far side of the courtyard, the manager of the apartment complex strolled across the hot asphalt and announced his desire to get into the action too. He seemed sincere in his interest to join the game. He even had a mitt.
With two adults there'd be one for each team. Seemed to me like we were about to have our best game yet. Walking toward the makeshift pitcher's mound, the manager kept saying things like, "Here, kid, toss me the ball. I'd like to play with you guys. You know something? I'm a pretty good pitcher."
How was I to know that his real agenda was to take the ball away from us? As I'd discover later, the apartment manager didn't like kids playing ball in the quad and was determined to put an end to our sport. It didn't take but a second for the construction worker dad, who was more perceptive about such things, to figure out what was really going on. Like a volcano about to spew, he started getting worked up that the manager was trying to "rip us off" and that he'd "just have to teach him a lesson," only he used rapid-fire profanity to punctuate his growing rage.
Before I knew what was happening, this hothead erupted. He marched over to me, snatched the bat from my hands, turned, and headed toward the manager, wielding my Louisville Slugger as if it were a machete. I was horrified. I watched the bat swing through the air as the bully dad confronted the manager with a barrage of expletives.
No way! He's not gonna hit the guy, is he? I thought. I was an inner-city novice. I had spent second grade in small town USA. Yucca Valley was a quiet community where people never locked their doors. I was completely unprepared for the confrontation unfolding before my eyes. Surely they wouldn't come to blows. What if the manager was carrying a gun? Would there be more yellow tape, more blood by the time this was over? Should I get help? Who would I ask, anyway? My mom and stepfather were both at work.
Now what? Should I run? Hide?
Pretend I didn't see?
Paralyzed with fear, I froze at the plate.
There are some things no child should see. The sheer inhumanity of an outraged dad unleashing his anger on another human with a bat is certainly one of those things. And yet the six of us kids watched helplessly as the manager, unarmed, attempted to stave off the blow of wood against bone with just his mitt. Oblivious to the example he was setting, this father wailed away at the manager.
A moment later I heard, Whack! A dull thud echoed through the courtyard as the manager dropped to the ground, and doubled over, his head down between his legs. He grabbed his left wrist with the other hand. The blood dripped into a pool between his legs; his arm was badly broken with a compound fracture.
I ran. I had to get help.
I bolted to our apartment looking for one of my siblings, but nobody was home. I felt terrible. Responsible. Fearful. I mean, it was my idea to play baseball. Sure, I wasn't the one who belted the manager. I was just a kid. Still, I felt tremendous guilt for somehow causing his pain. I would have gladly stopped playing had I known what was going to happen.
With no one around to help and no one to talk to, I crashed on the couch and waited for my mom. I fought back a wave of tears.
When my mom finally got home, she was not happy with me. Not in the least. Boy, did she lay into me. After all, the "weapon" was my bat. I think she thought I had been doing something I knew was wrong, but I wasn't. How was I supposed to know we weren't supposed to play baseball between the buildings? Nevertheless, she insisted that I apologize to the manager. That evening, after the apartment manager returned from the hospital all bandaged up and with a cast on his arm, my mom ushered me to his unit and said, "I think you have something to say."
I couldn't take my eyes off of the blood soaking through his cast. To see this man in his late fifties nursing a busted arm because my bat was used to club him was almost too much for me. Between my racing heart and the fear churning in my gut, I'm not sure how I mustered the voice to offer an apology, but somehow, I did. To his credit, the manager was gracious and assured me it wasn't my fault. Looking back I'd say that God used this painful page in my life to model what grace looks like.
After that incident, my mom restricted me from going out to play for a very long time. That was the last time I played ball in Compton. In my view, none of this mayhem would have happened if Dad and Mom had just stayed together.
But they divorced three years before.
FATHER KNOWS BEST?
My biological dad, Richard Daly, had been engaged in an ongoing affair with alcohol, gambling, and horse betting, but I'd say it was primarily the alcohol that lured him away from us. Something terrible must have driven him to find constant comfort from the bottle—the liquid mistress was too seductive for him to resist.
Despite many painful memories, I can recall delightful early childhood moments with him. Take Saturday mornings, my absolute favorite day of the week. I could smell sizzling bacon, freshly scrambled eggs, and toast even before I opened my eyes. The fragrance beckoned me out from under the covers to the kitchen where Dad hovered over the skillet. A dishtowel was always draped over his right shoulder as he worked his magic. I'd stand next to him as he arranged the steaming food on the plate with the flair of a seasoned chef. I loved being close to him. I felt safe by his side.
At 6'5", he was tall, fit, trim, and solid. I loved the way Dad would reach down, scoop me up in one arm while juggling the plate full of food in the other hand, and bring me to the table where the silverware and juice awaited. My dad worked for a furniture manufacturer, and so we always had great furniture in the house. I never wanted to leave his arms, but when breakfast called, I'd ease into my seat and turn my attention to the feast before me.
Still, there was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde aspect to my father that I'd only learn about much later in life. I'm not talking about the drunken outbursts. Although rare, they were impossible to miss. Rather, I'm referring to his clandestine side, to the fact that my dad talked occasionally with my older siblings about being a runner for Chicago's most infamous gangster, Al Capone, as a boy.
If true, that would certainly explain a lot. My dad did grow up in Chicago and worked in the furniture business. Al Capone's business card described him as dealing in used furniture. Coincidence? Maybe. Stranger things have happened. Perhaps my dad's affinity for alcohol was an attempt to repress these memories.
Furthermore, if Dad had some connection to the kingpin of the Chicago crime syndicate, that could explain why my siblings and I don't know the first thing about our extended family. We had a mom and dad, of course, but that was the extent of our bonsai-sized family tree. As a kid, I never could figure out why we didn't have any aunts and uncles, or cousins, or grandparents like all of my friends. I still don't know.
Everything about my parents' past was shrouded in absolute secrecy. We didn't know anything about their backgrounds until years later, when, after their deaths, we discovered both Dad and Mom had three or four social security numbers. There's even a question about whether our real last name was "Daly."
Such a bizarre collection of details led us to believe my folks might have been in a government witness protection program. At least that would explain why they moved around so much during an era when most families stayed put in the same home for decades.
I remember listening to my dad share stories about his younger days playing baseball. He told fascinating tales of the year he played with the Detroit Tigers. I can't prove that he actually played ball with that team for two reasons: He's dead, which complicates asking any follow-up questions, and there's that lingering issue about our real last name. I have tried to sort out the fact from fiction, but so far I can't reconcile the stories. He was good at playing baseball, that much is true.
But did he really play ball at Tiger Stadium?
Or was it his drunken imagination?
My dad coached Little League for years and taught Mike and Dave how to play but, sadly, lost interest by the time I came around. I wanted to believe my dad had made the major leagues. That would be a significant accomplishment on his part and would give me hope that I, too, might have the genetic stuff to play in the big leagues.
Or compete in the big time.
Or at least amount to more than someone who looked in the mirror every morning and doubted his future.
At the same time, it doesn't really matter whether or not Dad ever wore the Detroit Tigers jersey, batted .300, or managed to hit the winning home run. If he never threw a ball his entire life, he was still my dad. And I miss him. I wish he were still alive to go grab a cup of coffee, shoot the breeze, and help me find out more about my family tree.
After my parents divorced, my mother was left with the Herculean task of raising five children as a single parent. We were living in a modest rented home in Alhambra on Fifth Street where the cockroaches were bigger than breakfast, lunch, or dinner. My mom worked two or three jobs just to put food on the table, and still there were days when we had nothing to eat.
When we didn't have milk, we'd mix Kool-Aid packs with water to pour over our cereal. Dad was pretty much out of the picture, except when he'd stop by the house to pick up a few groceries. Mind you, he didn't bring bags of food to feed his family; he came to take a few things for himself when he was down on his luck.
Once, when I stumbled on him taking food out the door, my appearance seemed to catch him off guard. He masked his surprise with a broad smile and then told me how much he loved and missed me. My reaction was somewhat guarded. Dare I believe him? His track record as the loving, caring father wasn't so hot—at least not of late. Sensing the distance between us, he told me he'd stop by later that day to bring me a baseball mitt for my seventh birthday.
A real, honest-to-goodness, genuine leather glove.
For me. From my dad.
This was the best news of the year. I smiled so hard, my face hurt. He tousled the hair on my head with a strong hand, turned, and then left me standing by the door, my heart hammering against my rib cage. When my best friend, Ricky, came over to hang out and play, I couldn't stop bragging. My dad was going to bring me a glove. A new leather baseball glove. Probably a Wilson special edition with a deep pocket for all of the balls I'd catch. It would be my first mitt.
Every fifteen minutes I'd run to the curb with Ricky to see if my dad was coming. We'd look down the street and study the landscape. Squinting, we saw no sign of him in the distance. Not yet. We'd go back in the house and play. Then, I'd announce, "I'm sure he's got to be coming now." Off we went, darting out the front screen door. Nope. No sign of him. This went on all afternoon. As the sun began to trade places with the moon, Ricky, who lived just a block away, headed home.
"Call me when he comes," Ricky offered with a friendly slug to my shoulder. Walking him to the curb, I managed a weak smile. I was only seven years old, but I wasn't entirely clueless. My dad had lied to me. At dinner, I picked at my food and asked to be excused early. My mom knew how disappointed I was. She tried to encourage me, but she couldn't replace my dad.
That night I retreated to the security of my bed. I clutched the corner of my covers and pulled them into a tight knot just under my chin. Hidden behind the soft folds of a thick blanket, I felt invincible. I was sure no under-the-bed or closet-lurking monster could get me as long as those protective covers were in place.
Excerpted from FINDING HOME by JIM DALY, BOB DEMOSS. Copyright © 2007 Jim Daly. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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