Mark Merrill is the founder of a national non-profit organization called Family First which is dedicated to strengthening the family. He hosts a nationally syndicated radio show, and has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, ABC, CBS and FOX affiliates telling of his “game-winning playbook for every father.”
His latest book lists the seven essentials to be a hero to your kids.
Michael: How does one go about being a hero to their kids?
Mark: When I started writing this I wanted to make sure I gave the dad’s the specific tools they needed to move the ball down the field, one yard at a time, day in and day out with their kids towards the goal of being an all-pro dad. In the book I share seven essential things that every father must know to be a hero to your kids. I’ve found that that is what men are really looking for. How can I give them what they’re needing. That’s the essence of the book.
Michael: Tell me about your family.
Mark: I have been blessed with five kids. My wife Susan and I had three biological children together, and then when they were in their tweens and teens, my wife had a yearning to adopt. So we went all the way to Siberia and brought back two children who were 9 and 12 years-old at the time. They became a part of our family, and now eleven years later those children are grown, and we now have kids are 19, 20, 23, 23, and 25 years old.
Michael: At what point in your life as a dad did you think that maybe you should start taking notes on how not to goof up as a dad.
Mark: To use more football metaphors, yes I’ve fumbled the ball over the years, and on numerous occasions my wife has thrown the flag on me (laugh). I have been penalized, so it is like football in that sense, but I realized when my first child was much younger, the mistakes I’d made. But I also learned that no one is a perfect father, each dad goes through this. We all learn, we all struggle on this journey. Each time, with each additional child, we had to adjust our game plan.
Michael: In today’s world a major concern is fatherlessness.
Mark: Huge issue in our society today, in fact I could argue that it’s one of the most significant issues impacting our country in a negative way…and not just our country, but in reality across the world.
Michael: There are two forms of father absence.
Mark: Yes. One is physical absence. That’s obvious. That’s when the dad is not there, not involved, not engaged with the kids at all. But there is also the emotional absence, and that’s when the dad may be there…he may show up for dinner, he may show up later on at night to be in the house, yet he’s not really emotionally connected with his kids. He doesn’t have what I call a “heart relationship” with his kids, and really doesn’t know them well, hasn’t studied them, doesn’t really understand their needs, wants, desires and dreams. That can be damaging as well.
Michael: You back up your findings with a lot of statistics.
Mark: Many times these kids are more likely to drop out of school, or repeat grades. Significantly more likely to be incarcerated. In fact more that 70% of all young men in our juvenile detention system in the U.S. come from father-absent homes. And studies also show that over half are more likely to be poor. So it creates an issue that not only affects our children emotionally and physically, but impacts our country. It’s a massive economic issue when our kids are dropping out of school, when they’re incarcerated, impregnated, or go on welfare…it affects all of us.
Michael: What can we dad’s do?
Mark: There are so many things! If folks are married, one of the most important things that you can do for your kids is to have a happy and healthy marital relationship. Nothing spells security better for a child than to know that mom and dad are together. Now that doesn’t condemn someone who has gone through the challenge and the pain of divorce, it’s just that study’s consistently show time and time again that kids fare better in those intact homes where the biological mom and dad are present.
Michael: Having and taking the time is important as well, correct?
Mark: Vital. It’s quantity time. I think we’ve all heard before that…especially when father’s are very busy, they come up with something I refer to as a ‘myth.’ They’ll say, ‘You know I have to travel for work, and have a lot of other things going on in my life, but when I’m there with my kids, it’s quality time.’ Well, that’s a myth. Kids want quantity time. Think about it, have you ever heard your child say to you, ‘Hey dad, we have played way too much today, why don’t you go back to the office and get some things done (laugh).’
Michael: You’ll never hear that.
Mark: Of course not.
Michael: Tell me about your “Seven M’s”
Mark: I talk about the fundamentals of fatherhood being “love and leadership.” Love is really a misunderstood word, but one of the most powerful in the english language, it’s strong and courageous. Love is not about ‘getting,’ but rather about giving to another person no matter what it costs us personally. Love is leadership’s unseen essential. The Seven M’s are that every father must know his Make up, his Mindset, Motive, Method, Message, Model and his Master. And I go into detail within the book.
Michael: Define Make up.
Mark: It’s our identity. It’s who we are, and what gives us value. It’s very important for every man to understand his identity. It lies in who we are, not in what we do for a living. We’re valuable in who we are, made in the image of God, and that’s what gives us value. It’s important that we understand identity, that we are masterpieces, we are created with infinite value and dignity and worth. And the reason that’s so important as a father is because children are in search of affirmation and validation. So many are not getting the seal of approval from their fathers. We live in a performance-based culture, and so many dad’s will only love their children well, for example, if…they only make straight-A’s, or if they make the starting team…then they’ll affirm them, then they’ll praise them. But you know what? That’s not how life works. We need to make sure that we understand our own value so we can in turn validate and affirm our children in their identities. Kids need to understand their identity and value…not their image. Identity is all important…image is not.
Michael: And Mindset?
Mark: It’s so important that we as fathers need to have the mindset that being a dad is our most important job. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a job. It takes a lot of work. In that job, we have to understand our mission. Think about it. What would you think of an executive of a company who didn’t understand the mission or the objective of the company, or a military general on a battlefield who didn’t understand his mission…you’d expect him to fail. It’s the same with fathers…we need to know that our mission needs to be to love and lead our children well, it’s critical.
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