A Father’s Influence
About the Guest
Jeff Kemp is a champion for strengthening relationships and teams. He’s dedicated to building benevolent men, fathering and marriages.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, Jeff joined the National Football League (NFL) as an undrafted free agent. He and his dad, the late Vice-Presidential candidate and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp, became the first of only six sets of NFL father-son quarterbacks. Growing u...more
William BennettWilliam J. Bennett is one of America’s most important, influential and respected voices on cultural, political, and education issues. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Bill Bennett studied philosophy at Williams College (B.A.) and the University of Texas (Ph.D.) and earned a law degree (J.D.) from Harvard. He is the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He is a Senior Advisor to Project Lead The Way, one of the nation’s leading providers of training and curriculum to improve STEM educa...more
As a dad, what can you do to make the most of the limited time your kids are at home? Jeff Kemp shares what was important to his dad. Bill Bennett shares his own observations.
A Father’s Influence
Michelle: There’s a critical step that every dad needs to do: name your son. But according to former NFL quarterback, turned coach for the family, Jeff Kemp, there’s more in a name than you might think.
Jeff: In a society, where dads aren’t spending enough time and a lot of dads aren’t around, many times sons don’t get named by their dads. “Named” means: “You’re a good son,” “You’re my son,” “You’re God’s son,” “You have a purpose and a plan. These are your strengths…I’ve seen these strengths in you, and they exist for a purpose.”
Michelle: We’re going to talk about the challenges and rewards of being a dad on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. The president of FamilyLife® is David Robbins. For the past few weeks, we have been talking on FamilyLife This Week about parenting, from helping our kids through difficult circumstances to how to be a better role model for them. We’ve talked with many of our FamilyLife team members: Meg Robbins, and Bob Lepine, Ron Deal, and also Tracy Lane.
Today, we’re going to talk with Jeff Kemp. Jeff Kemp is a former football quarterback. He’s played for the Rams, and the 49’ers, and the Seahawks, and Eagles.
Jeff: Yay, Eagles! [Laughter]
Michelle: Go, Eagles! Woo hoo!
You are now a champion for marriage and family. You’re a speaker and author. Many would know you as a catalyst for making things work and making things go. Also, you’re married to Stacy and have four grown sons.
Jeff: That can’t be an “also”; that’s like the start. I’ve been married to Stacy for 35 years.
Michelle: Okay; I should’ve started off with that one. Yes, married to Stacy for 35 years. Congratulations!
Jeff: We just had an anniversary, and we have four sons. The fourth one is about to get married, so that’s exciting.
Michelle: Very cool. Great to have you here today.
Michelle: Many know who your father is—Jack Kemp—he was a powerful man; he also played football. He was in the NFL for—13 years?
Jeff: Yes, most of them with the Buffalo Bills.
Michelle: Okay; he spent nine terms in the House of Representatives, and he served in the Cabinet with George H. W. Bush. What did he do then?
Jeff: He was the Secretary of Housing and Urban development, focused on housing and building up urban communities.
Michelle: He was this powerful, busy man; but I have it under good authority that he never missed a game of yours while you were in high school or college. Is that true?
Jeff: That’s true. He made some corporations and groups he was speaking to jump through some hoops to make sure they would get him back on time for games. [Laughter] My sisters might complain he didn’t make it to as many of their ballet recitals as our games and he was biased towards football. [Laughter] He loved my sisters dearly, but I think he did go a little bit bonkers for football and being at my brother and my games.
Michelle: What did that say to you as the value of family?—for him to show up and encourage you at all your games.
Jeff: That was one fascinating thing. Dad was very competitive in football, very driven to make the country better in politics, and became very successful in business. When he died, he said, “Jeff, I do not want a big, fancy service; and I do not want to be remembered for football, or politics, or business. I want to be remembered for our family: for how much God loved us and the blessing of our family.
That was clear during the days we were raised: family vacations, playing catch in the backyard, being at our games, family dinner time. We’d wait until 8:00 to have dinner because Dad would come home from Congress late—all his meetings—but he wanted to have dinner with us. He’d bring home world leaders; and we’d sit at the dinner table, and he’d open up conversations. Jean Kirkpatrick, Ambassador to the UN: “Explain détente to Jeff.” I’m 14; I don’t care about détente. [Laughter] He brought us into his world, and he made sure he was in our world.
Michelle: Why did you not choose politics?
Jeff: I saw the price that you pay on time with your family: more, and more, and more travel, and all the fundraising. I wanted to coach Little League sports; I wanted to be home for dinner every night at 5:00; I want to play in the backyard with my kids.
I knew I wanted to make a difference—“be a leader”—but God’s kingdom, relationships, shaping culture, strengthening fathers, strengthening men, strengthening marriage and families ended up being the pathway where I could lead. It wasn’t on such a big scale as my dad, but I’m thankful that I’ve been able to help people and have a career that has made a difference.
Michelle: You’re an author. Was there ever a time where you thought it would be fun to write with your dad?
Jeff: Indeed. When he was, I think, in his last year with cancer, I had been kicking around the idea of doing a book together called The Handoff: Passing on a Legacy of Leadership and Love—because he had done that for me—he had passed on a legacy of leadership and love. “How do you hand that off to the next generation?”
I did some interviews with him, and got my little recorder and asked him a bunch of questions, and was thinking about that idea. I had a friend—Gary Thomas, an author—and I thought he might help me write it. Then, when Dad was sick—and it just didn’t seem the right thing—I decided to write a book about facing blitzes, and trials, and tribulations and turning them to positive, which is the nature of what Jesus did and what He calls us to do. In this world, “You’re going to get blitzed,”—that’s quoting Jesus out of the NFL version. [Laughter]
Michelle: —the NFL version of the Bible.
Jeff: NIV says: “…you’ll have trouble”; but the NFL version says: “In this world you’ll be blitzed.” [Laughter]
Michelle: You talk about legacy and how your dad built a solid legacy for you. As you’re looking on into the furthering generations of the Kemps, what are some of the differences that you see now in how you were fathered and how you father?—or grandfather?
Jeff: I’m spending more time with my kids than my dad was able to because of his career. Now, my kids are grown; and I’m looking forward to time when we set up special opportunities—mountain biking, skiing, playing tennis—when we can. Family togetherness means a lot; my dad did that same thing. The main difference is, other than a lot more time, that I’m trying to cast vision for their character, not just their performance.
There’s three big things I want to pass on:
—the faith, which I have to pass on by living and praying, not lecturing. Yes, you can do some devotions, and you make real-life conversations out of things; but the faith by modeling it.
Number two—their identity. You need to help them know their identity as an amazing, valuable creation of God/someone who God loves. Many people can grasp that, but they can’t grasp that God likes them. A lot of men don’t know that God likes them because they mess up/they bumble. They have temptations; they have compromises; they feel bad. Today, especially, there’s pornography and a lot of counterfeit sexuality. Many times, a lack of confidence in education, or performance, or not having a job early.
Your identity isn’t all that stuff. Your identity is not that you’re a sinner. Your identity is that you’re a person [whom] Christ has saved/that God has loved. He has put His righteousness in you, and He calls you to be an ambassador for God. God likes you!
Finally, the blueprints for relationships. My wife has been a champion; Stacy has helped so much—and so did our Christian school and church; they did a good job of assisting us—in painting the picture of: how to relate to the opposite sex, how to have good friendships, how to apologize and how to forgive, and “What is marriage, and why is it so beautiful?” and “How do you aim towards marriage and not settle for the counterfeits and the shortcuts along the way?”
Michelle: That is so good; that’s so important. I want to go back to identity for just a second. Practically, help a father understand or walk through some of those steps in instilling a strong identity of God in their child.
Jeff: I’m going to draw upon a single mom’s experience to tell us dads how to father; okay?—[Laughter]—that’s just my bizarre way. My former dental hygienist, named Rita, faced a blitz. Her husband, who she wanted to be committed to for life, left her. Then, her little son, ten years old, broke his arm. Arm’s in a cast, the beginning of baseball season, and he wants to quit.
Mom/she says, “No, honey; I don’t think you should quit. I’ve seen the characteristic of commitment in you. I think, if you stick with the team, and go to all the practices and games—even though you can’t play—you’re the biggest encourager to all the other kids on the days when maybe the coaches or other people are saying negative things. You’ll be demonstrating that great characteristic of commitment that, someday, is going to make you a wonderful husband and an awesome daddy.”
That mom used a tough circumstance to draw upon that child’s character and then magnify it, like the Angel of the Lord did to Gideon. Before he was some courageous leader, he called him a great and valiant warrior. She spoke this little boy’s future into him and called him up into his characteristic of commitment. That is how you build the identity of your kids: whenever you see something good, praise it; hold onto it and bring it up some other time when they’re not confident.
Michelle: —which is so huge because we forget that. Either we say, “No, no; don’t do that,” “Don’t do that”; or we are praising their performance. We’re forgetting to praise the character.
Jeff: I think we’re talking about having a mindset, as a dad or as a parent, of thinking about the big picture/the long term: “What am I going to do that makes sure that this young person knows that God made them, God loves them, and He has a purpose and a plan for them?” But practically speaking, they need their identity; they need confidence. Be looking for the good things: write it in your phone on the note section; put it on your iPad®—find a way—have a journal and write down some things about your kids that you’ve seen that are positive or some of the character traits.
Don’t just say: “You whine too much,” or “I think you give up on things too much,”—do not say that—that just reinforces it. Put that item in your prayer journal and keep it secret. Start praying that God would put some positive characteristic in there that would transcend that present weakness.
Michelle: Those are some excellent points/great reminders. Can you stick around through the break?
Jeff: Yes; I’m enjoying this.
Michelle: Okay; me, too. We need to take a break. We’ll be back in two minutes.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. Today, I am talking with Jeff Kemp. We’ve been talking about parenting; specifically, how he was parented and how he has parented his sons. Jeff, thanks for joining me again. I appreciate it.
Jeff: It’s my pleasure.
Michelle: You mentioned earlier that you grew up in a political household. There were people who would come in and out your doors: dignitaries, representatives, congressmen. Did William Bennett happen to be one of them?
Jeff: Yes, he did. William Bennett and Dad were really close friends; and there’s been a lot of banter, and joking, and competitiveness between those wonderful men. In fact, they started and ran a group called Empower America together. We know Bill really well; I’ve been friends with him for many years, and he and Dad were super close friends.
Michelle: That’s so great to hear that you guys were such close friends.
I have a clip of Bill from a FamilyLife Today® segment from a few years back. I want you to listen to it.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Bill: When the structures that we have in the Judeo-Christian civilization put together for the preservation of the best in us—when they get weak—it is the boys who fall apart before the girls. It may be because the girls/the women end up with the kids most of the time, so they have responsibilities they cannot avoid. But the men try to avoid the responsibilities, having not been taught anything else.
I remember I used to say, when I was Secretary of Education, Dennis: “If there was a bad idea, broad in the land, the first place you’d put it into practice was in the American public school. If our kids couldn’t do math, well then, let’s just change it; and let’s just estimate what we’re doing. If culture was teaching bad lessons, lets just start teaching moral relativism as a doctrine.”
We went wrong, whether you look at out-of-wedlock birth, whether you look at religious affiliation, belief in God, belief in objective truth, belief in norms and standards. The fact that there has been a serious and ongoing effort, for 30 or 40 years now, to say that the differences between men and women are cultural constructs. This has had disastrous consequences, mostly on the men.
There’s a lot of lingering/there’s a lot of loitering going on. There’s too much hanging out in your parents’ basement. There’s a lot of maturity deficits going on. There’s too much video game playing going on of men in their mid-20s. Men in their mid-20s play more video games than boys, 12-18—an average of 3 hours a day—I don’t care if a guy plays a little video game, but 3 hours a day when you’re 23, 24, 25 years old? It’s crazy! It’s crazy! Where’s your—what’s your job?—where’s your work at?—where’s everything else?
Bob: And why is he doing that? Why is a 23-year-old spending 3 hours a day in front of a video game?
Bill: No one has taught him the value of, for example, work. A man who has missed the pleasure of work has missed one of the great pleasures life has to offer. I tell my audience when I sign off radio, “Thank goodness it’s Friday.” I’m one of those guys that loves the weekend. I was doing a sports interview the other day; the guy said, “What did you thank God for around your table?” I said, “I thanked God for my country and my family, and the SEC”; you know? [Laughter]
Dennis: Where would we be?
Bill: Right; anyway, but I also thank God it’s Monday. You guys love to do this [interviewing]; it’s so obvious. For a boy to see a man taking joy in his work: my wife has said, “Get the boys up. Have them go to your radio station.” It’s 5/5:00 in the morning/4:30 in the morning, but they’ve done it; because I want them to see what it’s like, and the exuberance, and how much we like it and enjoy it. They need to know that.
Where came this notion that you live for the weekend?—what is that? “You live so that then you can play on the weekend”; that’s crazy! To sustain a life of meaning and of real joy, a man has to have work.
Michelle: Bill Bennett talking with Dennis and Bob about what he sees is lacking in our society. Jeff, just hearing him, what were some of the thoughts going through your head?
Jeff: I agree with him. I think before a man figures out work, he needs to figure out who he is from his dad. In a society—where dads aren’t spending enough time, and a lot of dads aren’t around the son, and a lot of dads didn’t get treated well by their dad—many times, sons don’t get named by their dads. “Named” means: “You’re a good son,” “You’re my son,” “You’re God’s son,” “You have a purpose and a plan. These are your strengths…I’ve seen these strengths in you, and they exist for a purpose: to make the world better, to make a contribution.”
Then, you start training that kid to do errands, to do chores, to do a job. If you let your child have a car, then they’ve got to pay for gas and insurance, and stuff like that; so they need a job. You help them go figure out how to get a job at a car dealership—or just assign it to them—or construction, mowing lawns. Those things are second steps to having someone say who you are/name you and, then, challenge.
I do agree that you build character by doing esteem-able things. Self-esteem is built by doing esteem-able things, and work is something to esteem. Bill’s right on; he would say the same thing: he would say fathering is the starting point, because fathers name their kids. If a dad isn’t there, a group of men need to pass on manhood in the company of men.
Michelle: One thing that I have noticed, and also Bill said it, he said that, when men fail, women do, too. I’m seeing that, when you have a passive man, in some sense the women are left with: “Well, what do I do? Do I take control? Do I stand back? What do I do?” Is public policy or government, is that going to change what we’re seeing in our society at all?
Jeff: Public policy can break down norms and do more damage to family than it can to rebuild family. Obviously, some welfare laws/some tax laws support families; they can be helpful. But the culture is the ideas, and the values, and the beliefs, entertainment, and the religion, and the things that families do; people talk around the watercooler on social media. Culture is what drives us to make good choices, not some public policy, per se.
We need a lot more mentoring of men, and husbands, and fathers so they can raise their sons the right way. When many, many kids are lacking their dads, we need for married families to come alongside those single-parent families and help raise those kids:
—give that daughter a picture of how valuable she is and what to look for in a relationship;
—give that young man a picture of his identity and that: “Here’s what manhood is: responsibility, and rejecting passivity, treating others with compassion; using your strength to defend others, not to advance yourself—that’s manhood.” Jesus used all His strength to serve and protect others. That type of masculinity—a man for others—would be very winsome in the world.
But right now, women are kind of afraid of men; because they were passive sometimes and not worth anything. And other times, we’re little boy consumers that are playing games, consuming sex, consuming alcohol, consuming video games, and some get violent. There’s still a masculine character, but it goes awry without training.
Michelle: When you are mentoring young men, and you are talking to them about manhood and how to reject passivity, how are you teaching them about rejecting passivity?
Jeff: I use the metaphor of the contrast between being a consumer and an investor. A consumer spends all their money and buys food, and music, and clothing, and experiences. Then, the asset value/their bank account, goes down. There’s nothing left at the end of the day.
An investor is taking their assets and putting it into something that will grow. If they invest it in a home, they’re going to go mow the lawn; they’re going to fix the broken things; they’re going to add on a room; they’re going to make it worth more. Someday the equity value grows.
The same applies in relationships: a man invests in relationships; he’s a relationship investor. He makes things better; he adds value/he makes them worth more afterwards. When you treat the girls at school in a certain way, does your sarcasm add value to them?—does your negative talk add value to them?—in the way you date a girl and what you’re looking for, physically versus relationally, add value to them?
Once you get into a marriage, are you waiting for your wife to do nice things for you; or are you thinking, “What can I do to meet her needs, build her up, make her the best woman possible; and put her at peace so she can enjoy responding to me?”—which will lead to some of the things you wanted in the first place.
An investor does those things out of initiative. A consumer is just looking to take, and they drain the asset value. That’s a great way to explain to young men, and any man, how to not be passive, but make the world better and be a good man.
Michelle: What was the best piece/or I should say, “What was one of the best pieces of advice that you passed on to your sons?”
Jeff: [Pause] You stumped me there. [Laughter] We’ve always told our sons to: “Pray about it, and look for God’s perspective.”
Michelle: That’s important.
Jeff: That’s probably the most important. There’s a lot of good principles and ideas in the world. If you put them into practice in your own strength—(A) you may fall short or (B) if you succeed, you’ve got a problem with pride—humility is really the greatest characteristic. “Pray about it,” would probably the best advice we’ve given our kids.
Michelle: Great advice. What was some of the best advice that your dad gave you?
Jeff: My dad used to always say that: “You’re in your right place,” which meant God has a plan; He’s in control. Don’t panic; don’t worry, and don’t get pessimistic. Then, he’d say, “Commit your way to the Lord. Trust also in Him, and He’ll do it,”—so—“You’re in your right place; trust God.” Then, Dad would say, “Never, never give in. Never!” That really was helpful to me in my football career and it’s, obviously, worked in his career as well.
Michelle: Have you ever given in?
Jeff: I don’t think I have given in. You’re supposed to give in when you’re barking up the wrong tree; or when you’re operating out of selfishness; or you discover the goal that you’re seeking is not something that truly is going to be edifying and helpful, both for you and for others. That’s called changing.
But giving in—when you’re on a quest to achieve something good—I haven’t given up before. But I have been humbled and found out: “Hey, this isn’t the right thing to keep seeking; I’m going to switch gears.” That’s called an audible, and you need to do that in football and in life.
It just occurs to me that one of the most important things we can do, as a dad, is step off of our pedestal with our sons and daughters. They automatically look up to us. The biggest challenge is to make sure we keep the lines of communication open and that we bring ourselves down to a level, where they can talk to us. Humility does that.
We make mistakes. One of the greatest lessons a dad can teach his kids is to apologize to them. I was trying to discipline Kyle one time, and he wouldn’t confess the thing I was trying to hammer him into confessing. My wife calmed me down and said, “Stop hammering it. Just pull away.” And I did. A week later, after apologizing for being so intense, we were in a creek. I was picking up rocks trying to help him find crawdads, and he confessed the whole thing voluntarily because I had come down to his level as his buddy. I’d apologized earlier for being so intense.
There are more things to apologize for; but when you apologize, you express humility. When you express humility, you’re modeling God; and you make them more accessible to you.
Michelle: Jeff, our time has run out. I thank you so much for your time and enlightening us on dads and their responsibility. Also, breathing in vision for our next generation of men. Thank you for what you have done and your words.
Jeff: Thanks, Michelle. Good to be with you. Good topic.
Michelle: Coming up next week, we’re going to take a road trip for Memorial Day. We’re going to hear from Ed Harrell, who is a World War II veteran. His story is incredible; I hope you can join us for that.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the co-founder of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and the president, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country, and our team today—Keith, Phil, Marques, Justin, and Megan—thank, you guys, for all that you do.
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