Eric Blubaugh knows that juggling his commitment to God, his marriage and his children can take him along a path that sometimes winds in unexpected ways.
He's happily married, but he's been divorced. Now he and wife Cherilee co-host Metro Fellowship's marriage-enrichment class.He has children at home and he shares custody of children from his previous marriage with his ex-wife, who lives in Colorado. For him, being a good father takes both commitment and planning.
Blubaugh is one man in a growing sea of men concerned with melding different areas of their lives to be good fathers, husbands and men of God.
Last weekend, more than 52,000 men jammed into the University of Colorado's Folsom Field in Boulder for a two-day evangelical "Promise Keepers" conference. The men came from every state and seven different countries.
University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney founded the nonprofit "Promise Keepers" organization four years ago to prompt men to reclaim leadership roles, stop abdicating their responsibilities as fathers and husbands and become "men of integrity."
Similar "Promise Keepers" conferences have been held this year in California, Idaho, Indiana, Texas and Oregon.
Blubaugh reveled in the feeling of camaraderie and the chance to share ideas with others at the conference.
"It's amazing that you could bring multiple people from multiple denominations together to praise Jesus Christ and they had no conflicts," he said. "To be able to associate and relate with business and jobs and families and not get caught up in doctrinal differences."
National speakers discussed topics like relationships with wives, sexual purity for fathers and singles (as well as how to instill that value in children), commitment to a local church and how to offer meaningful support to pastors and receive it back from them.
"The focus is on keeping promises and having relationships of integrity, beginning with God, then the family, then your church, then your friends and finally the community," said the Rev. Jim Schaedler, pastor of Metro Fellowship, who attended the gathering. "It's really how to be better believers, husbands and fathers."
The Rev. Steve Mullin of Hope Chapel attended "Promise Keepers" last year.
"It's not just about the responsibility, but about the fruits of being a leader in the family," he said. "It gives help in understanding and dealing with God, family and more.
"That's abdicated so often because of a lack . . . of knowing how to tie it into life. So many families aren't centered."
Many of the men were there to say "I have not been the kind of leader, husband, etc., my God created me to be," the Rev. Schaedler said. "I recommit myself. With God's help, I'm going to follow through and fulfill the role for which I have been called. It's a sweeping movement of men waking up and saying `I am really a key.' "
During the conference, Gary Smalley, president of Today's Family and a speaker and author on family issues, said fathers must clearly state their love for their children and focus on getting the anger out of their lives.
"One of the things that continually amazes me is . . . how many men in their 20s, 30s and 40s long for their fathers to give them acceptance and love," Smalley said. "There are men who have never heard their fathers say `I love you' because that father never heard it, either. We want to break that generational problem."
Smalley, of Branson, Mo., said he experienced the dysfunctional behavior firsthand.
"My father was very distant, unloving, very angry," he said. "I didn't know that that's not the way all fathers were.
"If you're angry in a marriage, that sabotages the relationship. You have to remove that anger from your life. Anger stems from fear, frustration, hurt feelings or a lack of fulfillment. Replace that anger with the spirit of God, the only true source of fulfillment."
Speakers at the second day of the conference were urged to commit their lives to God and embrace traditional family values.
John Maxwell, pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in Lemon Grove, Calif., spoke about sexual purity and listed 10 ways to handle sexual temptation, topped by the admonition: "Run!"
Bill Bratton, a conventiongoer from Wichita, Kan., said, "I really feel I'm going back home a changed man and a better husband and father."