One of the most successful artists in Christian music history believes nothing in this life shows more of who God is than fatherhood.
Steven Curtis Chapman has had quite a career since his first record came out in 1987. Since then, he’s sold more than 10 million albums, has had 45 number one radio hits and won an American Music Award, five Grammys and 56 Dove Awards (more than any artist in Christian music). His new album, re:creation, drops on Tuesday, Aug. 9. It doesn’t take long in a chat with this devout man of faith to realize his proudest achievement is his family — wife Mary Beth and their children, Emily, 25, Caleb, 21, Will, 20, Shaohannah, 11, and Stevey Joy, 8.
The songs on your 2009 CD, Beauty Will Rise, came from the aftermath of Maria’s death. How has your journey as a dad influenced your song writing overall?
This is a perfect question. It is woven into the fabric of all of my music. Kids and marriage have most influenced the songs I’ve written. Songs for me from the beginning were out of the soil of my faith, specifically related to God. I want to know God and make Him known; nothing in this life shows me more of who God is than being a father. I wrote a song a while back called “Dancing with the Dinosaur,” which I’m sure somehow goes back to Barney; Will was a big Barney fan when he was little. I wrote “Cinderella” one night when I really blew it as a parent. I was impatient and in a hurry trying to get Shaohannah and Stevey Joy to bed and all they wanted to do was play with me in their Cinderella and Snow White costumes. I was really frustrated and finally got them into bed, said “good night,” and I wasn’t that sweet about it. Later, I realized, “I don’t get that moment back,” and sat down and wrote the song.
What was the most enlightening thing you learned about yourself when you became a father?
The capacity to really love someone. The husband/wife relationship is a different kind of love and commitment. There’s a depth and capacity to love — and hurt — that you can’t tap into until you become a dad. Becoming a parent exposes something … a degree of how selfish you are and can be (before parenthood). For example, one of my boys was complaining recently about how tired he was, and all I wanted to say was, “You don’t know tired until you’re up at 3 a.m. with a sick child!” Parenthood is one of the greatest tools God created as part of the revelation into the depths of who we are.
Caleb and Will play music and have toured with your band. Has your musical talent rubbed off on the girls, too?
They love music and will sing along. Emily did musical theater as a hobby when she was in school at Christ Presbyterian Academy. Shaohannah and Stevey Joy take piano and voice just for fun. They like to sing and dance and do “shows” for us at home. Stevey is a gymnast, and Shaohannah is our resident genius. She loves reading and gives us information on EVERYTHING!
You have a tour starting this month. How do you deal with being on the road a lot and staying connected to your family?
It’s the greatest challenge. There are lots of dads who travel — not just musicians. I’ve wrestled with it for 25 years now. In the beginning, I took Mary Beth and Emily with me, but Mary Beth is not a fan of the road. It became important to walk the line and create a balance. There have been times when Mary Beth called and said, “I need you here.” I have taken many red eye flights back home for important events, like soccer games and other things important to the kids. It’s always been important to me for the kids to know, “Our dad loved us and was there.” A long time ago, I surrounded myself by counsel … pastors and friends, not just agents and managers who are money makers. They have been vital when I get to points where I feel like I need help navigating all of this.
When your older kids were little, there wasn’t all this technology around. How do you deal with it now raising young girls?
It’s so much more intense and a great challenge. They have the world at their fingertips — the worst and best of it. There is so much accessible, and I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into the Internet age. It’s a part of their world, so we have to train them and teach them to navigate it the best we can. We put up all the filters and parental controls, and when they ask questions we explain why. It’s about relationships. Rules without relationships breed rebellion. They need to know they are loved. We explain to them the stuff that can be good, the stuff that’s like junk food that’s OK occasionally and that there’s other stuff out there that’s like rat poison spiritually and emotionally.
What do you guys do for fun when you’re off the road?
Play games and watch movies; we just enjoy being together. We LOVE Sweet CeCe’s, and my body is beginning to show that we go there a lot! We love living in Franklin and strolling the streets. We like going to Disney movies and swimming in the pool. Mary Beth and I will watch the girls doing flips and dives and we’ll score them like Olympic judges.
Emily was the one who pressed your family to adopt. At first you and Mary Beth said “no.” What changed your mind?
Emily was 11 or 12 at the time, and she always had an attraction for kids in hard places. She and Mary Beth went to Haiti, and after visiting orphanages there, Emily suggested that we should adopt a child. We thought having three kids already was enough, but Emily kept persisting. She started leaving notes on our bed saying, “There’s a little girl who needs us.” God finally got a hold of our hearts and showed us that we were supposed to do it. And I’m so glad He did. It’s amazing.
If you could choose only one characteristic to pass on and instill in your kids, what would it be?
So many come to mind, but I think teachability is so big and important. It runs equal to humility. Staying in a position of humility is important. The opposite of that is pride, which the Bible says goes before destruction. I want my kids to stay teachable and learn new things when they’re old.
Children obviously learn a lot from their parents. What have you learned the most from your kids?
I’ve learned that with kids much more is caught than taught. We learn because we watch and experience. I’m thankful my kids have taught me to have a greater dependence on God, and that I’m still a work in progress myself. They have helped me understand more about God, life and what matters most.
Adoption and inspiring others to care for orphaned children is a big passion in your life. If local families aren’t in the position to adopt, what are ways they can help support the mission of Show Hope and Maria’s Big House of Hope?
This summer, several folks from the community made trips to Maria’s Big House of Hope (in China). Some are medical teams, while others go to just love on the kids and help take care of the full-time caregivers there. The biggest need is to help adoptive families financially. Through Show Hope, we’ve helped 3,000 families with adoption, but there’s been maybe 10,000 – 20,000 more families who need assistance. There is always a way to help. You can read stories and learn more at showhope.org.
Chad Young is managing editor for this publication.