Each month, his magazine Focus on the Family hits 1.9 million doorsteps, more homes than Parents magazine. His first parenting book, "Dare to Discipline," notable in that it endorsed spanking, has sold about 1.4 million copies, and it's still doing a brisk business 20 years after publication.

About 60 million people watched his first privately distributed film on child-raising, more than saw the recent commercial hit "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

His radio show, "Focus on the Family," is heard by 1 million people every day on 1,350 outlets, more than the show of any other commentator except Paul Harvey.

He needed no introduction to the 200,000 demonstrators at Washington's antiabortion Rally for Life on April 28. "And now," yelled National Right-to-Life Committee President John Willke, "the man you've all been waiting to hear: Dr. James Dobson!"

James C. Dobson Jr. (he's a psychologist, not a physician) may not be a household name inside the Beltway. But in the other America, where men and women talk siblings and soccer more than politics and power, this graduate of the University of Southern California is arguably their most influential voice for conservative family values.

His $50 million nonprofit corporation, located in Pomona, Calif., just east of Los Angeles, has increased its revenue every year, directed by a board that includes horse-farm owner Lee Eaton, Ted Engstrom of World Vision and Susan Garrett Baker, volunteer par excellence and wife of the U.S. secretary of state.

A quiet populist, he was speaking and writing about the family long before better-known advocates, urging his supporters to protect the family from pornography, day-care centers, feminism, homosexual rights, abortion and, most recently, lewd rock music as in that of 2 Live Crew. Dobson heads a Christian media empire, Focus on the Family, with 52 different arms, from publishing and radio to summer basketball camps for boys.

He has made millions of dollars for himself and his organization with simply worded advice subtly laced with Scripture and taken straight from the small 1950s Texas town he grew up in: Mom, stay at home with your children. Dad, you're the head of the house. Mom and Dad, spend time with your children and if they act up, show them who's boss, even if you have to spank them.

It's a view of family life that many Americans may long for -- one reason for Dobson's success -- but fewer and fewer follow. And so at age 54, Dobson has decided that advising families is no longer enough. Alarmed by signs that his causes are in trouble, Dobson has gone political in the hopes that his considerable national constituency will follow.

About two years ago, Focus assumed ownership of a small political research group in Washington called the Family Research Council. With former Reagan domestic adviser Gary Bauer as its head, the FRC has grown from two to 17 people, now has chapters in 17 states and is quickly becoming known as a legislative strike force on issues such as abortion, home-schooling, pornography and child care.

The federal child-care tax credit for at-home parents, scoffed at two years ago by many on the Hill, is now part of an omnibus child-care bill in conference committee in Congress, largely due to thousands of phone calls from constituents who heard about it from Focus.

The demise of two new comic books by Archie Comics, "The Hangman" and "The Fly," came after Focus parents in Southern California protested that they were too violent.

Even the 2 Live Crew debate had its genesis at Focus. Late last year, Bob DeMoss Jr., a Focus "youth culture specialist," transcribed the lyrics of the group's controversial rap album "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" and mailed unsolicited copies to people described as "decency and pro-family activists" all over the country. DeMoss did some counting and reported multiple uses of obscenities, terms for genitalia and descriptions of group sex.

Miami lawyer Jack Thompson got a copy of the Focus mailing and sent it to Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and sheriffs all over Florida, including Broward County's Nick Navarro. The result: the arrest of two band members in Fort Lauderdale and a record-store owner, a federal court ruling that the record is obscene and a national controversy over free speech.

"For someone to bother to count up dirty words and mount a mass movement against a single record is one more example of a search for easy answers to terribly complex problems," says Barry Lynn, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, who has tangled with Focus several times. The record in question, Linn adds, "reflects a horrible attitude in American culture, but it didn't cause such an attitude nor does it really perpetuate it."

Dobson's supporters do not fit the rural, undereducated, Southern stereotype associated with evangelical Christians. A confidential survey of Focus magazine readers found that almost half of the men and a quarter of the women had either four-year undergraduate or graduate degrees.

They tended to be young (25-34), married with children, Republican, and more than 90 percent of them had voted in the last election.

In nearly half of the families, the mother worked full-time, or almost full-time, outside the home. That statistic, coupled with the fact that the majority of Focus's 800 employees are women, including single mothers, makes Focus literature seem a bit schizophrenic. For example, the logo designed by Dobson and carried on almost all Focus literature is a portrait of a Victorian couple and child. Yet a recent Focus children's magazine pictured a female astronaut on the cover.

"We want all the opportunities to be there," Bauer explained. "We want to tell a girl, 'You can be an astronaut and a mother. But it may be that by being a mother you do more for civilization than being an astronaut.' "

The family that "Jimmie Lee" Dobson knew differed dramatically from his audience today, and, in some ways, Dobson's adult journey into family psychology and family politics is one man's attempt to retrieve the era he grew up in.

His father and mother, James and Myrtle Dobson, were married for 43 years. His father never went to college and became a traveling evangelist in the Church of the Nazarene, a fundamentalist Protestant sect whose members include former U.S. senator Gary Hart. Dobson spent his early childhood accompanying his parents through the dusty Southwest towns where the Nazarenes thrive.

An only child, he received all the attention and love his parents had to give. His mother deferred to her husband in all major matters, but she often found herself alone. From her, Dobson says, he got his idea that firm discipline is the cornerstone of the parent-child relationship:

"She knew that backtalk and 'lip' are the child's most potent weapons of defiance and must be discouraged," he wrote. "On one occasion she cracked me with a shoe; at other times she used a handy belt. The day I learned the importance of staying out of reach shines like a neon light in my mind. I made the costly mistake of 'sassing' her when I was about four feet away. ... Her hand landed on a girdle. ... It weighed about 16 pounds and was lined with lead and steel. She drew back and swung that abominable garment in my direction. ... The intended blow caught me across the chest, followed by a multitude of straps and buckles wrapping themselves around my midsection. ... From that day forward, I cautiously retreated a few steps before popping off."

As Dobson was about to start his junior year in high school, his father decided to take a job as pastor of First Church of the Nazarene and settled down in San Benito, Tex., a hot, flat outpost near the Mexican border.

The Korean War had just ended, and the citrus orchards that surrounded San Benito were plentiful enough to keep most everyone working. Because of his religious beliefs Dobson couldn't dance or go to movies like the rest of his friends, but he earned their respect by becoming a top tennis player.

"Those were the best years America ever had," a Dobson high school friend, retired Col. Harlan "Bake" Baker Jr. recalled. "We had the hamburgers, the milkshakes. ... We didn't drink or smoke. ... Our parents gave us room to spread our wings but also set limits. ... Most of us knew we were going to college."

Dobson became interested in human behavior in 1954, his freshman year at Pasadena College, a small liberal arts Christian school in Southern California. It was not an easy time for a Christian to go into psychology; some psychologists thought Christians were deluded know-nothings and some Christians thought psychologists were devil worshipers or worse.

But after he had taken a couple of psychology courses, Dobson was convinced that God was calling him to go all the way in the field. He graduated from Pasadena and went on to the University of Southern California, where he received his PhD in child development in 1967.

Dobson took the precise number of credits needed for his doctorate and not one more. He was anxious to get his family life going and to speak out on values he believed were eroding at breakneck speed.

He joined the staff at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, and then the USC School of Medicine, researching childhood disorders that lead to mental retardation.

Two years earlier, in 1965, two unrelated events had taken place that changed Dobson, then 29, forever. He and his wife, Shirley, had their first child, Danae Ann, and the Watts section of Los Angeles exploded in racial fire. What is happening to this country? he asked himself, and what will happen to my child as a result?

In his book "The Strong-Willed Child," Dobson writes about the class of 1965:

"Our cities began to burn during the long hot summer of racial strife. That signaled the start of the chaos to come. {The class of 1965} entered college at a time when drug abuse was not only prevalent, but became almost universal for students and teachers alike. Intellectual deterioration was inevitable. ... Accompanying this social upheaval was a sudden disintegration of moral and ethical principles such as has never occurred in the history of mankind. All at once, there were no definite values. There were no standards. No absolutes. No rules. No traditional beliefs on which to lean."

Dobson started speaking to local PTAs and Sunday school classes, then graduated to the "Dinah Shore Show," Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow Show," "AM America" and Barbara Walters's "Not for Women Only."

He was popular among parents because he was preaching obedience to authority at exactly the time their children were clamoring for independence and autonomy. "He condemned the so-called new morality," his biographer, Rolf Zetterston, wrote, "he demanded more discipline in the schools, he taught parents how to reassert their authority at home and he unflinchingly called sin by its biblical name -- SIN!"

He was not at ease behind a podium, but he practiced public speaking with the same tenacity with which he had lobbed tennis balls years before. Each time he spoke, he watched his audience carefully, and when people started whispering, tapping their fingers or otherwise showing signs of boredom, he made a notation on his outline. The next time he spoke, the sections in question were either gone or modified.

In 1970, one of the largest Christian publishing companies in the United States, Tyndale House, agreed to publish Dobson's first book, "Dare to Discipline." Other books followed quickly including: "Hide or Seek" (about building a child's self-esteem), "What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women" (which the publisher says has sold more copies than "Dare to Discipline"), "The Strong-Willed Child," "Preparing for Adolescence," "Love for a Lifetime" and "Parenting Isn't for Cowards."

By 1978, Dobson's seminars on the family were making so much money -- drawing up to 3,000 people per weekend at $12 a ticket -- that he quit his job at USC and formed his own not-for-profit company, Focus on the Family. His radio show had started a year earlier. And Word Publishing videotaped several of his seminars and turned them into a film series that was quickly picked up by churches, the U.S. Armed Forces, and private and public schools.

Each year, Focus tackled new subjects, such as abused wives and pornography, and became more savvy in its marketing. "Dobson always knew what vast segments of this society wanted to hear," said Gil Alexander-Moergele, a former Focus vice president and radio co-host.

One of its strongest departments became Listener Services, a mail and telephone counseling service rivaling that of the biggest TV evangelists. Aided by computers, 180 employees in that department answer 8,000 letters a day.

As Dobson's empire grew his teaching style -- motivational rather than skill-based -- did not change much. Neither did the substance of what he said.

In his books and writings on the family, he charms readers with his own moments as a father: changing diapers with cotton balls in his nose or hiding his teenaged daughter's razor to teach her to put things back in their place. He applauds common sense over scientific theory.

And always, he encourages parents to be assertive, to risk incurring their children's wrath in order to save their souls. The Bible teaches that "we are born in sin," he writes in a pamphlet, "Parenting With Confidence." "The purpose of parents is to control that inner nature and keep it from tyrannizing the entire family."

Children's advocates, such as Joyce Johnson of the Child Welfare League, criticize Dobson for clinging to a philosophy of "20 to 30 years ago that said children were the property of their parents."

Some of Dobson's contemporaries criticize him for being too formulaic. "Child-raising is quite individualistic; I never found there was a secret magic that worked," said pediatrician Richard Koch, a former graduate school adviser to Dobson.

But it is Dobson's view on punishment that has gotten him in the most hot water. Several years ago, for example, a Massachusetts couple charged with child abuse said they beat their children because their pastor had said it was all right based on Dobson's writings. Dobson says he has never advocated beating children.

Mainstream family psychologists say that while setting limits helps build secure parent-child relationships, there are better methods than the back of a hand or a strap, such as giving a child a period of "time out." Spanking "can stimulate rebelliousness rather than respect for the wisdom of parents," said Arthur Bodin, psychologist and past president of the Family Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association.

Even as they criticize some of his work, psychologists admit that he's better known -- and probably richer -- than they'll ever be. "I doubt there is any American psychologist selling more books to the American public right now," said Paul Clement, a California psychologist and former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

The ACLU's Lynn says he knows a number of people "who don't share {Dobson's} religious beliefs but who believe that his advice on child-raising is the best around."

The fact is, no psychologist from a more moderate religious perspective has worked as hard and as successfully as Dobson to tie faith and parenting skills together for religious families, a reality lamented by some in the field.

"We're living in a culture where the deterioration of the family is so evident, and people are looking for guidance," said John Fantuzzo, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania. "There's no substantive alternative {to Dobson}. That secular stuff {such as T. Berry Brazelton's work} is not made intimate the way Dobson's is. It's not tied into spiritual conviction. ... In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

In the early days of Focus, Dobson's message was apolitical. When he incorporated, asking for nonprofit tax status as a 501c3 organization, he answered "no" to the question of whether Focus would engage in activities tending to influence legislation.

"He used to talk about us as a guerrilla artillery organization in the mountains, firing off little bombs now and then," former vice president Alexander-Moergele remembers. "He liked the fact that he was having an impact but was little known."

But in late 1979, Dobson found politics. "I remember clear as a bell when it started," said Alexander-Moergele. "President Carter formed a White House Conference on the Family. Dobson helped write the report and he loved it."

Alexander-Moergele said Dobson expanded the political side of his organization because "Jim got tired of telling people what to do when a 6-year-old wet the bed."

Dobson said it had more to do with his perception that parents had lost authority over their children to the schools and government.

"Until 15 years ago, a girl couldn't pierce her ears without getting her parents' permission," he said during an interview. "Now a parent can send a 13-year-old girl to school, the school can transport that child to have an abortion and the parent won't even know about it. She may come home, begin to bleed and the parent won't know why. ... The parent has been eliminated from the process. How did that happen? It was discussed somewhere, even debated, but Christians didn't participate."

Dobson was appointed to President Carter's advisory committee after he announced on his radio show that he would like to be and thousands of listeners called the White House. That's when he realized the power of his electronic forum, a power he has not hesitated to use on other issues including the Civil Rights Restoration Act (which he and hundreds of thousands of callers opposed) and, more recently, funding by the National Endowment for the Arts on allegedly obscene projects.

He served on several other presidential advisory committees, including then-Attorney General Edwin Meese's Commission on Pornography and a panel on teen pregnancy prevention under then-Health and Human Services Secretary Otis Bowen. In 1988, convinced that the conservative cause needed more help than he alone could give, he persuaded the Focus board to buy the Family Research Council.

Since that purchase, the FRC has become one of the largest evangelical Christian lobbying organizations in Washington. A year ago, it had a $1 million budget that was half subsidized by Focus; director Bauer says that contributions have been so generous that the council will probably be self-sustaining by this fall.

Bauer plays down the lobbying role of the council, saying its primary purpose is to convey its message to the national media and inform constituents through a monthly newsletter (unpaid circulation of 300,000) and a daily 15-minute radio news show.

But Bauer, who served the White House the full eight years of Reagan's presidency, including a stint as undersecretary for education, has not stayed away from the Hill completely. In the ongoing debate over the child-care bill, he and others succeeded in winning acceptance for a tax credit for parents who stay at home, as well as fewer restrictions on church-based day care.

What the FRC is doing in Washington, small Focus-organized coalitions are starting to do in 17 states, with a goal of all 50. Dobson envisions these coalitions as a way of bringing together various pro-family groups, which traditionally have spent much of their time feuding with each other.

"Our purpose is to get together the Right-to-Lifers, the anti-pornographers, the home-schoolers," said Bill Smith, former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who now directs the Focus-initiated Indiana Family Institute.

Dobson says he has no intention of ever running for office, a pledge that even his critics believe. He also says Focus should not endorse candidates -- although letters to the GOP and Democratic presidential nominees in 1988, copied and sent out to Focus constituents before the election, left little room for doubt that he believed Bush to be the better candidate.

Dobson has entered politics quietly, without the press conferences and pomp that surrounded predecessors like the Rev. Jerry Falwell. This reflects the maturing of a certain segment of evangelicals within mainstream politics, particularly in the Republican Party, according to A. James Reichley, a Brookings Institution fellow and expert on religion in public life.

Gone are the days of TV preachers and bombast, Reichley and other political observers say, and in their place laymen like Dobson are emerging, talking a more palatable language that is less about religion and more about rights (be they parental or fetus) and equality of opportunity (for women who stay at home).

Focus board member Susan Baker applauds the more moderate tone. She says the board reluctantly decided that Focus is the only Christian organization that has the finances and savvy right now to represent the conservative Christians' interest.

Dobson has been warned by prominent evangelical figures, including Charles Colson, that he is courting danger by beefing up his political agenda. Some of his grass-roots support comes from people who could care less about politics. They know that political causes eat up money and worry about the pitches for money that they frequently see now in Dobson's newsletters.

Dobson himself considered cutting back in 1985. But then his aunt sent him a letter telling him about a vision his father had had eight years earlier. The elderly Dobson was ailing and had prayed to God to give him a few more years to continue his ministry.

He heard a voice that his son has not forgotten: "You are going to reach literally millions of people for me from coast to coast and around the world. But it will not be through your efforts. ... It will be through your son!"

A higher public profile also means that Dobson is more vulnerable to scrutiny and criticism, and according to those closest to him, he can't stand the latter.

Early last year, Dobson interviewed mass murderer Ted Bundy, at Bundy's request, about the influence pornography played on Bundy's life. The interview was videotaped hours before Bundy was electrocuted. When Focus then started selling the tape for $25, which Dobson said just covered costs, the media jumped on him, contributions to Focus fell and Dobson was furious.

"Dobson's most prized possession is his reputation," said Bauer. "He is very sensitive to how people think of him."

Dobson prefers to think he's only being prudent after the TV scandals in evangelical Christianity of the last few years. "One of my greatest concerns is through the visibility of this ministry, its influence, we'll do something stupid, step on a land mine and hurt the cause of Christ," he said.

The cause of Christ. Spoken like a man on a crusade. Life for this Nazarene preacher's son is a war between God and Satan, once measured by parental hugs and prods but increasingly by bills, appointments and court decisions.

He brought this message to the National Religious Broadcasters' annual meeting in Washington last year. He spoke to a packed house, the spotlight on him, the rest of the auditorium dark and silent.

"We are engaged at this time in an enormous civil war of values," he said. On one side stand "the Judaeo-Christian, biblical prescriptions we trust"; on the other, "the humanistic, avant-garde point of view that there are no absolutes, especially if there is money to be made.

"What most people don't realize is that our children are the prize. Those who control what children see, hear and are taught control the nation."

His father's round face and tender eyes loomed before him.

"I'm shouting, why am I shouting," he said, and his voice cracked. "I feel this so deeply. ... I am 52; my father died when he was 66. Fourteen years is nothing. I'll be joining him in Heaven before very long. Building a power base means nothing to me. I'm uncomfortable with what I have.

"But I do feel I cannot sit on my hands while everything I care about goes down the drain."