How God took Andrew Scipione from fatherless teen to fathering mentor
The nation’s former top cop talks about fathering for Fathers’ Day
In a way, Andrew Scipione should be the last person to be an ambassador for the Fathering Project, an organisation dedicated to helping fathers be the best they can be, because he tragically lost his own father when he was only 14. Growing up in rough-and-tumble western Sydney, things could have gone badly wrong for the young lad with no dad around to guide him.
As NSW Police Commissioner from 2007 to 2017, Scipione saw many cases where boys with absent fathers made bad life choices and had to live with the fallout, whether that be a life of crime or abuse of drugs and alcohol. He recalls talking to boys in western Sydney one Fathers’ Day who didn’t even know who their fathers were.
But as God would have it, Scipione is the perfect exemplar of the Fathering Project’s goal to provide good fathering to the next generation because “God grabbed me and took me in another direction through the hearts and the minds of other men.”
“I was a 14-year-old boy who lost his dad, but three months before losing my father I gave my heart to the Lord.”
“Any boy that loses their father when they’re a young teenager is potentially going to go and do it pretty hard,” says the son of ten-pound Poms who went on to forge a stellar career in the police force.
“I was really, really fortunate. I lost my father at 14 and the tragedy that that was, was only surpassed by the wonderful way that God looked after me. I was a 14-year-old boy who lost his dad, but three months before losing my father I gave my heart to the Lord.
“Now I didn’t come from a church family, but I was part of a really big family and there were a number of men in the church that I ended up going to that became father to me – figure figures.”
It was the role modelling … watching them under pressure when things weren’t going right, seeing how they behaved when potentially no one was watching.”
He explains that these four older men taught him “those really important things like how to grow up to be a man and then how to grow up to be a husband – ultimately, they taught me the important things in being a father. So that was incredibly important to me, and it’s something that’s stayed with me.”
The primary way they taught him was through how they lived.
“It was the role modelling; it was the way they acted and treated their children, the way they treated their parents, the way they looked after their wives … watching them under pressure when things weren’t going right, seeing how they behaved when potentially no one was watching.”
Having just celebrated his 41st wedding anniversary with wife Joy, Scipione says he has tried to live by the priorities he believes in – putting God and church first, family second and work third, though during his long career in the police force he didn’t always get the balance right.
“The reality is, there were times when I was away from home when I really should have been there. I spent so much time at work and, you know, that took me away from the things that were really important.”
But thanks to good relationships with his three kids – Benjamin, Jonathan and Emma – they understood why he couldn’t always be there.
“The reality is there were times when I was away from home when I really should have been there.”
“So whilst I was feeling I should have been at home, they were cutting me a bit of slack and they made good where I felt bad, so at this stage whilst I do have some regrets, I know that those kids and God were actually enough to get us through,” he says.
Scipione’s two sons are both police officers and married, while Emma is a schoolteacher who still lives at home.
“They’ve been wonderful inspirations in our lives. They’re all Christian; they all worship at different churches. Having said that it’s very, very special to have kids in your family and for all of them to know the Lord.”
Now retired, Scipione feels blessed to be able to be a hands-on grandparent to his three small grandchildren – three-and-a-half-year-old Matthias, 14-month-old Elizabeth and three-month-old Sophia.
“We’re blessed in that we get to look after them through the week and that’s been tremendous, but we’re also living in the same area, so we get to see them very, very regularly. We have them when we’re at church, we get to be a part of their life, so there’s not too many days go by or too long a period when we’re not with them,” he tells Eternity during an interview at Oatley Park, where he and Joy often bring the grandchildren to play.
“As I say, we get the privilege of looking after them at home a lot, and we really enjoy that, and we’ve just learnt the really special blessing of having three-year-old boys who decide they want to have sleepovers at grandma and grandad’s so that’s fantastic as well.”
Scipione said his decision to retire relatively young at 60 was a deliberate choice to ensure he was fit enough to be fully involved in his grandchildren’s lives.
“We want to make sure that we’re able to go swimming with them, walk with them, take them for bushwalks, be able to play with them at the park or roll around on the floor, so it’s such a blessing,” he says.
“You don’t get a second chance at it. There’s no dress rehearsal. When it happens, it happens and it’s once.
“With being away so much with work, it’s wonderful to get that second chance, but you only get it for a little while.”
“We looked at the little boy only yesterday – we were out for a walk and we dropped into his house and we realised just how quickly he’s growing up, just breakneck speed. That’s the way God makes it. Right now, he breaks your heart when you got to leave him, but when he’s gone forever, he’ll leave a hole in your heart because you know he’s no longer there so it’s a bit like your children, when they marry.”
Speaking of second chances, though, Scipione agrees that this is exactly what he has been given through parenting his grandchildren.
“And that’s been a really important thing for me because I know with being away so much with work, it’s wonderful to get that second chance, but you only get it for a little while. So we’re incredibly blessed and we know how much God loves us when we look at those little kids – he must love us a heck of a lot.”
Scipione sees his role with the Fathering Project as a “very, very easy fit.” He totally supports its aims “to raise up fathers to be the very best fathers they can, equipped, capable, committed, understanding the importance of the role of a father in a child – or a father figure in a child – because, as I said, I didn’t have a father but I had father figures, which was so important.”
The Fathering Project encourages the formation of Dads Groups where fathers can relax together, share, learning and laughing with each other and their kids. It aims to get the key message out about how damaging absent, misguided or reactive fathering can be and how liberating, empowering and nurturing positive fathering can be.
“It’s really, really hard to help a person come back; it’s much easier to stop them going there.”
According to its research, the evidence is overwhelming that a strong father or father figure is one of the most powerful factors in reducing youth substance abuse, crime, low self-esteem, poor attitudes to school and loss of values and, on the other hand, increasing resilience.
“Much of this is about prevention,” Scipione says. “Bad behaviours – it’s really, really hard to help a person come back; it’s much easier to stop them going there, and that’s why good fathers when a child’s young can have such a massive impact.”
For Scipione, a large element of good fathering is learning and modelling resilience.
“We need strong dads that don’t give up and walk off the point and say ‘it’s all too hard.’ We need dads to be there because that in itself is a really important lesson for a boy or a child to learn, that you don’t give up – you stay,” he says.
“You’re starting to invest into them so that they understand that they need to be strong, they need to be courageous in tough times, they need to understand that they will make a difference if they stick to it – and I think that’s a really important part of this whole parenting, particularly fathering, thing.”
“I’ve still got a part to play, an incredibly important part to play, in reminding them that the most important thing that can do is just love and care for their wives and their children.”
But guided by his faith, Scipione stresses that the core strength a man needs is love: “The most powerful thing that a boy will bring to his manhood, and in turn bring to his life as a husband and a father, is love. That’s the most important thing. It’s the most powerful thing. Don’t worry about the masculinity – it’s really important to be a man, it’s important to be a strong, courageous man – we know that, and fathers should be teaching their sons that – but the most important thing is to love your children, to love your wife, to love your family, your parents, to care about them and then you actually install a sense of value in the person that you are sharing a relationship with.
“And so I know that in my sons’ lives they’re all, you know, strong men, but the most important thing that resides within them is love, and it’s God’s love, and we want to see that and we want to encourage that.
“Even now as a dad, I’m retired, they’re not. They’re in their prime as strong men. I’ve still got a part to play, an incredibly important part to play, in reminding them that the most important thing that can do is just love and care for their wives and their children.”