What it actually takes to be a great dad

Plus, win your Dad a new book for Father’s Day!

Robert Garrett loves his dad and has always wanted to be like him.

Garrett was startled when he found out how unusual he is. According to Paul Scanlon, the bestselling author of I Am Not My Father, Robert Garrett is the minority.

“Fathering is about providing stability and security for your children.” – Robert Garrett

Meeting the Christian leader in 2007 when he spoke at Sydney’s Hillsong Conference, Garrett heard first-hand what Scanlon’s international travels had revealed. Wherever Scanlon went, two thirds of the men he addressed shared his own attitude – they did NOT want to be like their dad.

“Wouldn’t it be great if someone wrote a book about that uncommon experience?” mused Scanlon about the positive role model in Garrett’s life. Having never considered writing a book before, organisational management consultant Garrett seriously mulled over Scanlon’s offhanded proposal.

Fast forward more than a decade and the recently released More Like the Father is Garrett’s practical book about developing a “healthy and functional fatherhood model”.

“Fathering is about providing stability and security for your children and preparing them to succeed in life,” explains Garrett, who also ranks his grandfather as a real-life “hero,” alongside his own dad. “Giving them the skills to do that, relationally, spiritually, physically.”

“And not doing anything as an earthly father to jeopardise their relationship with their heavenly Father.

“I talk to a lot of guys who have trouble relating to God because their dad was so dysfunctional.”

The potential problems swirling around God as heavenly Father is more commonly discussed in relation to women. But Garrett’s interest in promoting positive fatherhood has brought him to hundreds of conversations with men whose perspective of God the Father is broken, damaged or non-existent.

“I wanted to look at the collective habits and characteristics of great dads.” – Robert Garrett

While he is passionate about encouraging fatherhood excellence, Garrett’s book almost didn’t exist. Since his pivotal conversation with Scanlon, Garrett spent about eight years doubting the book project he sketched out. The outline sat in a bottom drawer until 2015, when a series of extraordinary events led corporate guy Garrett to the conclusion that he should take 12 months off. And write that book.

“I wanted to look at the collective habits and characteristics of great dads,” says Garrett, who spoke with several hundred blokes – from all walks of life – about whether they wanted to be more like their dad. If they did, he talked more with them about their experience and insights. Eventually, he distilled that anecdotal evidence into key characteristics and behaviours which dominate his book, punctuated by Bible passages and teachings.

Having been raised as a Christian – once of Garrett’s earliest memories is playing under the pews in the church his grandfather built in the Sydney suburb of Belrose – Garrett was still amazed at one notable outcome of his many conversations.

“I didn’t find anyone outside of the church who said they wanted to be more like their father. I found that a little bit confronting.” Garrett doesn’t try to push that statistic as a widespread fact but he is clearly struck by how it stood out in his research.

The link between God and dads down on earth is a key feature of Garrett’s book. As Garrett relates stories from his own life, alongside personal accounts from other men he interviewed, More Like the Father offers lived-in wisdom about good dads being responsible, consistent, loving, gracious and other similar characteristics. Flowing through these pointers is how God (and his Son Jesus) first displayed them to humanity.

“Yes, there are some common characteristics among great fathers but they are reflections of our heavenly Father’s characteristics,” says Garrett, in summary of his dad discoveries.

“… Some of the things you will do now will have an impact down the track.” – Robert Garrett

As you can read about in More Like the Father, Garrett explains how one of his sisters became pregnant at 17 (Garrett is one of seven kids). Garrett’s dad was an elder at their church but his parents said: “Well, we’re going to ask [the baby’s father] to move into our family home because when the baby is born, it will need its father there from the beginning.” Garrett had the opposite reaction: ‘Well, if he’s moving in, I’m moving out. See you later.”

“In the book, I contrast that grace that Dad showed in a really tough situation, versus my complete lack of grace that I’m ashamed of.”

Garrett got permission from his sister and her now husband to publish that story, as just one earthly example of his dad emulating his heavenly Father. He hopes More Like The Father can be a useful resource for families, particularly those who are part of the 16 per cent of families in Australia that have only one parent (according to 2016 Census).

That’s 960,000 families across Australia, of which 82 per cent are mothers only, Garrett notes, wondering aloud how boys can learn how to be a father in that environment, and where girls can seek a fatherly role model.

“And that’s not [also mentioning] the kids who have dad at home but he’s a bit dysfunctional or emotionally absent.”

This Father’s Day, Garrett wants his tribute to good dad-ness to extend beyond today. And tomorrow. He says More Like The Father has the future of Australian society in mind, and he’s hoping to work as much as he can with churches, community organisations and individuals.

“It’s a really hard thing to do, to get a teenager to think generationally. To think that some of the things you will do now will have an impact down the track.”

“Part of being a good father is raising your children to be others focused and I don’t think we are others focused, as a society. We live for ourselves and we live for now.”

Enter the competition to win a copy of More Like the Father for your Dad here.