Gregory W. Slayton’s Be a Better Dad Today is the product of his study on fatherhood in six different continents over the past 25 years – and his 20+ years’ experience as a father of four. Slayton shares the book’s motivation, describing how he grew up in a challenging family environment even before his father abandoned his family. The last time he spoke with his father, Slayton was in the hospital and on the verge of death. His dad cut short the conversation, promising to call back shortly. For 25 years, Slayton never received the call. His father died in 2007, alone, of liver disease after years of alcohol abuse.
In the years since his father’s death, Slayton has undertaken a personal mission to help each of his readers to be the best fathers they can be and overcome any unresolved issues they may have inherited or grown up with.Be a Better Dad Today is a well-structured and very easy to apply guidebook for every father or father-to-be who wants to become the best dad he can be, for his family’s sake and his own.
Each chapter in the book offers practical takeaways at the end, which are useful for the reader to do a personal assessment of their learning. The takeaways include three questions “For Further Reflection,” three “Quick Wins” summarizing key insights, and a “Put it to Work Guide” to translate concepts into immediate action. Many exercises also serve as a wake-up call to dads not to forget the basic things such as making a conscious effort to spend more time with their families. Throughout the book, Slayton underscores the difficult, self-sacrificial effort that must go in to fatherhood if one wants to succeed at it.
At the heart of the book is Slayton’s belief that fathers must be equipped with the right tools: “Good dads are made, not born” (p.14). In his opening chapter, Slayton does not mince his words, declaring that “being a good dad isn’t only vital for the future of our families and our society; it is also critical to our own development as men” (p. 27). As such, Slayton challenges dads to kick-start the journey by building a “noble family vision” (p.36) in the next 10 days based on their own personal, deeply held values. Slayton offers a few examples, including his family’s own vision, and prompts readers to set attainable and realistic family goals. These goals can then be guided by a series of ten tools designed to help men enhance their family lives and parenting responsibilities.
The core of Slayton’s book examines these Ten Tools of Fatherhood encompassing subjects such as an all-in marriage, developing an authentic moral compass, employing servant leadership to empower your wife and children, cultivating active listening techniques, obtaining support from friends and other male role models, and strengthening each member of your family with unique emotional, physical, mental and spiritual. Each chapter is a breeze to read at only 8-10 pages in length, reflecting Slayton’s rare ability to offer compelling insights getting to the heart of the matter in relatively few words.
In Tool #2 All-in Marriage, Slayton expounds on the key message that in order to be a better father, one needs to strive to be better man and a better husband. At the same time, the drive to become a better father will transform the man and the husband. In other words, the roles of a husband, father and man are deeply intertwined and cannot be separated from one another. He conveys to dads that there is nothing more beneficial to children than dads modelling what a strong, successful, healthy relationship resembles. As such, the process in which a husband strengthens his love for his wife is a precursor to the love he will show for his children. This “mirror of marriage” as Slayton puts it, has a transformative effect on men’s lives, and functions as the perfect trial to prepare a man for fatherhood.
Slayton’s chapter on Relationship Tools that Work offers advice for men to develop essential relational skills, such as that of active listening. These skills prove to be especially useful in a contemporary culture of increasing self-absorption and narcissism. Slayton explains that active listening is not just about registering the other person’s words, but about sincerely conveying the message to your loved ones that they are important enough to have your undivided attention. Accordingly, active listening requires “the art of the good question,” which refers to the “deep important questions that show your wife or your child […] you care” (p. 147). In Slayton’s view, many family issues and disputes can be solved and even prevented when dads take the time and effort to use active listening.
Finally, the last segment of the book includes three chapters for Special Situations including the challenges of single fatherhood, handling setbacks and excelling as a long-distance dad. Slayton is careful not to alienate any kind of dads, offering insight for both divorced men as well as widowers. When discussing “life’s bean balls,” such as navigating unemployment, illness, injury or death, he acknowledges that many things in life are beyond dads’ control. However, the one thing that dads are always in direct and total control of is how they respond to the bean balls.
Slayton also addresses the reality that many dads are parenting their children from long distances—whether from prison, the armed forces or business commitments requiring phone conversations with their children from thousands of miles away. He reassures dads that being a good long-distance dad is no less important than being a good “regular” dad. He then follows up with straightforward and practical counsel: ten ideas for fathering teens, another ten for supporting young children, and another ten for fathering children of all ages and life stages.
What is significant about Slayton’s message to dads, especially those in special situations, is his emphasis on fathering as a collective endeavour. Rather than pressurizing dads to do it all on their own, he encourages dads to rely on supportive, loyal friends who will help them become a better dad and also to proactively engage in efforts to build community together.
Slayton takes inspiration from Christian principles but his approach is ultimately a holistic one: his tools for becoming a better father are the same tools that an individual can use to become a better-rounded person. Whether readers are parenting younger or older kids, boys or girls, they will find nuggets of wisdom and powerful, integrated action steps for becoming the best father they could be.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published in 25-04-2013.
Categories: Recommended Reads