As a professional magician, Louisville, Ky., resident David Garrard has pulled his fair share of items out of a hat.
But his new book about his late father, Baptist pastor Forrest C. Garrard Jr., is not one of them. The author spent close to 30 years of on-again, off-again writing to complete Thanks, Dad: Fruits of a Father’s Faithfulness.
It was an intense process initiated soon after his father’s death in 1993 and resumed more recently with the emergence of a publisher and ample writing time provided by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forrest Garrard served four churches in 40 years, mostly in Atlanta. “He always put people first and because of that he was an amazing pastor,” the younger Garrard said.
Garrard said his dad showed him the way into faith — becoming a Christian at age 9 — and eventually ministry. In 2018, David Garrard retired from St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville after 42 years as minister to children.
His dad also dabbled in magic, planting a seed that led Garrard into a professional magic career, including stumping Penn and Teller on their show, “Fool Us.”
But the purpose of the book isn’t to wow readers with tales of magic and ministry. “To me, the bigger story is the relationship Dad and I have and the impact of his life on my life. My hope is these stories can inspire other fathers, parents and followers of Jesus to just go live the faith and see what happens.”
Garrard spoke with Baptist News Global about his father, his faith and his book.
Based on the book, you and your father seemed like lifelong friends. Is that a fair description?
The more I reflect on it, the more I am amazed. I just find myself shaking my head at how this happened and how blessed I was, really. A lot of people would look at this as a kind of codependent relationship, but we just had an awesome relationship. The book describes the relationship, but I find myself more and more wanting to analyze how it happened.
The project took a while to complete. Was it just a difficult subject for you?
When Dad died in 1993, the words just started finding their way onto paper in these little vignettes. I probably wrote about two-thirds of this right after he died. I started looking for a publisher but couldn’t find one, so I ultimately gave up and all that stuff just sat. Then last year, I got to wondering if the people who published my book of magic would be interested in publishing this book about my dad. They said they would be, and with all this down time at home, I whipped it into shape and ended writing several more chapters.
Did you have a central goal or theme in writing the book?
The main thing is, this is not about me. This is about a man who loved God, loved his family and was a faithful pastor. I am hoping Dad’s story can inspire other dads, other ministers and other people because of the dynamics of our relationship. His story contains game changers in terms of how you live your life. This is especially for people working in the church.
Was the writing experience an emotional one?
Almost all of this was written sitting at his desk, sitting in his chair. And going through all these pictures and files, I found myself many, many times just welling up in tears and saying, “Thank you, God” and “Thank you, Dad” for how they shaped my life and that I have these memories.
You share that people often used to say “you’re Forrest’s son” when they heard you speak or perform. How did that impact you?
I think a lot of people said that because we looked alike. But to me the main thing was they didn’t really know me, but they knew my dad. He had been ministering for many years, and a lot of people knew him and a lot of people loved him. They didn’t know me, but they knew him. Nothing made me prouder than that.
You said your parents lived their faith in a way that made you want to be Christian. How so?
The thing I saw was that this was not a game. This was not a pretend. We were asked, my brother and sister and I, to carry ourselves in a certain upstanding way. This was not because we were preachers’ kids, but because it was the right thing do to.
And with my parents, I could tell by the way they treated each other that their faith was real, that faith is real. That didn’t mean it was always easy. But it wasn’t something they did because it was a job or an image they were putting on. They were the same people at home as they were at church. That was a big deal to me because I was looking for authenticity, and with them I found it.
You made a career of magic and church ministry. To what extent did your father do the same?
Dad didn’t. Magic for Dad was strictly a hobby and I don’t ever remember seeing him do a show. I remember seeing him do tricks when people were at the house. I remember seeing him do a trick at church one time, but it was probably during a fellowship or something. Vocationally, he was exclusively a pastor.
How did your dad get into magic in the first place?
He had a seminary classmate name T.L. McSwain, and T.L. knew some magic. They would go around doing these revivals as a team. And Dad watched T.L. do this one trick, over and over. And that was Dad’s introduction to magic. And he began to learn more.
How did your father influence you to become a minister?
He was my role model for ministry. Early on I thought that I wanted to be a preacher, although there was no pressure from Dad. It was just wanting to be like Dad. I remember Dad built me a small pulpit in the house. After church on Sunday mornings we would put the Teddy bears on the sofas and my Mom and Dad would come in and I’d get my brother to play the piano and we would have another service. I had this sense of wanting to be in vocational ministry.
Then I wanted to go to seminary when I realized I could use my magic in ministry. I wanted to be like Grady Nutt. And I did go to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which is where I was ultimately connected with children’s ministry.
But the crazy thing is I almost didn’t go to seminary. I almost called to cancel (enrollment), but I thought I would call my dad first to see what he thought. He did not overact, but he took me to Southern and we looked around and I realized it’s where I wanted to be. Once again, my life was completely changed over one phone call to my dad. I can hardly wrap my head around it.