THE Dowler family could never be sure how many places to set at the table each night.
Dale Dowler had a habit of bringing home wayward youths with little notice, but wife Donna and children, Joel, 16, and Imogene, 12, could not be prouder.
Mr Dowler was a finalist in Scripture Union's Queensland Father of the Year event in Brisbane today recognised for his dedication to mentoring hundreds of people in the Sunshine Coast community.
Not satisfied with seeing young people struggling because of their background or poor choices, Mr Dowler set up the Shack in Nambour in 2002 as a youth drop-in centre.
He has since turned it into a community centre dealing with people in need, from aged eight to 80, reaching 100 to 250 people each week.
"Dale is a father figure to many, a true community champion and a tireless visionary.
"To hundreds of youth across his region, he is the father they never had," SU's finalist summary read.
Mr Dowler, who has also fostered many children, said he was glad he could be part of a celebration of dads.
"It's a really surreal feeling because I get to work with a lot of other men who are doing similar things and you think to yourself 'They'd be far more worthy'," he said.
Mr Dowler said his advice to other dads was to exhibit consistency and integrity.
"I think you do what you say and you say what you mean," he said.
"I found with the hundreds of young men I've worked with over the years, that's one of the most outstanding things.
"When they come back to you as adults themselves, they just thank you for being honest.
"Be consistent, draw a line in the sand, have your boundaries in place and work to those boundaries but have a sense of flexibility."
Imogene said she loved the way her dad always made them laugh when they were feeling down.
"Even though we might be having a bad day, somewhere it's always happy and it turns to a brighter day," she said.
Joel said his dad challenged him in his sport commitments throughout his life.
"I love being pushed. If pushed, I try harder and achieve status for myself," he said.
Single father of eight Mark Cummins, who also runs a landscaping business with help from his tribe, won Father of the Year.
He has two children with cystic fibrosis among his children, who are aged 15 to 32.