Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The caregiver

A tribute to my father who would be 60 today.

  Ngataiawa Te Whata or Tom was born on the 15 of January 1953 in a hospital in Te Kopuru just out of Dargaville. He is from Ngai tu a sub tribe of Nga Puhi from the Hokianga area. He was the seventh of twelve children to his parents Utu and Hireki Te Whata. He was given to his Auntie as a baby to be raised by her, due to there being too many kids for the parents to look after; but his Auntie died a few years later and he was sent back. 

  Dad’s childhood was typical for Maori in rural areas. They had to be creative and make up their own fun because they weren’t wealthy enough to buy toys. They all learnt to ride horses as usual and if they were too small to ride real horses they would make rocking horses. They’d find a fallen tree trunk that looked like a horse back and then put a saddle on it which was really a sack. They would cut two holes in the sack for their feet and then grab the branches and bounce on it like a horse. He’d pretend small bottles were cars and big bottles were buses and he use to make his own boats from flax. It was all about imagination back then and making fun with what they had. Sometimes they’d make really good bows and arrows and play cowboys and Indians with them, although everybody wanted to be Indians. No one wanted to be cowboys. 

   Dad went to Aranga Primary School then he moved with the family to Dargaville and went to Dargaville primary, intermediate and Dargaville College. He said he was top of the class in standard 4 at Aranga. He remembered the only teachers at Aranga were a husband and wife but they were cruel to some pupils. They liked to try and be their parents by smacking when they felt like it because they didn’t have a smacking law then.

   The law to stop Maori kids from speaking Maori was way before Dad’s time. By the time he went to school no one could even speak Maori… not at this school anyhow because they were more colonized in the Hokianga. That’s one of the main gateways of where the settlers came in and they got rid of Maori language there when his dad was at school. Dad left school hallway through the fifth form because there was too many of his siblings in school and not enough money. So when he left school he went to work with his dad for a while clearing roads and bushes, and then moved onto fixing bridges… It was a good job to him.

   When he was still at school the Maori Affairs came up and asked if any one of the students wanted to go down to Auckland to learn a trade. So they all had to fill out papers. Some of them got picked, some of them missed out; mainly if they were in dire straits like having too many in the family. So he joined the Maori Affairs. Then he carried on working until the following year when he went down to Auckland to try and learn a trade. Dad was around sixteen or seventeen when he first moved to Auckland. He stayed in a Christian hostel in Gilly Ave in New Market with other Maori boys. But New Market was not as flash as it is now. That only began to happen after the Maori and Polynesians left.

   He worked as a blacksmith standing by a fire all day forging metal parts on and off for about 19 years. Over that time he had left, fought back and was sacked for pinching. Although he claimed he was set up. He never enjoyed the job but the people that worked with him all came from the same background so they were like one big family. They would go to the pub a lot and go to the movies on Sunday just to avoid going to church. Eventually they had to leave so with ten of his mates they left the hostel and flatted in Kingsland.

   He split with his friends for a while when he met his first wife in Auckland. She was 16 and he was 19. It didn’t take long for them to have a baby and so they moved back up north to Dargaville where they got married and he got a job. He had to work that day too but his bosses let him off early so that he could get there. They got married at a park and had his honeymoon at his parent’s house where they were living at the time. Then he was back to work the next day. They were together for 8 months but he was too young and wasn’t ready for marriage so after breaking up with his first wife Dad was by then in his early twenties and looking for a change, so he joined the army and spent five years training. He was supposed to go to Papua New Guinea where a war was going on but the army decided it was too dangerous. After that Dad began to lose interest and because of a lack of discipline got himself kicked out. After that he went back to his old job and his old mates.

   He met his second wife (my Mumzies :) who was friends with one of his sisters when he was 28. They were good friends before they got married and even flatted together. They decided to get married when she was about 8 months pregnant. Things went quite fast and when I was born it was a struggle for them. After his third child with mum they moved back up north to Dargaville to give us kids a better life out of the city. After living up north for about four years Dad decided to look for work back in Auckland. When he found a job he sent for the family to come up too. We continued to move every few months mainly around Avondale until he found a place to settle in Waterview. Financially it was tough with Dad finding only factory work making knives or fixing washing machines and Mum going back to university but he still managed to be a really good father to us. I remember in primary school I really wanted to have duraseal on my school books but we couldn't afford it so he would wrap my school books up in wallpaper material and draw little cartoon characters all over it. He had many talents from art to music to sport and best of all he handed his talents down to us.

   When I was growing up Dad was always looking for something to get us kids into. He put me into rugby league when I was about six years old and took it one step further by becoming the coach. He continued to coach for about five years and got a lot of the neighborhood kids involved too. He won coach of the year numerous times. He also got me into softball during the summer which I played up until I was about 19. Along with that he taught me how to play the guitar and also got me into athletics and tae kwon do. Even though he could be a little heavy handed, he was always there to support me and push me to achieve something in life.

   During high school a lot of changes happened. After 6 years of studying Mum graduated Law school and by that time their marriage began to break down. They continued to live together but the dramas were at an all time high, which resulted in us kids going a bit wayward, so when I was about 16 they split, although they never got a divorce. I lived with him most of the time while at animation school and my sisters lived with my mum. The family remained close with him and even my mothers family were still close with him. When my niece was born things only got better. 
   With my career he was the one that supported me in following my passions the most, and he always reminded me that I was given opportunities that he never had, and that I should take them not just for myself, but also for him. He would tell everyone every thing I was doing with my career and how proud he was. When he was about 50 he also got back into painting and had a few exhibitions. Getting back into art was the best thing he did for himself and could've made a career in it but he never wanted to sell his art, only to give it to people he loved.
Opononi Dad's Painting of his homelands

   Eventually he had a career change and left his factory job to become a caregiver for disabled people. He had to feed them, wash them and just keep them company. He found a real deep satisfaction in this line of work and was always willing to help even if they didn't have the money to pay. He was like family to his clients and they were family to him too. He enjoyed driving them around places and if they were not from NZ he would take them up to his ancestral homelands to see where he was raised.

  One of the hardest parts of his job was watching his clients that he had cared for for years pass on and last year before his death, he lost quite a few people he had cared for as well as his brother Joe. He had time for everyone and was always there when he was needed. He cared for others more than he cared for himself and eventually it all caught up with him and before we knew it he was gone. Ironically he died on the birthday of his other brother who died in 2010 so I could imagine Dad crashing the party with a big "Surprise!" And Uncle Sid being like "Eh what you doing up here bro?!" and Dad being like "Happy Birthday brother!"

  Happy Birthday Dad xox



  1. Church bro too much...mean ode to your Dad....a good man indeed!

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  5. The beginning of this story of yours is not tika te korero Munro