EX­TREME FATHERS

FATHERHOOD HAS BEEN THE MAK­ING OF PETER AND NOA

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - THIS WEEK IN... - Julie Ja­cob­son

One’s 84, the other’s 19, and they’re lov­ing fatherhood

Noa Woolloff and Peter Brom­head may be New Zealand’s most fa­mous – or per­haps in­fa­mous – dads.

Noa was just 17 when his daugh­ter Kyla was born in

March 2015. The young fa­ther went on to be­come head boy at Porirua’s Aotea Col­lege and, after a very pub­lic “out­ing”, has since be­come an ad­vo­cate – and in­spi­ra­tion – for other teen par­ents.

Eighty-four-year-old Peter, mean­while, has faced enor­mous crit­i­cism for be­com­ing a fa­ther – to Os­car (now 11) and Felix

(5) – in his sev­en­ties, or as he self-dep­re­cat­ingly puts it,

“in my dotage”.

With the av­er­age age of New Zealand fathers of new­borns now 32, Peter and Noa are out­liers when it comes to the new dad stakes. How­ever, both say they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Peter, a car­toon­ist, il­lus­tra­tor and in­te­rior de­signer, also has four adult chil­dren from pre­vi­ous mar­riages. He split with his third wife, Carolyn, last year, but sees their two boys on al­ter­nate week­ends when they stay at his Lake Okareka, Ro­torua, home.

The age gap be­tween Peter’s old­est daugh­ter Esme and Felix is 54 years. He says it’s an issue that seems to mat­ter to oth­ers, but is not some­thing he has dwelt on. He con­cedes, how­ever, he has a dif­fer­ent

re­la­tion­ship with his younger chil­dren than he had with his older ones. He ex­plains he was a typ­i­cal fa­ther of his era – an ab­sent one.

“Back then I was busy work­ing and very fo­cused on my life as a car­toon­ist and de­signer. Chil­dren were re­ally sec­ondary to that.”

Yes, he feels guilty – and sad – about it, but he also sees it as a les­son learned. “I’ve apol­o­gised to my grown-up chil­dren for that. I am very keenly aware as time has gone on, and as an older dad, of what’s im­por­tant in life.

“As an older dad, I’m a more re­spon­si­ble and more emo­tion­ally car­ing dad than I was pre­vi­ously. It was no prob­lem for me to walk up the road pulling a buzzy bee and singing nurs­ery rhymes with my five-year-old. In my 30s it would have been be­neath my dig­nity to do that.”

When he and the boys are to­gether, they do the “nor­mal dad and son things”. The Ro­torua Aquatic Centre is a favourite haunt; there’s Rain­bow Springs where “we stare at the ki­wis”, there’s dog walk­ing and there’s car rides to Tau­ranga for “the best fish and chips” on the wharf.

Like many 21st-cen­tury par­ents, Peter is con­cerned about the time the boys spend on tablets and phones, com­par­ing their vo­ra­cious­ness for tech­nol­ogy to that of a junkie on heroin. “How to cope with the in­tru­sion that elec­tron­ics has brought into my chil­dren’s lives is a very new ex­pe­ri­ence for this older dad.”

He has learned to de­flect neg­a­tive com­men­tary with hu­mour. “One of the most com­mon things when I’m out with my chil­dren is other peo­ple will often beam­ingly say to them, ‘Oh lucky you, out with grand­dad.’ To which I al­ways hotly re­ply, ‘Great­grand­dad if you don’t mind and I’ve still got my hear­ing even though I’m 105!’”

And he has be­come adept at shrug­ging off crit­i­cism that hav­ing ba­bies at an age when most of his con­tem­po­raries are be­com­ing grand­par­ents is selfish or, worse, a van­ity.

“It’s true I’m not go­ing to be around when they’re 30-some­thing, but I lost my own fa­ther when I was

‘I’m a more re­spon­si­ble and emo­tion­ally car­ing dad than pre­vi­ously’

seven, and I’ve survived. I have sur­pris­ingly en­joyed be­ing an older fa­ther. It has emo­tion­ally honed my life.

I love my chil­dren. My life is bet­ter for hav­ing them.”

Noa laughs as he thinks back on his now two-year-old daugh­ter’s some­what con­tro­ver­sial ar­rival.

Lit­tle Kyla was born just two days after Noa’s mother Siggy gave birth to his lit­tle brother Jimmy.

De­spite that, it took Noa – wracked with shame and guilt – three months to ’fess up to Siggy that he was a dad at 17 and she, at just 36, was a grand­mother.

“On the Fri­day night, I went to Welling­ton Hospi­tal with my fam­ily to see my baby brother be­ing born and on the Sunday night I snuck out of the house with a cou­ple of close friends to drive back to the hospi­tal to see Kyla’s first mo­ments on earth.”

Kyla’s birth co­in­cided with Noa be­ing elected head boy at Aotea Col­lege. Wages from a part-time job at a lo­cal su­per­mar­ket went to­wards a car so he could visit Kyla and her mum, for­mer part­ner Sha­nia Paenga (also 17), after school without rais­ing his mother’s sus­pi­cions.

“It was a re­ally big year,” he tells. “I was jug­gling a whole lot of things, plus I was aware of the neg­a­tive stereo­type – that so­cial stigma around young par­ents which lumps all teen dads into that loser cat­e­gory. I felt like telling my mum would place a real bur­den on her.”

Lis­ten­ing to other fathers brag­ging about their par­ent­ing prow­ess on the ra­dio one day prompted Noa to ring the ra­dio sta­tion to tell his story.

The flood­gates opened im­me­di­ately. He was crit­i­cised, judged and praised.

As a re­sult, it started him on a jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery and of ad­vo­cacy. He set up his not-for-profit busi­ness, In­crease Cloth­ing, to fund op­por­tu­ni­ties for other young par­ents, and works at teen par­ent units in Auck­land and Welling­ton.

“The worst part of be­ing a young par­ent is the judg­ment,” ex­plains Noa. “When I even­tu­ally told Mum, she just told me life was a bless­ing and no-one should be able to take that away from you. She told me to hold my head high.”

He is, he says, be­sot­ted with his lit­tle girl. “When I first saw her, I was just over­whelmed with hap­pi­ness. It was like, here’s a lit­tle hu­man that needs me to help and guide her through life. I’m lov­ing the work I’m do­ing now – po­ten­tially mak­ing an im­pact on other peo­ple’s lives – and Kyla has helped make me that per­son.

“Age doesn’t de­ter­mine whether you’re go­ing to be a good par­ent, but be­ing a good par­ent de­ter­mines if you’re go­ing to be a good par­ent.”

‘ When I first saw her, I was over­whelmed with hap­pi­ness. It was like, here’s a lit­tle hu­man that needs me to help and guide her through life’

Car­toon­ist Peter, a de­voted dad to Felix (left) and Os­car, shrugs

off crit­i­cism about his age.

Noa was still at school when his daugh­ter Kyla was born, the same week as his lit­tle brother.

Peter was in his sev­en­ties when Os­car – who’s three in this photo – was born and says it emo­tion­ally honed his life.

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