FATHERHOOD HAS BEEN THE MAKING OF PETER AND NOA
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’
Noa was still at school when his daughter Kyla was born, the same week as his little brother.
Cartoonist Peter, a devoted dad to Felix (left) and Oscar, shrugs off criticism about his age.
Peter was in his seventies when Oscar – who’s three in this photo – was born and says it emotionally honed his life.