Apiata becomes dad again

LUCKY: Willie Apiata said he was lucky to have a male role model in his youth.
LUCKY: Willie Apiata said he was lucky to have a male role model in his youth.

New Zealand’s bravest guy, Willie Apiata VC, has become a dad again.

Apiata, who turns 42 on Saturday, was sharing the stage in Auckland tonight, telling his story of growing up without a father, with Prime Minister John Key who also grew up fatherless.

They were speaking at the launch of the Big Buddy Foundation, which aims to create a fund to support the Big Buddy programme.

The programme has run since 1997 and provided male mentors to 538 boys without fathers.

Apiata, who won the Victoria Cross in 2007 for bravery in Afghanistan, spoke at the fundraiser but under strict conditions – photographs but no video and no interviews afterwards.

Although Apiata is now out of the army, he remains a member of the Special Air Service reserve force and can theoretically be recalled to operations.

After he spoke, the audience was told that Apiata had very recently become a father again. His first child, a son, is aged about 11. While a beaming Apiata accepted applause, no other details were given.

‘‘As a young boy myself, coming from a separated family and not having a father in my life, I was lucky enough to live in a small community where there were male role models,’’ Apiata told the audience.

‘‘A man in my life finished off my training to become a man.’’ 

He hailed the Big Buddy programme, saying it was needed so boys could grow to men.   ‘‘There are a lot of us out there, we all need a hand. Anything is possible in life.’’ 

Apiata and Key were left in awe by 17-year-old Taraia Whatuira-Henderson of Waiheke Island who lost his father to suicide when he was 10. Along with his younger brother, he had been mentored by the programme.

Apiata hailed Whatuira-Henderson for speaking proudly and honestly. And he pointed to the youth’s mother who was with him.

‘‘That is his hero in his life, she has been there everyday, every minute of his life, supporting through his own journey, as my mother did for me and as she does to this day,’’ Apiata said.

‘‘Even though I am 42 coming up, I will always be my mother’s little boy.’’

 Key said his father died when he was six and he had no memory of him.

‘‘I have always felt I had a full and rounded life, my mother was fantastic.’’ 

 He says his wife had told him that there were doers and payers in life, and he was a payer.

This was because he never had a man leaning over his shoulder as a child telling him how to do stuff.

Key told the audience, which he described as akin to a National Party fundraising group, that growing up without a father had left him as one of the world’s least practical people.

‘‘I am incredibly impractical… I cannot do stuff.’’ 

 Key joked that if Apiata came to a National fundraiser, ‘‘Son, you would be a great hit, things I could do with you would be absolutely amazing, I could auction you off.’’  

Key said whenever he toured offices and factories he would notice the famous picture of Apiata taken in action in Kabul.

‘‘It has got to be the greatest promotional picture of the New Zealand Defence Force I have ever seen.’’