Reformed dad out to break 'curse'

By Amy Shanks

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Vic Tamati
Vic Tamati

If he could have just one day without memories of his violent past, Vic Tamati would truly be at peace.
Thirty-eight years spent beating his wife and children weighed heavy on his mind, though now he uses those experiences to do good.
"Damage has been done, there's an old Samoan saying: 'If a cup of water has been spilt, you can't pick it back up again'," he says. "But you can start to put water back in."
Mr Tamati has been instrumental in spreading an anti-violence message as champion of the It's Not OK campaign and was in Hawke's Bay last week for three talks organised by Hastings Women's Refuge, titled True Stories of Everyday People.
It is at events like these that he shares the story of a "curse" which plagued him and how he became violence-free more than 20 years ago.
"They call it a cycle, but to me it's a curse that is handed down to the men of that family, and the curse continues."
He didn't tell friends about completing a stopping violence course in 1992 until he appeared on television, after It's Not OK producers approached him in 2007 looking for someone who had perpetrated family violence to join the campaign.
"Groups like this one are putting out the call that it's not OK, in the hope that men will take that away and think about it."
Growing up in a God-fearing Samoan family, his father hit out as a way of showing "love".
He continued that tradition, tattooing the four-letter word on his hand, believing he was a better dad because his methods were not as harsh.
"I knew how they were feeling, but it was not as bad as I got it, I was just giving them a hiding with a hose - if I used a machete they would have something to complain about - that's how I thought."
It was not until Mr Tamati beat his 8-year-old daughter with a platform shoe that he came to address those actions.
After coming home, his wife saw what he had done and packed up their children.

A week later she returned from Women's Refuge and announced she was leaving.
"We sat around to talk about what I had done, my daughter blamed herself for Daddy hitting, kicking and beating her. That's when it all came to a head."
It was at that point he vowed to change and joined a year-long programme, aimed at giving him the tools he needed to cope.
"When I had my first child, I thought I had it sorted, six children later I was still doing the same thing. They gave me the skills and the knowledge, I had to piece it all together - it was the piece that was missing.
"I always thought I was a clever person, why couldn't I figure out that it was going to continue if nothing changed?"
That change did not happen overnight - he spent a year at home taking care of all six children as a way to heal some of the old wounds, and build trusting relationships.
During his address on Thursday, Mr Tamati did a "roll call" asking the crowd to stand up if they had been subjected to domestic violence - of about 40 in the room only two did not stand up.
It was a small-scale reflection of what was happening in the wider community, he said.
"Ninety-eight per cent of the people in that room know what it's like, only a couple had a normal life, that says something about how bad this really is."
Addressing those shocking statistics meant tackling issues at a grassroots level, which is why he started the organisation Safe Men, Safe Family. The idea behind it is, if there are no perpetrators there will be no victims.
"This is what I call A&E, awareness and education, so it doesn't end in accident and emergency."
Mr Tamati felt the best way to get to the bottom of this violence was to be allowed access to offenders at the beginning, when police were called.
He believed women and children should be able to stay put and feel safe, while men were taken away to start the healing journey, followed by a 30-week course.
"The stigma for men is that they were dumb because they couldn't figure it out, but if we get these men from the get go, we can say 'you're not dumb, you have grown up with it, you have made it part of your character, you have passed it on ... It's ultra embarrassing that you couldn't work it out, but we just need to give them the message, it's not OK, but it is OK to ask for help."
¦Visit areyouok.org.nz/ for more.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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