Family ties

By Danielle Wright

In honour of Father’s Day, Danielle Wright talks to Auckland dads sharing their passions with their children

Never mind the mess, just enjoy the fun is the mantra chef Dan Pearson lives by as he introduces his daughter Alice to the joys of cooking. Photo / Michael Craig
Never mind the mess, just enjoy the fun is the mantra chef Dan Pearson lives by as he introduces his daughter Alice to the joys of cooking. Photo / Michael Craig

Living talks to some creative fathers finding time to follow their own passions, while bonding with their kids. By all accounts, they're loving it.

Dads in the kitchen

Chef Dan Pearson, 32, spends his work time in a kitchen. Known for his Egg and Spoon pop-up restaurant, he is about to launch a new secret venture. But on his days off he loves nothing more than being in the kitchen at home with his 2-year-old daughter Alice. Alice became a big sister on Tuesday when Dan's wife Josephine gave birth to son Rupert.

"When my wife was pregnant with Alice, I read a book about how babies can hear us from the womb," says Dan. "So, I started reading her three-Michelin-starred cookbooks while she was still in the belly."

He says it prepared her well for a family life that revolves around cooking and eating.

"First, we clipped Alice's chair to the kitchen bench and then let her have a straw as a pretend knife so she could help cut the vegetables," says Dan.

"She's only two but already knows how to season her food and we always eat at the table as a family, which I think is really important."

Alice enjoys shopping trips to the colourful Pukekohe markets with her parents and goes to the home garden when they need fresh herbs, which she loves to mix with cream and eggs in a little bowl.

"She loves to make different sorts of bread and can roll the dough out with her own rolling pin. She loves to knead it and we make our own pizzas together," says Dan. "She puts her sauce on, as well as toppings such as broccoli, beetroot, herbs and crème fraîche."

The cooking lessons extend to playtimes when the pair love to make play-dough gnocchi and use Alice's very own knife set, albeit a soft, toy version.

"The knife set comes with a toy salmon that can be filleted, so Alice is already adept at that as well," says Dan, whose advice for parents wanting to cook with their kids is not to worry about the mess and to keep it fun.

"When we make pizzas, we're both covered in flour. We like playing with the food," says Dan. "It's something that should be enjoyed and celebrated and I like seeing Alice laughing and smiling no matter what we're cooking."

For now, Dan is content that Alice is sharing his passion, but what about following in his footsteps for a career in the industry?

"We'd love that," says Dan. "I'd have a lot of sound advice to offer her and imagine passing down my restaurant to her, which would be a really beautiful thing."

The school of dad

When you have young children who hate letting you out of their sight, it's hard to imagine a time when they will think everything you say is embarrassing. Before that day comes, teach them a thing or two.

That's what Brazilian ju jitsu teacher Warren Lambert is doing with his children: daughter Mikaia, 11, and son Aston, 7. They're now part of his kids' classes on a Friday evening in Takapuna.

"Because they're my kids, they see me practising and notice I'm passionate about it by the way I talk about the martial art," says Warren, 34. "They think, 'If Dad feels good about doing this, why wouldn't I feel good doing it too'?"

He recommends fathers teach their kids something they're passionate about by easing them into it with games, saying it has to come from the children rather than the parent pushing them into their passion.


"It's really hard if they're not interested in it, so just try to build rapport first," says Warren. "Wait until they're at school and the teachers have set some structure in their lives - especially in developing listening skills."

He says ju jitsu is a great thing to teach children because every dad instinctively wrestles with their kids.

"It's a great way to have fun with them for hours," says Warren. "Getting them involved in the classes is another way to do ju jitsu and to spend time with the family, so it's win-win for everyone."

Warren's wife Sonya is an expert in early childhood education so gives him plenty of advice on how to get the most out of the kids in the class, such as when to use positive reinforcement and how to get more structure.

"The most surprising thing about teaching your kids is watching the learning curve," says Warren. "I really enjoy that bit the best."

There's also an element of competition in the classes, in a way you wouldn't expect.

Warren explains: "I'm going to train them to beat me."

Holidays with the boys

The idea of sending your husband and young sons out into the wilderness for a weekend is enough to send a shudder down any mother's spine, but, founder of an Auckland-based Dads 'N Lads group, Steve Hollingsworth, 46, tells me: "The boys say it's their favourite weekend of the whole year."

The group of dads, granddads and their sons head out once a year to camp at Flaxmill Bay campground near Cooks Beach. Here they sleep on army camp stretchers and get back to basics with bush walks, toasting marshmallows, treasure hunts, fishing, hot pools, swimming and games of football and cricket.

"We also get the boys to help with cooking and cleaning, and encourage older kids to take responsibility for the younger ones," says Steve, who was inspired to create the annual event after reading Ian Grant's parenting book Growing Great Boys.

Steve says all the wives have been supportive of the all-male weekends away, but they never reveal what they do back at home with the free time.

"The most surprising thing about the weekends is that the boys seem to moan a lot less when the mums aren't there," says Steve. "That might be a controversial thing to say but there is virtually no whining from the boys at all and the weekends run really smoothly."

As boys will always be boys, there is a bit of a competitive element about the weekends.

"Hell yeah, that's part of it," says Steve. "We don't let the boys win the soccer match, but we might leak the odd goal through. As long as it's a caring environment, competition is good."

He says it's a very different experience for most of the boys, whose weekly routines are spent with females at home and at school.

"It's important for the boys to mix with other adult role models and other boys they don't regularly see," says Steve. "As dads, we get a hell of a lot out of it as well."

Learning with the kids

Greg Jones and his daughter Sophie, 15, started boogie boarding five years ago and graduated to surf boards with some lessons at the Tutukaka Surf School, near their family bach.

"I wanted to give Sophie an alternative summer-time pursuit to shopping," says Greg, 47.

He was surprised how quickly Sophie was able to pick surfing up and how much quicker she overtook him, even though he had the advantage of surfing as a teenager.

"Learning the sport together makes me a more connected dad," says Greg. "When things get frayed and we're arguing, we have the shared passion for surfing and it's that connection that keeps us tight."

He advises any dad to start learning something alongside their child as soon as possible.
"Just make sure it's something you're both interested in and able to do," says Greg. "At first, we used to compete about who got a turn on the one family board and I know Sophie got sick of me yelling, 'paddle, paddle, paddle!' But, it's been worth it."

The pair have introduced Sophie's friend Grace and her dad Graham to the sport and take day-trips to Tawharanui most weekends over summer.

"It's been great to watch Sophie progress in confidence and skill and be in a beautiful ocean environment," says Greg. "It's nice now because we watch each other and give helpful advice about bending knees or not standing up so straight."

"In a busy lifestyle, with three children, it's a nice relaxing activity to do together," says Greg. "And it means I can bond with my eldest, without having the younger ones taking my attention."

- Herald on Sunday

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