12 Questions: Richard Aston

Nearing 50, Richard Aston felt 'out of whack' so resigned. His salary now is about a third what it used to be, but he is happy, he says. Photo / Natalie Slade
Nearing 50, Richard Aston felt 'out of whack' so resigned. His salary now is about a third what it used to be, but he is happy, he says. Photo / Natalie Slade

1. Why do boys need men in their lives? Aren't mums enough?

Mums raising their boys alone are courageous - there's no question about that. But they just can't model maleness and healthy male identity needs to be caught from an older man. Something like 80 per cent of men in prison, the rapists, the suicides, all of that, the boy has no relationship with their father or it's a dysfunctional one. By the age of 14 a boy needs to have a guy in his life because all hell is breaking loose inside him. He needs to see how men relate to women, how they buy stuff at shops, how they deal with big and small things in their life.

2. What is the best way to show love to teenage boys?

Not overtly! What teenage boys need is attention and praise. Not that bullshit American "you're great, you can do anything" praise. Real stuff. A raise of the eyebrows when they've done something good. You see a man do that, just a nod of the eyebrows, and you can see this bolt of golden love go over the boy. The fundamental human thing is to be loved and to love.

When I'm talking to groups I don't use the l word - it's too loaded - I say to care and be cared for. In the work I'm doing, ordinary blokes who are not flash, haven't done therapy or anything, you match them up with a young boy and lifelong relationships are formed. When you see it happen, it's a miracle.

3. You started life as a hippy: are those ideals still intact?

I'd entered college wanting to be a civil engineer and came out and it was all hippies and Hendrix, much to my family's horror. I had amazing times, playing in bands and living with artists, but there was a dark side too. Friends overdosed on heroin. People would go nuts on drugs and jump off bridges. The ideals were good - truth, love and beauty. Experiencing life. But it was all internal. We didn't have relationships. There were no older people guiding us.

4. So you ran away to the commune?

We decided the world was going to end, economic collapse, so friends and I hitchhiked down to Golden Bay and met these Americans who were setting up a commune. It was all about self-sufficiency with gardens and chickens and pigs. I was the brewer. The kids all ran around naked. It was idyllic, really - but hard, too. We were living in tents at first, then built houses. I remember one day wanting to wash my body and my clothes and it took all day - chopping wood, heating the copper, beating the clothes. I remember thinking, "What the hell am I doing?" So we went and bought a big old lighthouse generator and the first appliance we got was a washing machine. Then a blender for smoothies.

5. Communes get a bad rap - is that fair?

I visited a lot of communes, because you're in this network of them, and most were pretty good. Centrepoint never felt like a commune, really, to me - it was all these old people and they were obsessed with sex. And the guru thing. I never got that. Ours wasn't like that at all. It was very conservative.

6. Why did you leave?

We had seven years there. My first daughter, Sia Free, was born there and she has great memories of it, of being really loved and feeling safe. But it was the relationships again. We had a company that owned the land and we ended up suing each other. Suing! We were too tight. It was too close. Our ideals said "all you need is love" but what the f*** does that mean?

7. What does love mean?

I have learned it works better as a verb - that is, loving. Love is wider and deeper than I ever thought possible and way more subtle.

8. So you fled back to Auckland and made money?

I was a technician at the engineering school and got into computer programming in the early '80s. I ended up at IBM, became an expert on those touchscreen kiosks, had done a million-dollar deal with Air New Zealand ... I felt out of whack. I was getting up to 50, which is really old in the IT business, and a voice was saying "this is not worthwhile, not worthwhile to you or to the world". So I jumped ship and was unemployed.

9. Did you care about the money?

That was the problem, I was starting to care. I was thinking "it won't be long until I'm aspiring to a new car!" I'd always rocked up to conferences or whatever in an old car and I could feel the pressure. I didn't like what was happening to me. When I took on the Big Buddy job I earned about a third of my previous salary. I still get stressed now and have to manage that stress but I'm fundamentally happy now. I'm proud of what I have contributed to the world.

10. Mothers find it really hard when their sons aren't loving little boys anymore. Does it have to be like that?

There's something in the growing-up process where they have to do that. That's why we take boys at 7, because that's when that process starts. He's disengaging the umbilical cord and the best thing mums can do is to be solid with that stuff. It's a primal thing.

11. Who is the most surprising Big Buddy you've had approach you?

I had a mother call me wanting a Big Buddy for her 42-year-old son who was still at home. I told her he needed a life, not a mentor. And a 91-year-old man in a rest home who said: "I can still throw a ball."

12. Finish the sentence: Good men will ...

Inspire younger men to be real, to care deeply, to grieve well, to live lives of meaning and be of service to our world.

- NZ Herald

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