Kiwi celeb dads on fatherhood and being a father

By Sarah Daniell

Three well known New Zealanders talk about their fathers - and being fathers. What's life like when you're finally in charge of the remote control? As told to Sarah Daniell.
Actor and director Tammy Davis. Photo / Michael Craig
Actor and director Tammy Davis. Photo / Michael Craig


Father of Mary, 15, Paeumu, 10, Amohaere, 8. Davis' father Graham died four years ago, aged 71.
Tammy Davis, director of Born to Dance, grew up in Raetihi with three siblings, Kylie, Sonny (Julian Arahanga) and Warwick.

Actor Tammy Davis and as a youngster with his parents and siblings.
Actor Tammy Davis and as a youngster with his parents and siblings.

"We were all raised as Christians. We never had a TV when I was young. When we finally got one, I'm not sure how old I was, but it was an old black and white thing and we weren't allowed to watch it anyway. I think that's why we were creative in a way.

Dad was a bushman - he loved country music and being in the outdoors and I think he thought he was a cowboy. His favourite song was Can I Sleep In Your Arms, by Willie Nelson.

We grew up listening to Prince Tui Teka and the Patea Maori Club. Old songs. The other day I listened to the Carpenters. Mum and Dad loved them - and Gladys Night and the Pips.

That's a whole different era than the 80s or 90s, when I grew up. I don't think Dad ever liked anything I listened to. Madonna, Prince, ACDC and Metallica.

We had a lot of encyclopaedias of animals, the Encylopaedia Britannica. The animal set was my favourite. I never really had a favourite book till I went to intermediate and then I read Big Red and White Fang. I loved dog books.

My dad was a pretty placid fella and my mum was the enforcer, and I think as a dad I'm a mix of that.

My mum is Maori and my Dad is Welsh so they brought their different backgrounds into that. We always did lovely cool stuff. We were always outdoors as kids. I still take my kids there. We went on an iwi trip - Tira Hoe Waka - from Taumaraunui to Whanganui.

Sonny and I took his girl, Ruby, and Mary as a father-daughter bonding experience. That was amazing. As Maori it connects us back to our river, our mountains, where we are from.

As often as we can we reconnect back home.

Taumarunui in the 40s and 50s was tough. Dad had it tough and he didn't want that for us. He wanted us to have the good things in life. He was always loving and caring. I try not to look back too much and psychoanalyse it looking forward back, too much because it does your head in. I will do my hardest to be the best person I can be. Whatever those scars are, from childhood.

My life is my life and you just gotta move on.

We made a short film with the girls for the 48 hour Film Festival. Mary, my eldest was only about 10, so they were all little girls, babies. But we did this thing -- they came up with the idea. They all starred in it. We came second in our heat.

One of our favourite places to go as a family is the museum, at the Domain. We always go there. I pack us a big lunch, we have a picnic outside, where the flowers are. Every time we go to the museum there's something new there you didn't see before.

We also like Cheltenham beach too, it's so good for the kids - it doesn't get too deep on a high tide and on a low tide you can play on the wet sand. Sit in the shade of a tree.

I try not to discourage them from anything. If it is following mine and their mother's footsteps - so be it. I'll remind them that it's hard, you have to be really dedicated in this industry, but you have to be in anything in life.

Mary says all my music sucks. When Nicki Minaj's Anaconda came out - I was like, oh my goodness, this is Sir Mix-a-Lot - he wrote this song! They were like, Oh Dad, just shuddup. The best thing is to not even have the conversation. Just let them do their thing.

A lot of the film and TV stuff I've made they can't watch yet. Later on in life they might say, hey let's watch Outrageous Fortune and see what all the fuss was about. They call me dad. When they wanna get smart they call me by my first name.

Dad passed away about three or four years ago.

There's something I'm doing right now that reminds me of my dad. He always did everything himself. If a wall needed to be done, or the roof, he did it himself.

When we put our new fire in our house, he did it himself. I try to do it too. I get a bit of stick for it. My family call me the Tool Guy - start a job and never finish it.

So I'm building this thing for him, a memorial stool. I've been staining it up and I'll add brass accents. I'll put it by his grave in Rotorua. It's not perfect - it's grainy, and I'm getting it all nice.

I think my family would be pretty proud of me actually.

Father of Laith, 10, Farah, 8, Tahir, nearly 5. His father is Hamid, 79.

Ali Ikram grew up in Christchurch, with an older brother, Omar.

Ali Ikram. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ali Ikram. Photo / Dean Purcell

Dad wasn't as restrictive about the movies and TV we watched at home as I am. I think some of that has to do with the fact he was brought up in Partition India where occasionally he would see things like protesters being fired on in the street. A little related movie gore didn't amount to a hill of beans, compared to that.

On TV, a couple of things we used to love as a Pakistani family - one was The Party, with Peter Sellers, and the other was It Ain't Half Hot Mum. Only many years later was it explained to us that these were racist.

I remember watching Goldmember with my kids and when Fat Bastard came on the screen my son laughed so much he fell off the couch. That's passing on the things you enjoy to them. And that it's okay to have a bit of fun and have a laugh.

You don't have to always play by the rules. I think that's really important. Because where else do we learn about irreverence?

Where else do we learn that life is not always serious and that we can take liberty with ideas? And imagination is a great thing. It's liberating.

Families are stories. We grew up with stories. Dad is an amazing storyteller. He could just ad lib long stories that were engrossing. I read my kids David Walliams books before bedtime but he would reel off a story before we went to bed in the old tradition. He would do everything from growing up in Pakistan to The Odyssey and The Illiad. He'd hold court.

Stories where he would be dared by someone at school to spend a night in the ghats, where Hindus burn all their dead. He'd spend a night there and talk of meeting a witch, and he knew she was a witch because her feet pointed backwards. He was full of those stories. I wish I'd retained them.

When I was 7, my dad took me, mum and my brother to Handel's Messiah at the Christchurch Town Hall. I think they were very firm believers in the transporting power of something beautiful as not being defined by the age of the observer. As the guinea pig in that particular experiment I felt middling effects. My brother was really into classical music in a way I wasn't. He played the piano. I think he got it at a much more fundamental level than I did.

I took my daughter to Katy Perry, we found our seats, and she wouldn't share her chips with me.

One of the things that dad instilled in me was a love of charcoal ... that barbecuing is only done with charcoal. It's not done with gas. I remember him striking a match and flicking it from five metres away into the charcoal that had been dousesd with half a can of petrol from the tin we'd used to fill up the lawn mower. It was one of the great memories of childhood.

We continue that tradition but I think we're a bit more Mt Eden about it.

There is something great about getting in the car and going on a long drive. You're stuck together in the best possible way. We have a Mitsubishi Grandis with seven serviceable seats.

Ali Ikram and sitting on his father's knee.
Ali Ikram and sitting on his father's knee.

Laith has started noticing cars. What's a BMW, what's a Porsche, etc. We started this discussion about when are you rich - are you rich when you have an amazing car in which only you and one other person can fit? Or are you rich when you have a car with seven seats and nobody from the outside is looking at you going, "well, I want that action"?

But it transports everything that is special to you and important to you and you go on little adventures in this car that would generally be considered emasculating.

The kids - I don't know. I don't think they're buying it, actually. And anyway, the minute you're explaining yourself as a parent, you are losing.

You can't lecture. You can't lecture your children. You can't tell them because as soon as you tell them something you're probably undermining your message with your actions every day.

Until you get to the other side of the teenage years, you can't reliably mark your own scorecard accurately with parenting. It's easy to be the parent of a young child who sits in a harness that dangles on your chest - it's harder to get through those years when children are discovering their independence and wanting to define themselves.

I think my parents deserve a medal just for dealing with the most contrary child - just doing things the opposite of what was expected, for the sheer hell of it. I mean, like, journalism. Goodness me.

I think the role of parent is changing and rather than saying, I want you to nominate a career that you're going to pursue till you pass away, and any deviation from that will be seen as some sort of failure, I think we have to make flexible, resilient individuals who pursue skills and who don't identify 100 per cent with their job title. Because that can change.

If you can't adapt you can lose; end up getting twisted into knots about who you are.

Father of Seamus, 29, and Coco, 14. His father is Des, 88.

Stephan Lovatt, star of Billy Elliot, at ATC, grew up in Wellington, the youngest of three children, plus two foster children who lived with the family for seven years.

My dad never said I love you. But in his case, it's the deeds, not the words. I've made a point of letting my children know I'm front and centre for them. They don't like it. I think they'd be much happier with my father's version of "turning up" to the show, the science fair or the sports game. My daughter has banned me from cheering at anything, ever, because I am very good at it, but lack discretion. I've gone the opposite direction as my dad. I say I love her and I'm proud. We're always haunted by that idea - am I doing this justice? I woke up at 2am saying, I've just ruined my kid's life!

I haven't been a particularly fabulous father to my son. I stumbled and bumbled into fatherhood. It was a passionate but doomed affair. I haven't shared the home of my son since he was 2. My way has not been my dad's. I don't know why, but I have a character almost entirely opposite to him. My son is so much more like him than me - and that pleases me immensely.

I'm not that great a dad. I'm an actor. All we do is wander around and say, "I could do this better." It's insecurity. My kids are fully equipped. Coco came out with a clipboard. She's been knocking things off lists ever since. She's confident. I wanted to prove to myself I could be a decent dad, with her. Now with Seamus, we laugh a lot. He has a love of machines and cars and I have no interest in that whatsoever.

When it first came out, my dad splashed out on tickets to Star Wars. We went together.

I was his youngest. I remember sitting on his shoulders when we were floundering in Whangape Harbour with our rellies up north. The water was up to just under his chin. I knew his togs were dumb, but I loved being up there. When my daughter was around 7, I was carrying her on my shoulders to school. She asked if I was tired. I said: 'This is my favourite place in the world ya know." She said, "What? On the side of the road?" "No mate, holding you up." She hugged my head so tight I couldn't breathe for a moment. It is a favourite moment.

Stephen Lovatt and his father Des -  a different sort of dad.
Stephen Lovatt and his father Des - a different sort of dad.

My daughter doesn't like watching me in the theatre. She said, Dad, I am proud of you, I just don't like watching you on stage. It makes my stomach churn. She's pretty sure I'm a dork.

I was brought up in a religious family and a lot of storytelling. Family stories. Biblical stories. I don't believe in it now. My dad does.

He's the kind of guy who will always let the other guy go first. In my teenage years I was ashamed of his humility. A tall guy - he could be easily seen, and he didn't want to get in anyone else's view - which is a sensible option. But it seemed to me at the time he felt his children weren't worth getting close to.

My father was just young enough to miss out on combat in World War II. His parents loved each other. He grew up in a large, cheerful, and extended family. When I reflect on the decent, honest and energetic life my father has led I thank my lucky stars he was reared in such a way. But he's a parsimonious sort of man, my dad. Throughout my childhood he modelled the notion that the cheaper version of almost anything is probably going to do the job, and if it doesn't then you get to have the fun of fixing it. I don't subscribe to this. I spent weeks campaigning for a skateboard. In the end I got a cheap one. I rode the hell out of it until it finally fell apart. When my mother stepped in and bought a really expensive one, my skateboarding improved immensely, in fact I would venture to say I became a "gun". 'By gee!' my father said when he saw me drop a double 360. Perhaps because of this he saw fit, a few years later, to arrive home, without warning, with a brand new Sailboard on the roof of his cheap car. My dad is capable of surprising stuff from time to time.

- Weekend magazine

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