When Blaine Rakena's 5-year-old son told his class all his Dad did was stay home and watch television the Kaikohe man knew he had to change.

That moment at parent-teacher day nearly 30 years ago still makes him feel "shame" but he now holds a PhD in science mathematics education and works as a business IT programme co-ordinator at the Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) in Hamilton.

"The teacher had all the children down on the mat and asked 'what does your Daddy do?' One said 'my Dad fixes all the sick people', another said 'he's a lawyer'. It got to my son and I wanted to get out of there, and he said 'I don't know what my Dad does, he just stays home and watches TV'."

Mr Rakena's story is featured in a new book celebrating Maori from Waikato which will be launched tomorrow at Wintec.

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Mr Rakena, of Ngapuhi and Tainui descent, grew up in Kaikohe and said that while his parents encouraged him to pursue further education they allowed him to do what he wanted.

"That fell on deaf ears. All my mates were going to the freezing works and making big money. I started in 1975 [at the Moerewa meat works] aged 15."

Mr Rakena worked there for several years until it closed in the 1980s and he became unemployed - it was during this time his son's comment during parent-teacher day changed his life. Mr Rakena's wife, Mylene, suggested he study education so he applied for the University of Auckland programme.

"I remember a week later getting 'Dear Mr Rakena, unfortunately your application has been unsuccessful'. I threw it in the rubbish," he said.

Mr Rakena had given up so his wife applied for Waikato University's course on his behalf and he was accepted.

"I have to thank my awesome wife because I wouldn't be where I am if she hadn't done that," he said.

Blaine Rakena has four pairs of footwear in his office cupboard to show students where he's walked in life. Gumboots from the freezing works, running shoes he wore when studying, jandals from when he was poor and dress shoes he wears to work. Photo / Zhandre Oosthuysen
Blaine Rakena has four pairs of footwear in his office cupboard to show students where he's walked in life. Gumboots from the freezing works, running shoes he wore when studying, jandals from when he was poor and dress shoes he wears to work. Photo / Zhandre Oosthuysen

Mr Rakena, Mylene, and his seven kids relocated to Hamilton. He had to support his family so he also delivered bread from 9pm to 7am before he started university at 9am. Some nights were spent doing assignments in his truck.

In 1994 Mr Rakena graduated with his Bachelor in Education but during that time computers were making their way into universities. He realised that was what he wanted to do so he signed up to study a Masters in Computers and Education. After completing his Masters he started working for Wintec. He did a PhD part-time, which took another six years to complete.

He has four pairs of footwear in his office cupboard to show students where he's walked in life. Gumboots from when he worked at the freezing works, running shoes which he wore when studying, jandals from when he was poor and dress shoes which he wears to work.

"If I can do it, you can do it," he tells them.