Every time little Te Tairawhiti Fairburn wakes, his chubby wee fingers go straight to his head.
But last week, the little boy whose first words after the crash were his calls for "mum and dad", took another big step towards recovery, and now he can't stop smiling.
Te Tairawhiti had been forced to wear a halo brace, to help keep his broken neck still, but now the brace has been removed, and he has been discharged from Starship children's hospital.
Te Tairawhiti's dad, Henare Hadfield, who has barely left his son's side since the March 30 crash, described his wee fighter's reaction as "just lots of smiles". And a little bit of surprise.
"Every time he wakes up he always makes sure it isn't just a dream, that [the brace] really is off. He's touching his head, making sure."
He could feel his son's happiness, Hadfield said.
"[I can tell] he feels like there's more to life than how it's been. He just seems more free. He doesn't have this big steel thing controlling his head."
Father and son spent 10 weeks at Starship after the crash, which happened on State Highway 1 as the Kaiwaka family of four returned from a tangi north of Wellsford.
Hadfield's fiancee Janiah Fairburn, 20, and their daughter Azarliyah Hadfield, 2, died when the driver of a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction crossed the centre line.
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That driver, Aizaeah Kori-Lee Tarawa, 19, admitted charges of drink driving causing death and injury last month and will be sentenced on July 2.
The Aucklander, who according to an agreed police summary of facts released by a judge last week had two previous drink driving convictions , was found 90 minutes after the crash to have a breath alcohol level of 768mcg — three times over the legal alcohol limit for adults.
The limit for drivers aged under 20 is zero.
Hadfield, who has spoken about his own previous bad decisions behind the wheel — including two convictions for drink driving — before he quit alcohol and cigarettes when Azarliyah was born, told the Herald on Sunday he was continuing his own efforts to help make New Zealand roads safer.
On Friday he met Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for a "relaxed chat" sharing parenting stories - Ardern is mum to almost 1-year-old daughter Neve - and his plans to help prevent more tragedies like his own .
The 21-year-old was already talking with a cousin who worked in Corrections about the possibility of sharing his story with inmates in the future, he said.
Finding a way to help others, through sharing his own experiences, was a huge focus for the young dad, who believed people turned to alcohol or gangs because of poor mental health.
He didn't know what would come of his efforts, he said, but he'd do his best.
"Out of a million people, as long as you teach one then you've made a difference. It's better to have a purpose in life. I want to be the key to hope."
Days after the crash, Hadfield told the Weekend Herald he had forgiven the driver. Last week he said that was still the case, and he hoped to eventually meet Tarawa through the restorative justice programme.
But he also described forgiveness as a work in progress.
"I've just got to keep finding forgiveness for him every day. It's a daily thing, sometimes it's more than a daily thing. Some days it's easy to say and then move forward, and other days it's hard."
But he said meeting Tarawa for restorative justice was important because New Zealand was such a small place.
"I don't know him, but my partner's dad knew his dad. This world's too small."
He hoped to ask Tarawa why he had driven drunk, and urge him to "accept help" offered.
"It's going to be hard to accept he did something bad in life, but he has to so he can move forward."
As well as his faith, Hadfield had been using writing and performing music to get through the grief.
He regularly posts videos of his songs — he's written about 15 raps and melodies about the loss of his fiancee and daughter — on social media, and was recently contacted by a Wellington producer keen to get him in a studio.
It was a lifelong dream to write and perform his own music, and it would be easier to share his message through music, Hadfield said.
But he wasn't in any hurry — for now, his focus was on the little boy now out of that Starship hospital bed and in a new home with his dad, his aunt and uncle and four older cousins who adored him.
A touching moment came a couple of weeks ago when Te Tairawhiti said to his dad: "I love you".
"There's no other better words to hear as a parent than that," Hadfield said.
"You hear 'hi' and all that and it's lovely, but you know this is from the heart. You know your son is being loved when he is saying that."
They had come a long way from the early, dark days after the crash when Te Tairawhiti's "whole body wasn't even functioning" and doctors told Hadfield other children who had suffered the same injury had died.
"It's a miracle that he's here, but it's a blessing too. I don't know what I'd do without him."
• Family and friends set up a Givealittle to help Hadfield and Te Tairawhiti. It can be found at https://bit.ly/2v8klJD