Former wild child salutes mentors whose faith saved him from himself
It takes sheer unadulterated guts to be as brutally honest about one's past as Hapeta Manley is.
As a wild child, he wagged school, ran with the wrong crowd, hooked up with a gang, did drugs, drank and drank some more, made court appearances, that's when he bothered to turn up.
Depression and anxiety have dogged him.
Now in his mid-30s, he tells us this not to skite but to emphasise the importance of having inspirational mentors who've shaped him into the successful person he's become.
That's a bloke with a great job and father of four, three whāngai (adopted). Initially, he was their stay-at-home dad "to create the structure in their lives I didn't have in mine".
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Hapeta came onto Our People's radar in the courtroom he'd come to know well, not in the dock but among those paying tribute to Rotorua lawyer, the late Tim Barclay.
His recent death brought what's believed to be a New Zealand first, a swearing out ceremony honouring his years of service defending the Hapeta Manleys of this world.
His legal aid client of long standing told of the lawyer's refusal to give up on him and his guidance to become, in his words, a worthwhile person.
He has a list of others who've similarly steered him, at Hapeta's insistence their names will pop up throughout this narrative.
Something else he insists we emphasise is that his parents, Kevin and Maryanne Manley, were in no way responsible for his delinquent days. That blame sits squarely on his own shoulders.
At 6, Hapeta went to live with his nan, Jean Manley, in Ohinemutu.
In retrospect, he realises it was her death six years later that was the catalyst for his rebellious ways.
"I didn't realise until much later how much grieving I was going through. At intermediate through high school I went right off the rails, fighting, had no respect for the teachers, I only went to school at my own pleasure, my parents had no control over me."
At 13, he ran off, hiding out in his nan's homestead.
"That's where my heart was but when my mishaps with the police began, I became on first name terms with them."
His uncle, Jim Manley, stepped in.
"He said if you're not going to school, come and work for me painting houses. He taught me work ethics.
"When I was about 15, a teacher from intermediate, Nick Lynskey, asked me what I was doing. When I said 'working' he said 'come and work for me and go to school again'."
They made early morning deliveries around the city, by 9am Hapeta was in a Western Heights High classroom.
"Friends there made me realise I wasn't as dumb as I thought. At Nan's I only had two books, a dictionary and Where's Wally? I found Wally a lot.
"At Heights I discovered working had taught me heaps, I was able to help simplify things like reading and maths for my mates, one reckoned he learnt more in a day from me than three years at school."
All well and good, but Hapeta's anti-social ways reignited.
"I wagged, affiliated with a gang, got wasted, was back in trouble with the cops."
Mate Curtis Berryman convinced him to join Bay of Plenty Polytech's return to education course.
"I still had that stigma of being rough, standoffish, not forming relationships. I look back and think I had too much self-pride."
He surprised himself by being awarded a scholarship to study for a hospitality diploma at Waiariki Polytech.
"I've no idea how I got that but people like Thomas George [senior tutor] saw something in me I didn't."
Regardless, his heart wasn't in study.
"My mate, Allan Rikihana, said I had so much potential I just wasn't utilising the right tools. He was a hospitality student at Arahia Academy, I said I didn't want to look woosy [sic] like him. I was a Māori boy with long hair, the wrong attitude."
Rikihana persisted, Hapeta enrolled under protest telling tutor Sharon Wallace she was a b***h.
"She said 'fine' and within eight months she'd broken through my shell to the point I was top student."
He continued to thumb his nose at the law, was charged with burglary.
"I'd just waited outside but still got charged."
That's where Barclay came into the frame.
"Tim didn't want me labelled for something I didn't do, the case dragged on, I got sick of it, didn't bother to turn up then when my name appeared on the paper's [Rotorua Daily Post] wanted list. I lost my job, that was certainly a time of depression, I realised I'd let so many people down, family, Tim, Sharon, most of all myself."
Fuze Bar's Glen Baker retained faith in Hapeta and gave him a job.
He found his forte making cocktails, his skill taking him to national competition level.
Hapeta's confidence was on the rise, and he moved to Tauranga's Harbourside restaurant and bar.
"When I got a $400 tip I began to realise I had some talent."
Working 80-hour weeks made commuting from Rotorua difficult.
"I started sleeping in my car, cleaning up for work in the public toilets."
A crash in that crash pad was a painful lesson in overcoming self-inflicted suffering. He received multiple fractures and is still minus his front teeth.
"I was told it would take months for me to walk but I'd sneak into the rehab unit and practise."
Soon mobile, he joined his brothers in a kiwifruit packing house. Within weeks, he was the manager.
The season over he was back in "hospo", at the Lava Bar then the Heaven and Hell night club.
Along the way, Hapeta plunged into a hell of his own, deep depression sparked by something so horrific he elects to keep it under wraps out of respect for others' involved.
Longtime friend Amanda Te Whau became his rock.
"She's guided me through those worst of times, she's a huge inspiration to me, I call her my sister, her husband my brother."
Hapeta and partner Ellie Vincent met at the Lava Bar. "She asked me out."
In their second year together, they whāngai her sister's three girls.
"She was going through life issues."
Two years ago, their son was born.
From full-time dad, he joined the Novotel, becoming food and beverage manager.
In April, Ponsonby Rd bar and Our House owners Tim Smith and Tāmati Coffey shoulder-tapped him to be their general manager.
"Their tikanga, kawa, mana's inspirational, it was my dream to look after places like these, being here's as far as it's possible to be from my former life, My kids, this job give me a real sense of purpose."
Born: Rotorua, 1984.
Education: Western Heights, Rotorua primaries, Rotorua Intermediate, Boys', Western Heights Highs.
Family: Parents Kevin and Maryanne Manley, three brothers, partner Ellie Vincent, four children.
Interests: "My family and kids' future 100 per cent." Hospitality. "I'm a huge American Football fan, go the Baltimore Ravens, reading inspirational people's biographies."
On his life: "I've had a lot of extremes . . . I'm very competitive."
Advice to young rebels: "Believe in your support system because they believe in you."
Personal philosophy: "People bettering other people's lives by example."