TJ Perenara is a recognised World Cup winner and Super Rugby champion – yet his path to parenthood sparked a very different empowering journey, one he describes among his most rewarding.
Perenara, the 69-test All Blacks and Hurricanes halfback, is a prominent voice amid the renewed push to rejuvenate the lost art of Māori language in New Zealand.
The disconnect he felt for much of his 28 years, through the loss of his native tongue and the burden he carried thereafter, mirrors the internal battle many other New Zealanders regularly grapple with, too.
"For a long time I only really knew half of myself," Perenara said before departing for his Japanese sabbatical. "I knew my Pakeha side quite well. I know where I stand within that world – I feel comfortable talking on the street.
"But I wasn't discovering the other half of me within Māori where I wasn't confident; I wasn't able to sit down and have a conversation or speak about anything within a language that is me."
Through no fault of his own, Perenara is one figure that is a byproduct of the gradual assimilation of New Zealand's indigenous language ultimately brought about through colonisation.
In preparation for becoming a father last year, Perenara embarked on amending this broken language chain, with the hope of fixing the missing link that led to him losing touch with his Māori ancestry.
"I started speaking to my wife about a lot of feelings I had growing up, not knowing te reo Māori, not knowing tikanga Māori, and how I hid away from that side.
"I was always proud to be Māori but anytime anything on a marae or within Kapa Haka or conversations in te reo Māori happened I would shy away from it because I was embarrassed that I didn't know the language or tikanga.
"I didn't want my kids to feel that same way."
Learning any language is difficult, not least for professional athletes who exist in a relentlessly demanding world of physical and mental exertion every day.
But by listening to episodes of the podcast Taringa while driving to rugby duties each day, watching TVNZ's Te Karere news and attempting to immerse himself within Māori language, Perenara gradually chipped away at rediscovering his heritage.
When he and wife Greer welcomed their daughter Amaia last August, those consistent efforts were worth the struggle.
"I speak to our daughter in te reo Māori. My first language with her is Māori and she can't judge me, she doesn't know whether I get it wrong or not which is always good," Perenara says with a chuckle.
"It's definitely not easy. Being around the language as much as possible is important.
"The fact she doesn't have to feel those feelings I felt is the greatest gift I can give to her."
While te reo Māori is enjoying something of a rebirth, with Perenara crediting Stacey and Scotty Morrison for its more common use on television and radio, the challenge for future generations wanting to retain New Zealand's native language remains its absence from most mainstream schools.
Perenara suggests this gap could be bridged by providing pathways for teachers to learn te reo.
"I would love to see more of it. Making it happen overnight in schools is setting it up for failure. The main problem we have with it being compulsory in schools at the moment is the lack of people being able to teach it.
"It's the language of our country. What makes me sad is if you want to go and learn French – you go to France. If you want to learn Italian, you go to Italy. If you want to learn Māori you have to go to school. You don't go to New Zealand and hear Māori being spoken. I'd love for people who want to learn Māori to come to New Zealand and hear Māori being spoken. That would be awesome."
Perenara sensed the growth in his Māori understanding as he picked up words and phrases while hearing whaikōrero – formal speeches. Yet the hardest part of sticking with the learning process is finding others to regularly converse with other than Porirua childhood friend, Freddie Robinson, who remains fluent.
As the All Blacks started their belated test campaign last year one of their first points of call was visiting Perenara's home marae, Rangitihi, in Matata, a small town near Whakatāne.
The connection between Perenara and his father's linage had been largely lost before his own venture to Rangitihi marae earlier last year.
"I knew I was from Matata, I knew I was Rangitihi, but I hadn't been there for two decades since my Koro passed away.
"It's a weird feeling not being to a place for 20 years and walking in and it feeling like home.
"To know my family from Matata, who I only knew their names and they only knew me through playing footy, now we know each other and continuing to build that bond is only good for me and my family.
"Being able to go home onto the marae and speak – not fluently – but hold some conversation with my family there is very rewarding, and as my daughter grows and begins to speak te reo Māori that will be even more special.
"It's been one of the more rewarding journeys I've been on."
That stronger sense of self extends to Perenara's role in often leading the All Blacks haka. Where previously this was the only connection to his Māori heritage, now it is one of many which includes being able to whaikōrero, mihi post game and hold a reasonable conversation in te reo.
"When I performed haka I knew what and why I was doing it but I also knew that was the only part of te reo Māori that I had any knowledge in.
"Now it doesn't feel like I'm just doing this one thing for the All Blacks that shows I'm Māori. I know outside haka I have other avenues where I'm proud and living te reo Māori."