His moko will never experience what he did to his children, former violent abuser-turned-social-activist Phil Paikea says. Photo / Michael Craig
Kids do it on a dime. But for adults, changing our minds on something, or flipping our behaviour, doesn’t come so easy. Cherie Howie asks four people how they managed it.
‘You start realising there’s
a problem’: When the odd weather becomes the norm
It’s so much easier when you decide a problem like climate change isn’t real, that today is what matters, not yesterday, and certainly not tomorrow.
Although he wouldn’t call himself a reformed climate change denier, he’s certainly a reformed sceptic, Tokoroa farmer and climate action advocate George Moss says.
“[Before] I was at the ‘don’t want to believe it’ stage, so you look for those things that justify the status quo.”
It was a nice place to be, for him, and for those who still believe long-term changes in global temperatures and weather patterns aren’t because we’re all burning too many fossil fuels.
“If you can convince yourself something isn’t real”, Moss says, “you don’t have to convince yourself to do something”.
“We’ve seen it with Covid, too. It’s a lot easier to say it’s not real. Then you don’t have to ask yourself, ‘What are you going to do about it?'”
For Moss, a Dairy NZ climate change ambassador who, with wife Sharon, runs two small dairy farms and a smaller dairy support and beef farm, acceptance didn’t crash through like a winter rainmaker.
It was more like a gentle spring shower.
“[It wasn’t] wake up one morning and a complete shift in attitude. It was a slow process.
“You probably have to go back 20 years, when the first of the noises were becoming quite public – ice caps melting and things like that.”
Still, the comfort of ignorance was tough to shake, with stories of Greenland “never having had more snow”, or ice building up in Antarctica, welcome because they supported the position he so wanted to hold on to.
“And then we’d have a cold snap, or a cold winter, and you’d say, ‘Oh it’s a variation of a planet that’s always changed over the millennia’, which it has.
“But what’s happening now is it’s changing at a very rapid rate, which hasn’t happened before.”
By about 2014 the father-of-one was reading widely on climate change, and listening to scientists “who actually understood the science”.
“One of the things I’ve learned over the years, and Covid falls into this category too, if one accepts the word of people who are experts in this field it is a whole lot less stressful.”
His reading had made him a fan most especially of graphs, with those showing carbon dioxide concentration or ice core data leaving little doubt something was happening.
“[If] you look at the CO2 concentration, and the pace of warming over a couple of thousand years, in my view it’s compelling now.
“And the ice core data … that takes us back in time to what the climate was like at different CO2 levels. I found that data interesting because that’s an ability to look back through history over many millennia.”
Add to the mix, us.
A warmer world will change lives for the worse, with food security, where we live, our health and the environment in the firing line, the 63-year-old says.
“We’re literally seeing temperatures in places now where healthy human life is compromised. Once you start to hit 50C, which Baghdad has seen occasionally, if you’re not inside in front of an air conditioner, human life is vulnerable.
“Let alone nature.”
It’s a long way from the heart of ancient Mesopotamia, but things are changing in south Waikato, too.
“The climate patterns are significantly different to when we first came down here 25 years ago.”
Summer’s hotter, autumn drier, frost still forms in winter but less often or severe, and dry spells – even droughts – are more regular, Moss says.
“They’re almost the norm, whereas they were the exception … you start realising there’s a problem.”
The challenge is for everyone, because success couldn’t just be about a “straight reduction” in the agriculture sector of greenhouse gases, but how New Zealand remained a competitive trading nation when those buying our products would also be managing greenhouse gases in their supply chain.
“It’s the community beyond the farm gate that ultimately will wear that price if we get it wrong.”
On his farms, the focus is on “measuring and chasing” genetics – efficient cows leave a lower greenhouse-gas footprint – and finding efficiencies, such as stopping cultivation on land used for feed crop.
“We don’t plough land. If you kill the soil, you release soil carbon … we just do a straight spray and drill [a machine puts the seed in the ground], and sometimes we don’t even spray. And we still get a very good crop.”
They also factored fuel consumption for their farm vehicles, running only two small motorbikes.
“And my wife walks everywhere.”
As part of the Emissions Reduction Plan, agricultural emissions will be priced from 2025.
Cabinet will decide later this year whether to accept the He Waka Eke Noa – Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership’s preferred system, or use another.
The coming change means an increasing number of farmers are looking for advice on how to adapt, although there are always holdouts, Moss says.
“They’re going to get caught anyway. There is going to be a pricing mechanism.”
Climate change deniers have also called, one recently claiming some scientists back their views.
“I went back and said, ‘If by chance the majority of the scientists had got this wrong, the worst outcome is we’re going to improve the planet as we do away with fossil fuels and pollution’.”
And then there are those who simply don’t want to be told what to do as society faces a battle between collective good and individual rights, Moss says.
“That’s the part people are grappling with.
“They’ll say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do that, I’m gonna be told by the Government to do this, I’m not gonna be regulated to do that, I’ll protest’ and you’ve got governments of all sorts of colours saying, ‘Well, actually in the collective good we need to do this – and the climate change falls into that space’.
“We all agree something should be done, but nobody quite wants to be the person who does it.”
‘Look it’s all right, I’m gay’: When a son came out to his anti-homosexuality father
David Allis can’t remember if he signed the Coalition of Concerned Citizens’ petition against homosexual law reform.
But he’s fairly certain his name was among those carried up the steps of Parliament in September 1985, he says, of the failed attempt to stop the eventual decriminalisation of sexual relations between men the following year.
“It was a very large petition that the Government ignored. Yeah, I probably did sign it.”
More than a generation later Allis no longer believes homosexuality is wrong, or that people can change their sexuality, although he thinks the latter question is ultimately for the individual alone to answer.
The 62-year-old former church minister and Bible college principal is on the board of Diverse Church, an LGBTI+ faith community, has helped run conferences for Rainbow Christians and encourages his own church – Holy Trinity Anglican in Devonport – to be as inclusive as possible.
He’s also supportive of his son, who came out to his parents 10 years ago.
The man who in all likelihood once signed a petition trying to maintain a law denying gay men the most basic of human rights – to love – says his previous views on homosexuality were more the result of what he hadn’t thought about, than what he had.
“It was the assumed view, and there are probably half a dozen scriptures that at face value would be seen to support [those views]. But I never really studied it.”
Raised Anglican before converting to an “evangelical sort of situation” at 15, he only ever heard “that there was choice here, and this is not the best choice for people”, a message further steeled by people saying they’d successfully changed their sexuality.
“There were people in Christian circles who would tell the story of, ‘I used to be gay and now I’m straight’. Looking at it now, I’m going, ‘Well, that’s one person’s story, and by the way they were abused as a child, so it’s not such a straightforward situation’.
“[That homosexuality was wrong] was the assumed view, like a lot of stuff that gets accepted … and like other stuff that I tend to disagree with now.”
Like most church-goers, he didn’t think about what the teachings against homosexuality were based on, or the implications.
“[There are] a lot of well-meaning people who just sort of believe it, and there’s still a small minority who hold the conservative position very strongly … unfortunately.”
Change for him began when he became disillusioned with organised church and switched to a “house church” – meeting with others at home – for about 12 years, during which he read more progressive and free-thinking writing on Christianity, including on homosexuality.
But the biggest turning point came a decade ago, when his intermediate-aged son told his parents he was gay.
“He was going to have a sleepover at a [female] friend’s place and we said, ‘No, you can’t’ and he said, ‘Look it’s all right, I’m gay’. His friends at school already knew, I mean we were the last to know … [and] I think he was nervous to tell us.”
“And he would say we didn’t cope with it well, but I think we coped with it really well.”
Allis remembers telling his son that “if there’s any choice in this, [homosexuality] is a harder road”, something he still believes.
“I think it’s still harder in society to be gay than not to be gay. Boy and girl can walk home from school holding hands, but boys couldn’t walk home from school holding hands.
“We had those sort of conversations with him, but over time, it probably took a year or two to think through things, we switched to being very supportive.”
He read more than 30 books and watched countless videos of fellow Christians challenging their churches to be more accepting of LGBTI+ people.
“Reading these people’s stories and their understanding and analysis, in the end, the whole Evangelical views are shaped by very narrow interpretation of very few verses in the Bible … there’s much more in the scriptures against divorce than there is against homosexuality.”
His advocacy and push for inclusion had changed some minds, but others remained steadfast in their views.
In large countries there were more options to find an inclusive church, unlike the “ongoing struggle” for gay Christian Kiwis to find somewhere they’ll be accepted completely, Allis says.
“Churches are very quick to go, ‘Yes, you’re welcome here … it’s yes, you’re welcome, but you’re welcome to come and change’.”
The stories of gay Christians are hard to hear, he says.
“They’ve all suffered trauma in the church, it’s amazing they manage to carry on with any sort of faith.”
His advice to others confronting the same questions he once had to is to look for good resources to widen their understanding, and take time to think about “what it’s like from the other side”.
“The whole theme of what Jesus taught was ‘love in God and love your neighbour, and don’t cast the first stone’.
“Don’t try to find sin in others. Instead, sort yourself out.”
‘I could’ve killed my wife’: Former abuser on turning away from violence
It was from his mouth the words came, and his fists the blows landed.
But it wasn’t his fault he was verbally and physically abusing his partner, Phil Paikea would tell himself.
“I blamed my upbringing. I blamed colonisation. I blamed my partner – if she’d just kept her mouth shut she wouldn’t have got a hiding.
“I was this fella that’d look in the mirror and see that my face was dirty, and I’d wipe the mirror. I wasn’t willing to work on myself. And wiping the mirror didn’t change nothing.”
The couple, who’d later marry – twice, renewing their 1988 vows in 2012 – met in 1979, a couple of years after Paikea narrowly survived a heroin overdose.
He was alive, but his life was a mess. He was a founding member of Black Power in Whangārei, and drugs, alcohol and violence were blighting his young life.
At home, he’d hit his partner, throw things at her and verbally abuse and intimidate her.
“I wasn’t a nice person. Sometimes I’d come home in that mood and I’d take it out on my partner. I didn’t think. It was just that rage.”
Others also felt the physical manifestation of his fury, with Paikea notching convictions for assaults on others.
When he and a brother, also a gang member at the time, got into fights, the hurt they’d internalised growing up in a violent home came out as unstoppable fury.
“When my father would hit us, the only emotion we knew was to cry, and then my dad would say, ‘Shut your mouth, I’ll give you something to cry about’ … so when my brother and I got into fights, all that stuff that had been buried came out in rage.”
But while he picked up convictions for assaults outside the home, he was never held to judicial account for the violence in the home.
“My wife didn’t tell the police. She just took it.”
Afterwards, he’d feel “stink” and apologise, but with no insight, words alone weren’t enough.
“A lot of us men who were perpetrators of family violence know there are those magic words we always say after … that ‘I’m sorry’. Well, sorry doesn’t cut it. They’re words.
“Our partners want to see it, they don’t want to hear it.”
Although the injuries he inflicted on his partner were never serious enough to need medical treatment, the 63-year-old also knows the same lack of control that saw him using his fists could’ve cost his partner her life.
“I could’ve killed her. It was definitely there. That spontaneous violence – it only takes one punch. Or I could’ve pushed her, and she could’ve fallen the wrong way.”
Only one of their seven kids witnessed his physical violence, when he’d drive away with her after beating her mum.
“I chucked my daughter in the car with me, drunk as anything, no seatbelts on. And she’d stand up on the seat, with her hand around me and just say, ‘You’ll be all right, Dad. You’ll be all right’.”
The little girl’s words – and vulnerability – had little effect.
“I was void of any empathy, to be honest. It was just good to have her there, to comfort me … when I look back, man I did some dangerous stuff. I was a terrible bloke, there’s no doubt about it.”
He didn’t beat his children as his father had him, although he did smack them, which was legal at the time.
But the kids witnessed arguments with their mum and he would swear and raise his voice in front of them.
“I created an atmosphere of fear in the home, and my kids were fearful of me. If I came close to them they’d raise their hands up in defence, thinking I was going to hit them.
“And it dawned on me, s**t, that’s what my father did to us. That was a lightbulb moment for me. Even when I’m talking now it still raises that emotion”, he says, voice cracking.
“Because I buried that fella.”
Complete change came from not one, but a series of moments as he incrementally stepped away from gangs, drugs, alcohol and violence.
The late Judge Rutherford Paul’s decision not to send Paikea to jail despite serious violence and driving charges was one, because it gave him a chance to reconcile with his partner, who’d said she’d leave if he didn’t change.
Another was when he joined his wife’s church in 1988. There was also support from work colleagues at Marsden Pt Oil Refinery, and friends beyond.
“There were people out there that saw potential in me … So here I am today, walking in my purpose and my potential. I couldn’t see it before. I was blinded by my youth, by my rage, my addictions. All that’s gone now.”
Even the anti-smacking law in 2007, much later in his transformation, was another turning point – he’s never smacked a child since the law changed, Paikea says.
“I’ll never repeat to my moko what I did with my children.”
Ruakākā-based Paikea uses his experiences to help others – along with raising their son and six daughters, he and wife have fostered 243 children.
His latest social activism role is as a personal development mentor with Safe Man, Safe Family, helping men both in prison and in the community.
“I feel nothing but love for them. I tell them, ‘I used to be you’ …I have a calling to share nuggets of truth that I’ve applied to my own life to help men find their way.
“I won’t say, ‘Well, change is that way, turn on She’ll Be Right Avenue, you’ll find change there’. I’m the fella who will talk you there, walk you there and stay with you till you get it.”
He still gets emotional telling his story but it cuts both ways now.
“Really, they’re tears of joy. Because my family are still with me, my children love me, my grandchildren adore me – they just want to be around their papa all the time.
“And I married my wife twice, just to make sure.”
‘None … seemed to be based around legitimate science’: Why Covid-19 vaccine sceptic changed his mind
For most, news a vaccine had been developed in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic was met with relief.
Millions had died, others had been left with ongoing ill-health and normal life had been disrupted almost everywhere as the new virus spread around the world.
Now, the eventual return to something closer to life before Covid-19 was just a rolled-up sleeve away.
“My original reaction was, ‘Ah, no. Not me'”, says Wellington’s Mike Berghan, remembering his initial response to the modern public health miracle of vaccination.
Berghan runs his own yoga school – Te Aro Astanga – chose a Rudolf Steiner school for his kids’ education and believes in the power of “natural health”, and all helped form his first thoughts on Covid-19 vaccination, he says.
“And … they came out with this vaccine in really quick time, so my natural reaction to that is one of scepticism, and saying, ‘If something’s been done that quickly, I don’t know whether I’d be willing to have it’.
“And [because] I think my natural immunity will be fine.”
It was a decision he’d made before, when he and his wife earlier chose not to vaccinate their children, except against one disease, tetanus.
“My view around my children being vaccinated was I felt the measles, mumps, blah, blah was that if we raised them in an environment where they’re eating healthy food and getting exercise, then those things don’t pose a huge risk to them.
“And for me, the decision around that was more about waiting for them to be old enough to make that decision for themselves.”
Both are now adults and have chosen to get the vaccinations they missed as children.
It would’ve been easy for Berghan to keep his back turned on the Covid-19 jabs – his beliefs and interests meant he was part of communities traditionally more suspicious of vaccination and, as a result, found his Facebook feed quickly littered with anti-vaccination posts.
“[There were] screeds of them through my Facebook, which I’ve since left.”
But even though the posts could’ve boosted his decision not to vaccinate, the 64-year-old decided not to blindly accept what he was seeing online.
His own investigations – and debunking of the posts streaming into his feed – would, in part, prompt his switch from being against Covid-19 vaccination to being for it.
“When I took that step back and looked a bit deeper into those anti-vaccine arguments, none of them really seemed to be based around legitimate science.
“I’ve since quit Facebook because I found it so upsetting that there were people there I like who were just re-posting stuff that, actually, if you spend 10 minutes researching it, you could just show that it was false.”
He also spoke to his family about the vaccine and all were in favour, in particular his younger sister who pointed him to information on what infection could mean, how the vaccine worked and how it came to be developed so quickly.
“So I had a lot of people saying, before you make your mind up on this, rather than going with that gut reaction – because my natural reaction is to distrust things like that – don’t just make that decision on an uninformed basis.”
And he was encouraged after asking his GP, who told him he had “nothing to worry about”.
The final encouragement came from the principle of ahimsa – not causing harm to others – which he follows as a yoga teacher.
“Hearing these stories of how many people were dying overseas, and in my work I come in close contact with people, and the thought I could be harming someone else [if unvaccinated] made the decision for me really easy in the end.”
Advice on vaccination
When making decisions about vaccinations, the best thing to do is speak to your local practice nurse or GP about what’s best for you and your child, University of Auckland vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris says.
Not all infections gave better immunity than vaccination, and infection also meant risking suffering complications from a disease, she said.
“Resist the temptation to look on the internet, there is a lot of bad information on there.”
WHERE TO GET SUPPORT
* OUTLine phone service supporting LGBTI+: 0800 688 5463
* Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
* Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
* What’s Up: 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm)
* 1737: Free call or text helpline
FAMILY HARM – DO YOU NEED HELP?
If you’re in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours or friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don’t stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it’s not your fault. Violence is never okay.
Where to go for help or more information:
• Shine, free national helpline available 24/7 – 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Women’s Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 – 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Safe Man, Safe Family https://safemansafefamily.org.nz/
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It’s Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz