After getting his 15 year old girlfriend pregnant at the age of 14, Red Henare wishes he’d done a few things differently at the time.
But his path was largely set by others after his father sent him to work on a fishing boat and he lost contact with his girlfriend and their son.
Now in his forties, life is good for Henare. He has a supportive wife and five other children and has recently completed a Bachelor of Social Practice at Unitec he never imagined he would start.
“My wife told me to go back to school. She said with all my life experience I had a lot to offer.
“I thought it was the craziest thing I’d ever heard. I hadn’t been to school since I was 14 and by then I was in my late 30s. It was too scary; university was for academics, not for me.”
His wife eventually persuaded him to give it a go and Henare decided to study at Unitec because he liked the whānau orientated environment.
Starting with a foundation studies course for 6 months, which he found surprisingly easy, Henare moved on to the bachelor’s degree and is now working as a Rangatahi Mentor at Te Whānau o Waipareira.
In his final year of study at Unitec Henare combined his new social work skills and his lived experience to work on a project with teen dads. He wanted to help them fulfil their own potential while also contributing to their child’s life in a meaningful way. To help him complete his project he received a Men’s Health Trust scholarship awarded to male health students working towards improving men’s health.
“I was a father at 14, although I’m not sure you could have called me a father,” Henare says. “It was a real confusing time for me – there were no support services to help me, or people to say these are your options and guide you down the right path.”
Henare says teen dads often become the “forgotten man” in what can be a highly charged situation. But research has shown they are often more willing to participate in raising their children than public perceptions would have us believe - they just need help and support in getting there.
“Instead of waiting for 20 years like I did to decide to do something let’s put something in place right now, while you’re young enough, because it’s about your future too, not just the baby’s.
“What’s happened has happened. We can’t take that back. What we can do is instil some values, talk about some issues you may be going through that can help make you a better person, a better father.”