Wellington Region Dads Group

Reflections from the past

This paper on the Dads’ group is based on an earlier draft, which Grant Jones circulated to the group by email February 2004. Three years later, and with some minor additions he sent the revised paper again to the group.  In December 2016 Grant updated and revised the paper.

This group is rather unique in that it currently still operates as it initially begun in 1989: on an informal basis with no formal membership. Guys who are interested in joining either phone or email the faciliator of the group, who explains the concepts of the group:  essentially a social group of like-minded gay dads, but support is available for anyone requesting it.  Monthly potluck dinners or lunch are held in a member’s home, with a restaurant dinner held usually once year. Partners or a friend is also welcome. The same concept still happens today, except the social events are now a little less frequent, as the numbers attending functions have declined from earlier years, because some members have left Wellington and some have passed over.

How did the group begin?

The group first met at Peter Waugh's residence in 1989.

Grant spoke to Peter Waugh in 2004 and he recalled, that as a result of Peter’s involvement with the Wellington Gay Switchboard he became aware of the need to have a Dad's group, because of the difficulty which same gay dads’ had with custody and other issues involving children. Peter and John Boyd   worked together to host the first function.  Please see further comments and reflections below from John Boyd, Miles Rogers and John Jolliff on their recollection on the early days of the group.

From John Boyd who was the initial facilitator of the group from the early years, until 2000 and then again from 2010-2014.

“How did it all start?  Well it started when I got myself into strife with an international custody battle concerning whether my kids should live in NZ with me as a gay father (where they had been brought up) or whether they should be brought up by mum who had returned to UK (which the kids didn't know).  Needless to say I lost (good father, gravely disqualified because I was gay said the beak in the Royal Courts in the Strand in London) but I had open access whenever. I (only I had to travel 12,000 milesto get it).“

That episode resulted in two things according to John B:

“Firstly a cry for help to the Gay Switchboard.  This led to networking with Peter Waugh, Miles Rogers and others who had been thinking about setting up a support group.  We had our first meeting at Peter's house in Brooklyn, one of the very few round circle discussions I can remember at a Dads’ function.  I seem to recall John and Des and Kit were there (but does my memory play tricks?).  It went from there: pot-luck dinners seemed the easy way to go, no one felt the need for a structure, and ringing around was carried out by volunteers in the group. This lack of structure has proved to be a recipe which has ensured the longevity of the group, and also the lack of bitching and moaning which seems to beset some groups with more formal structures, in which individuals carve out territories to defend. Whoever said communism is a failed way of doing things?”

John Boyd stated the second thing which came out of the strife, which he experienced in 1990:  

“The first article ever on homosexuality and parenting in a well-respected international medical journal appeared in the August edition of the British Medical Journal, written by my London-based solicitor and the psychiatrist who presented evidence for my case.  I did a lot of the background research on that (with great assistance from Phil Parkinson of the Gay & Lesbian Archives, and references from Peter Davies, Rob Newberry, and Yoka Neumann in NZ) but I did not wish to be named because I felt it could jeopardise access by being seen to be an activist. I also declined an interview with a major respectable UK daily newspaper for that reason.

I think times have now definitely changed for the better!  Here's to parenting and grand parenting!”

From Miles in 2004.

“He stated: Memory like a sieve in some quarters, but yes, I was part of a small group of about a dozen who first met at Peter Waugh's place at 14 Laura Ave.  I'm amazed that it was as recently as 1989 - I'd have thought it was much earlier, as I'd known Peter since 1983. Whatever, I'm sure it was early in the year - I can remember warmth in the outside air.  Beyond Peter and I, I though, I'd be hard pressed to remember just who else was there.  (John and Des may have been, but maybe not.)  I remember that John Boyd was within the group pretty early on.”

“I believe that the group started through several of us talking at the old drop-in centre at the bottom of Boulcott Street about the difficulties of locating and getting to know other gay men with children. The Centre was situated near where the entrance to the Majestic Centre is currently sited.  Not necessarily wanting to be a separatist, but several of us with a common experience had concerns to share about being gay within marriage, raising children and so forth.  And there was always the hope of meeting someone to get closer to. It was Peter though, who took the initiative and really got the group going.”

………“ I'm just sorry that my working life and running several properties controls so much of life and I've grown away from the group, ratherthan keeping up with you all.”

John Jolliff and Des were at the first function and John writes  (1994):

"Those who attended initially sat and did a ‘round’, that is we each took a turn at saying a bit about ourselves and what sort of mental space we were in that day. It got more social later in the evening of course."

Grant joined the group in 1990, with the encouragement of Kit Withers, following his traumatic separation from his wife and two young children two years earlier. At that time Grant was still dealing with the aftermath of his separation. His partner Jamie came “into his life” in 1998.

Grant has a copy of a 1991 list of the Gay Dads  (21 plus partners), which was complied by John Boyd. John as the initial facilitator of the group established contact with others in the group via the “phone tree“.

In the early years (1990s) many of the current group members joined the group, often making initial contact with a member or the Gay Switchboard because they were going through troubles with parenting and coming out: what to tell the kids, how to deal with the wife or ex, should they risk telling at all, what to do in custody disputes?) or because they felt a little isolated in a gay scene, where being a parent felt odd in the early days.  

In the early years confidentiality of members and phone messages was felt to be paramount as some of the members were still “in the closet: sometimes for a good reason.  In a small number of cases, others in the home where they were living were often not aware of their current sexual orientation.  About 1994 a very enthusiastic newer member offered to write a monthly newsletter, which he suggested, be posted to members. At the time that was quite felt to be inappropriate in order to maintain the confidentiality of the group and its members. 

Members were contacted by phone: five of the group, who phoned between 4-6 others in the group to advise them on the date and venue for the event.  Discretion was extremely important in those days.  One member, who was very private about his “life.” and who has since ‘passed over’ lived with his daughter. Another guy still lived in a heterosexual relationship (whose female partner was not aware of his sexual orientation), and for this reason messages were not left on an answer phone at that time.

John B tells us that many of the calls he received in the early days of the group were guys wanting a gay lawyer, counselor or doctor.  This was obviously a time when many guys felt more comfortable being able to relate to a professional (and others) who was gay.

The group therefore evolved into what it is today, as many guys felt comfortable in enjoying the company of their peers with a similar age and status who had often gone through the stress of separation from an opposite sex marriage or relationship.

In 1996 we fare welled the passing of Lloyd at a Wellington Cathedral, where he worked as a volunteer, following his professional retirement. In 1999 Doug from Upper Hutt suddenly passed away.

In the 1990s we often had more than 25 people attending the group dinners, which were usually held Monday- Thursday evenings and sometimes weekend lunches were held out of Wellington. They were consistently well attended. In 2001 at a time when most of the dinners were held mid week Grant recalls having 31 in attendance at his place for a mid week group dinner in winter.

In the 1990 and early 2000s we sometimes held annual lunch time events at members homes out of Wellington: at Waitarere Beach (the late Dr Allan Caselberg), at Featherstone (Graeme Hales), and at Carterton at the late Roger and John’s residence. 

At one of the Carterton events, in 1999, Georgina Beyer attended whilst she was Mayor of Carterton, and she gave us a very entertaining address, but not for publication, Grant recalls a Dads’ dinner at ‘Young Paul’ F’s place, about 1994. The guest of a member, with another member of the group had locked themselves in the toilet for more than 40 minutes…much to the amusement of the group, but of concern to the host of the event…. um. We haven’t had a refreshing incident since, as far as I am aware

From 2000 Grant took over from John Boyd with facilitating the Dads Group. This was the start of the Dads’ group communication with monthly emails. The six guys who were not on email at that time were phoned up to advise them on up and coming events.  During the period 2010- 2014 John took back the role as facilitator, until the roles were reversed once again with Grant taking over.

In November 2003, eight guys from Dads group were privileged to experience an afternoon sailing on Wellington Harbour in two ketches:  one which was owned by Tim H from the Dads’ group and the other by John M from the Wellington Gay Switchboard and Gayline.  It was a great afternoon, with the two previous sailing dates having to be cancelled because of the adverse weather conditions.

2004 was also significant for the Gay Dads' group as they ventured into national politics for the first time. Following discussion on the Civil Union Bill, both by email and at one of the Dad’s group functions, a written submission was made by the group to the Parliamentary Select Committee. This was followed up with Grant making an oral presentation, on behalf of the Gay Dads group.  to the Select Committee. This was well received 

Some Reflections on former members who have “passed over” since 2000

Rangi Woon was a particular identity that we remember with great respect.  He was a regular attender of the Dads’ group until he sadly passed away at over eighty years of age in 2000. He was a fluent speaker of Te Reo Maori and was very open about his sexuality to his whanau and friends. Tony Nightingale (John Boyd’s partner) did an oral recording on Rangi’s life in about 1998, which is now part of the NZ national GLBTI archives. Rangi for many years, and up until his death, was in an open relationship with his wife of many years, and he spoke of his children in earlier years when they were teenagers, on how they used to dress him “In drag” to enable him to have “a night on the town.”  Many of the group recall with much amusement on how Rangi told us how in 1943 when American troops were based at camp in Paekakariki he frequently caught he train out there to “check out” the troop talent...... in “more ways than one.”

At the last Dads’ event, which Rangi attended, in early 1990, his health was of concern, but his nephew a spunky young Maori guy brought Rangi along to a group dinner.

Francis and Laurie: Both were active members of the group until they moved to Wanganui in about 1997. Sadly both guys passed over about 2007.

Dr Alan Caselberg: He passed away in 2007 after a long illness.  In his obituary, which was recorded in the Dads group, email.

“Alan was 81 years of age and he had been ill for some time, and many of us saw him featuring in the Dominion Post, for a Mary Potter Hospice fundraiser earlier that year. He will be fondly remembered by many of the group as a real gentleman. He attended Dads’ group functions regularly from 1994 onwards, and during the period 2000-2005 years, he hosted an annual summer lunch function at his holiday home at Waitarere Beach. Alan practiced as a GP for many years in Levin and then Wellington, and he was still practicing until as recently as two years, before he passed away."

A celebration of Alan’s life was held at Old Paul's, Thorndon, and Wellington. It was attended by a large number of doctors, as well as guys in our group.  Allan had carefully planned his funeral with a gay celebrant who gave details of Allan’s “coming out” several years earlier. 

Roger Hunter: In 2014 Roger sadly passed away.  At the time he was residing in a retirement home in Masterton.  Paul Ron H and Grant visited him earlier in that year and took him out for lunch and a drink.   His former partner John passed away in 2012 after a long illness.

The guys who attended the Dads’ group lunch functions in earlier years at Roger and John’s farm in Carterton will remember the great day it always was.  Roger will be remembered as a jovial guy with a refreshing sense of humor, which was often punctuated with his 1960s jokes.

Graeme Sutherland: In February 2011 Graeme sadly passed away.  In his obituary for the Dads group we wrote: 

“As you are aware he was a long time and active member of the Dads’ group who used to host functions at his former Basin Resort Apartment. You will recall that in those days he insisted on the group not bringing food to functions which he hosted, as he provided pizzas for all who attended. During the last three years of his life we never saw Graeme because of his battle with cancer of the esophagus.”

At one of the dinners which Graeme hosted in 2003 at his residence, we had a guest speaker: Nigel Christie, a lawyer and gay activist who spoke to the group on a very relevant topic: the Property Relationships Act.

Ned Solomon: In August 2011 Ned passed away rather suddenly. Ned will be remembered for his very generous cooking which he and his partner Ron took to all Dads’ group functions which they attended. They also willingly hosted functions for the group.  Ned was always very willing to help in the kitchen at functions: especially cooking at the BBQs and the clean up afterwards.

Ned’s service was held in Hataitai, and his tangi was held in the Hokianga, where he originally came from. Ned was right into his tikanga Maori and was a fluent speaker of Te Reo Maori.

His obituary in the dads newsletter stated:

“Ned - our kaumatua and friend Haere, Haere Haere and may you fly to Hawaikito be with you whanau and you Whanau

Arohanui Ned,”

Ron Ingham: Ron  (Ricco’s partner) sadly passed away in December 2015. In his Dads’ group obituary we wrote: 

“In June Ron had a nasty fall at home and fractured his femur. He was in rehab at Hutt Hospital for three months and because of his physical incapacity following his fall, Ron was not able to return home. In August he was moved to Riverleigh Residential Care, in Lower Hutt and in recent weeks he has been confined to using a wheel chair."

Ricco and Ron had been partners for over 30 years, and had regularly attended the Dads group functions since 1992.

We will always remember Ron and Ricco for the wonderful Dads’ group functions, which they hosted for many years at their home in Lower Hutt, which Ricco continued with in 2016.

The present

We get very few new contacts these days from guys wanting to join the group because the need for emotional support with the trauma of a breakdown in their hetero sexual relationship and the stress thereafter: certainly not the one or two a month which John B experienced in the early 1990s.  Maybe this is because being gay and being a parent is more acknowledged (but not always supported) in the public domain. More recent members who have joined have done so essentially for social reasons.

Up until about 2004, attendances were sound with 25-30 guys often in attendance. Those who attended both then and at the present time enjoyed catching up with friends and colleagues on a monthly basis.   Attendances have dropped to an average of about ten attending the functions now.  This is because the group operates more as a social group and nine of the earlier group have passed away, and some have left Wellington, which includes six of the group who reside on the Kapiti Coast.  In 2016, functions were held in Levin at Ron Walton’s home and in January 2017 at Ted’s in Otaki.

We sometimes “nick name” the group the ‘granddads’ group,’ as all but two of the Dads is not a granddad. 

We continue to have regular functions and some with a difference; Phil has hosted functions at the Carillon Motor Inn, which he has managed for a number of years. This is in a Victorian Mansion in Mount Cook:  a shared dinner with long stay residents including International students interspersed with bohemian types including home Vodka makers, musicians, actors and poets. During 2015 and 2016 we held two very successful Sunday lunches, which were well attended, at Valentines Restaurant in Petone. 

Special thanks to the many guys in the group who have hosted functions over the years as without this continual support the group would not have survived.

We also acknowledge the aging of the group with following guys having reached eighty years of age: John J, Paul F and Graeme Hales.

In addition, special thanks to the following guys who have hosted functions on a very regular basis each year over the last 20-27 years: John B/Tony, John J/Des, Paul, Grant/Jamie and Ricco.

Grant C Jones

15 January 2017 

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