9 Aug 2022

Our father, Barry Crump

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 9 August 2022

Barry Crump was the ultimate kiwi icon - a rugged outdoorsman, and quintessential Kiwi bloke. His books sold millions of copies and his Toyota TV ads with the hapless Scotty entertained us all.

But there was another side to Barry Crump - a tough, womanising, alcoholic who struggled with commitment, particularly to his six sons - Ivan, Martin, Stephen, Harry, Erik and Lyall - born to five mothers.

For the first time, Barry Crump's sons have all gone on record about their father - 25 years after his death, in a book called Sons of a Good Keen Man.

Ivan and Martin Crump tell Nine to Noon their father was a complex character who was a product of his childhood as much as they are a product of theirs, and that their father did them a favour by abandoning them.

Martin says he didn’t want to write the book initially when approached by Penguin publishers a decade ago.

“I said no to it then because I’m thinking there’s a lot of broken homes – every second home is a broken home you could say. There’s blended families everywhere, so who cares what the Crump kids have to say.”

A decade later the publisher came back with another book proposition and this time Martin consulted his brothers, who were all keen to contribute to it.

During the process of writing the book Martin got to know some of his other brothers who he hadn't met before and the honest writing gave each of them more insights into their father. The writing for the brothers was cathartic and Martin says others may see elements of their own life story in the book.

Each of the brothers was abandoned at some point by Crump.

“I just hope it makes sense to people and if it can help anybody to get over something that may be holding you back. Barry abandoned all of us - let’s just be straight about it. When reading about his childhood, it gave me every reason to forgive him, every reason to heal myself and not worry about what happened to me, because what happened to him was horrendous. So, he did us a favour by leaving.”

Ivan says the process of putting pen to paper had been difficult, and he wasn't entirely convinced of the book's merit as a concept.

“It was hard to do because I didn’t want to do it. For me it was the silliest idea for a book ever. It’s never good going back over stuff that you’re trying to forget and trying to get over.”

Ivan's account is considered the most raw. He found it hard to have the details out in the public domain.

Martin spent the most time with his father and probably knew him best.

“That only happened because of how things fell and I felt a little guilty when I looked at the other brothers and the time they had with him," he says.

"We ended up becoming friends. He was never a father, but he did become a friend and I got to know him.

Martin points out the documentaries after his death characterised Crump as a thug, womaniser and violent person, which he says can't be contested, but says his father was more than that.

“I’m really pleased the book has given both sides, the dark and light shades of Barry, the many personalities and the complicated soul that he was.”

The contrast in public perceptions of him and how he was as a father was stark.

“What we noticed was how comfortable he was with other people’s children and how uncomfortable he was with us," Martin says. "He ducked and dived from us because responsibility, being around us, was too much for him.

“We were lucky because he wasn’t a lot of fun to be around sometimes.”

Ivan agrees his father was just never there. 

"He couldn’t do it. We need to thank him for it, because every time he did do anything it was pretty bad.”

Martin says Ivan, who was the eldest, was most like Barry, one of the reasons they clashed and why Ivan was brutalised as a child. For Martin, it was incredibly hard to witness.

“It wasn’t the physical blow, it was the emotional blow and I’ll never forget it," he says. "I was just a child and as much as mum tried to protect us there was some things she couldn’t do. There was a lot of pressure on Barry. That’s why he took so much drugs and drank so much alcohol. It was the pressure of public life that pushed him along.”

Martin says Barry hid the reality of his own childhood, he only ever remarked that his father had been “hard”.

“What his father did to him and the family, that’s something he never shared.”

Barry’s father was one of many male tyrants of his generation, who’s position as head of the household turned to abuse and violence, Martin says.

“My grandfather was just one of those people, he was a bad egg, a terrible person who did horrible abuse to his family. He’d be locked up for a lot of those things these days.

“That did shape him. Barry at a very young age went bush and stayed bush. He went so remote into the Ureweras he became a government deer killer. It was probably what saved him.”

Their brother Harry in the book describes a bush camp he attended with his father at age 5 and being left there alone, while Barry left on his own for a couple of days.

“He did those sorts of things, abandonment,” Martin says.

Martin played golf for two years with his father when older. He got to know him well before he disappeared. He didn't say goodbye. He says he went to his apartment one day to find he’d moved out, something that bemuses him still. His charm made the disappearance all the more painful.

“To be in Barry’s company when he’s telling a story you fall in love," he says. "He gets you. He was the best storyteller I’ve been in the company of.

“I’ve never known anybody like him and he’ll get you, male or female, he’ll get you in spell and when he’s got you at your most vulnerable that’s usually when he strikes, because he can’t handle it. You’ve got to go back to childhood to see why he can’t handle it.”

For Ivan, his father's death help bring closure to his own pain.

“I’m just glad he’s dead so all the bullshit about it can fade out. It’s just been a pain the whole time... I’m just glad he’s gone," he says.

“You want a dad when you’re young and then when you don’t get it you’re sort of reconciled to that.”

Ivan has struggled with addiction, but doesn't attribute it to his relationship with his father.

Adding an extra layer of turmoil to his life was what Ivan calls "the loss of authenticity" and being buried alive by public expectations of being Crump's son. 

“My mum said to me once, she went to visit him for a couple of weeks later on in life and she said that the Barry Crump she knew when she met him and had us, me and Marty, was gone and there was only Barry Crump the persona left, which was a bit sad.

“But you could easy see that happening with all the encouragement. I meant, everywhere I went I had to be Barry Crump’s son, he had to be Barry Crump. That’s even harder…It created another thing that buried him. It buries you in this public bullshit.”