25 Nov 2022

Phil Paikea on White Ribbon Day

From The Panel, 4:36 pm on 25 November 2022

When women call Phil Paikea about their abusive husbands, he first acknowledges their courage.

"I admire those wahine for making that stand. It's a stand the men should be making but the women are doing it."

Phil - a former Black Power gang member - now runs the Northland branch of the charity SafeMan SafeFamily.

In support of White Ribbon Day, he told The Panel about his journey towards and then away from violence after an abusive childhood.

Phil Paikea wears sunglasses and stands in front of a house, a lake, mountains and a blue sky

Phil Paikea Photo: Phil O'Keeffe Paikea / Facebook

Fear of a violent and unpredictable father led Phil to shut down his feelings as a child.

"He created an atmosphere of fear in the home when he came home inebriated. Our mum stood up to him all the time but she paid the price. First came the swearing, then the slap then the punch and that was our mum out on the floor. Us three children had to pick her up and console her so it wasn't nice."

Phil was a bit envious of schoolmates who were disciplined with a 'paddywhack' from a jandal.

"Man, we got the bash with the hoover hose and a kettle cord and there were marks on our bodies. We were sent to school like that."

He and his siblings weren't allowed to cry in front of their father so he says they "internalised that hurt".

As a young man in the 1970s, Phil worked in Auckland for a while, spent some time in a Coromandel hippie commune and when he got in trouble there headed for Christchurch.

There, his brother was a member of a gang and it seemed to Phil "a companion thing".

"We lived in Christchurch and Christchurch back then was a pretty racist place. You had to keep yourself safe in that space when you're a young Maori boy heading down there.

"I wasn't looking for gang membership or anything, far from it. Drugs was my forte. But when I got introduced to the gang culture I hung out with violent men basically, I took on that attitude too. All those years of getting beaten by my dad… all that violence came out of me.

"When we became grown men and got into violent confrontations all that suppressed emotion came out. My violence was out of the gate. Obviously, I became just like my dad and when I got into a relationship that aggression came out with my people.

"I was taught wrong, I believed wrong and so strong was that belief I'd rather have stayed wrong than to admit it and change."

By the end of the 1970s, though, Phil's wife Rowena was tired of it.

After some of her family members were involved in a gang shooting in 1979, she gave him an ultimatum - leave the gang or I leave.

But Phil says at that point he didnt want to change and ended up in jail – where a lot of his mates were already.

"[Rowena] took the opportunity to leave when I was incarcerated. It was in that cell, in that moment, I started to think about the choices I was making."

A solid family foundation is necessary for a man to stop the cycle of violence, Phil says, and Rowena – his wife of 44 years and "backbone" – gets a lot of credit for building that.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Asian Family Services: 0800 862 342 Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm or text 832 Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm. Languages spoken: Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and English.

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

OUTLine: 0800 688 5463 (6pm-9pm)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.