May 05, 2022
John Tamihere: Remembering our mums this Mothers Day
Mother’s Day 2022.
There are many moments during the year that are cause for reflection and one that is especially poignant for me is Mother’s Day.
We are all guilty of assuming our Mums will always be there so we think, “There’s no rush, I’ll tell her what she means to me next time I see her”.
Growing up it became traditional that every Sunday we would have a boil up at Mums and one Sunday in 1992 was no different. My whānau including all the moko gathered at our matriarchs whare as she prepared the weekly feed. Around the same time I was in London fast asleep when my phone rang. It was 5:00 AM and my younger brother was on the other end breaking the news that Mum had suffered a major heart attack and had unfortunately passed away. She was 72. I got on a plane and came home.
The significance for Mothers Days from that story is, you take them for granted, then one day they’re gone and you’ve never told them how much you love them. It’s like returning to the scene of the crime on the second Sunday in May, every year.
Look at our wahine and everything they go through during womanhood. They birth our children, they rear our children and as men we need to be extraordinarily respectful and more obliging. Kiwi men are brought up to be tough and that generation of men in particular who returned from the war weren’t great at communicating, so women did the lot. They taught our children, readied our children and they were always there to mend, cook, console and lead.
You reflect on these things when you have the time to think back. It’s about being too busy to take the time to tell our Mums, our Aunties, our sisters, our Grandmothers what they mean to us and how much they have done for us.
It’s really a day about all women in your life. I never met my grandmother as she had passed prior to me arriving on the scene. One of my older sisters was also my surrogate Mother from about the time she was 12 and I was five. She really looked after me and sadly we lost her when she was 44 to breast cancer. Mum was always there but she had another 11 of us to look after so she had her hands full, and without a doubt she sacrificed a lot. My mother in law, Lady Aroha Durie is going to be 80 years young this year, another ataahua mana wahine.
One of the most wonderful things about my wife, Awerangi Tamihere, is the type of Mother she is. I am a fairly pragmatic guy and as the kids became teenagers money in an envelope was the ideal gift. But here’s the difference between us two, she will say to me, “That is a cold present. You should really think about something that exhibits love and that has a lot of thought in it”.
That summarises the difference between a male approach and the touch of a woman, a Mother.
This year Ruby Elaine Tamihere would have been a grand 102 years old. Mother to twelve children she was completely ostracised by her own Irish Catholic family once she married my Māori father. Memories come flooding back to you once your Mother passes. Issues that were nothing to everyone else but felt massive to me, were always smoothed out by Mum. She was well read and very good at school work so she was able to help us through a lot of different things as well as prepare us. I remember her saying, “Because of the way I have been treated, you will be treated badly as you have brown blood. So you will need to try to be better than the other kids because you will be looked down upon”. I never understood that at the time but once it started happening it wasn’t a surprise to me, and still isn’t. It just disappointing it happens at all.
One day is not enough to really show our Mothers how much they mean to us. In retrospect it can and occasionally is treated as tokenism rather than appreciation.
So if you’re lucky and your Mum is alive, tell her how much she means to you and how much you love her.
John Tamihere is a former Labour Cabinet Minister and Chief Executive of Whānau Ora and West Auckland Urban Māori organisation Te Whānau o Waipareira.