To understand how I became homeless, you have to understand how I grew up and the circumstances that led to sleeping rough. When I was born, my father left. He said 'I'll be there for his birth and after that I'm gone.' I was raised by a single mum until my step dad came on the scene. He was real abusive so a lot of my upbringing was bearing witness to that abuse towards mum and toward myself. The sad thing is that everyone knew about it.
But here's what made it confusing. I'm a first generation New Zealander who grew up with strong Samoan culture and tradition based heavily around faith and respect. Faith in God and respect for your elders and family. Go to church, do what the bible says to do, say your prayers before you sleep. Serve your elders dinner and sit quietly with the other kids. But how can you be a saint on a Sunday and someone else entirely during the week? It made no sense.
I felt confused and powerless. I was too young to do anything about it. The abuse was a massive reason I rebelled. Home wasn't a safe place so I hung out with my step brother, even though he was older and part of a gang. I made stupid decisions. Too much drinking. Too much partying. Too much aggression and trying to prove how tough I was. Things calmed when he was kicked out of home. For a short time, life was OK. Then, when I was 16, my ex-girlfriend told me she was pregnant.
It's funny thing but when you grow up without a dad you so desperately want to be a good dad yourself. So I made the decision right then, at 16 years old, to drop out of school, find a job and provide for my kid. I remember being so nervous to tell my family. I expected the worst so I packed two big duffle bags filled with clothes and a toothbrush, knowing I would have to leave. I broke the news after dinner. Mum didn't even know I had a girlfriend. There was a lot of yelling and swearing, talk of abortion and sending me to Samoa. But my mind was made up.
My sister had an old 1984 Ford Laser. I knew if it was there when I told them that my family wouldn't let me take it. So I had driven it to an industrial site earlier that day. After that conversation, I took off and went straight to Jerome's house. He hid me in his garage. About half an hour later my family came looking for me. I could hear the muffled voices as Jerome was trying to tell them I wasn't there. I spent the night and the next day I was off to get the car.
I was homeless for three months. I slept in the car, on friends' couches or at my job - I was labourer at a warehouse making $7.50 an hour loading pallets. Honestly, it was a relief. i was finally out of the house. But I still wasn't 'free'. Whenever I went, mum would hunt me down. Not once did she care about me though. It was always, 'you've brought so much shame on my family, people at the church will be talking about us'. I was so focused on surviving and how I was going to provide for a child when I was still a child myself, and there she was losing control in the background.
I wish someone had said to me, yes it's going to be tough, but everything will be OK. It sounds simple but all I heard back then was negative. Your life is ruined, your life is over. And that came from people I knew and loved.
When I think back, it was a long, long road out. It was a failed relationship with my mum, a failed relationship with my girlfriend and failed relationship with my son. It was a journey of struggle. I dropped out of school with no high school certificate, no tertiary education, no place to live, unable to put food on the table. I didn't have anyone to bail me out or step in to solve my issues. I held myself to account and paved my own way. My ambition came from having nothing. I wanted more and thought I could achieve more. That instilled great structure and work ethic.
My life now couldn't be more different. I am content - a great wife, beautiful kids, a career I never would have thought possible. I'm happy and comfortable with who I am inside and out. I've even repaired my relationships with mum and dad. It was tough at first, but over time we've managed to heal old wounds.
Confidence comes from lived experiences. I made a lot of mistakes early in life. But I don't feel like there's anything I can be put through today that won't break me. Those mistakes taught me to find comfort in vulnerability. If I feel vulnerable it's because I don't know what the lesson is going to be, but I'm going to learn.
I wholeheartedly believe every man deserves to feel confident in his own skin. If MINT can play a small part in bringing this message to the forefront and getting men to accept themselves as they are, then we're achieving our goal of bringing positive change to the world.