From the gambler’s daughter

I am the daughter of an addict. A gambling addict. A compulsive gambling addict. A dead addict.

And this is the first, last and only time I am ever going to write about my dad like that.

Because William John Edward (Bill) Burgoyne, my dad, was more than his addiction. He was my father and I loved him. He was my sister’s father. And my brother’s father. And we all loved him. That was what defined his life. Not his gambling.

We know, more acutely, painfully and accurately than any other human beings on this earth how much our dad screwed up. How despite his sporting success as a New Zealand Kiwi Rugby League representative, many people regarded him as a ‘failure’. But that didn’t make him a failure.

Compulsive gambling is an impulse-control disorder. Put simply, that makes it a mental health issue. Our dad was sick. And back in the 1990s when we were growing up, visiting the TAB every Sunday with dad was normal. We were TAB kids and there were lots of other TAB kids, at the TAB. We didn’t realise that for lots of other NZ kids this wasn’t normal (for context – mum left dad because of his gambling – when I was only 2 and my sister a newborn – so Sundays were dads day – and we always went to the TAB). There was very little public recognition of pathological gambling as a mental health issue – let alone recognition of the impact of the condition on the children of problem gamblers.

Being the child of a compulsive gambler doesn’t make me a failure or an idiot with lots of ‘chips on my shoulders’. Neither does having the courage to speak my truth.

Anyone who knows me knows the shit I’ve had to trawl through to achieve what I’ve achieved, how I’ve defied every single assumption people have ever made about me – that I would fail school, that I wasn’t good enough to do a Masters, let alone achieve first class, that I would never be selected to work for Foreign Affairs, that I could never write a book, let alone be long-listed for an award the first time round, that I could never secure a Fulbright scholarship to Hawai’i and fulfill my parenting responsibilities to my toddler, that I could never manage a full time career with two children AND build a new four bedroom house in central Auckland during a housing crisis before the age of 35, let alone seek to represent everyday New Zealanders as a Member of Parliament  when I’m a mother with two young children (yet to be accomplished, but I’m determined…)  Do you see the pattern?

I’ve had people telling me what I cannot accomplish, cannot achieve – my whole life. And over and over again I’ve defied the odds. I may not have inherited my father’s gambling addiction (thank God!) but I sure as hell have inherited the determination, courage and perseverance that saw an ‘illegitimate’ working-class boy from Panmure whose adopted parents couldn’t even afford to buy him shoes as a kid, make it to the very top of NZ representative sport.

So despite some of the nasty insults that have been hurled at me my dad since I wrote the blog post about the Mad Butcher –  I do not regret writing that piece.

Why?

Because writing it was the right thing to do in the context of validation of what is and what isn’t regarded as acceptable ‘banter’ in New Zealand society. Particularly in the context of the Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy, characterising Peter in a way that was completely at odds with my own observations of him. Her comments on RadioNZ on the morning of 5 January where she defended him based on her personal knowledge and observations of his character, did not square with my experiences at all.

As a writer, who has been talking about and writing about this particular time in my life, for some years now (e.g. see the 2014 NZ Herald interview the interview with Kim Hill or better yet, take the time to read my book – for some #lifecontext) I had a responsibility to provide a counter-balanced view to Dame Susan Devoy’s personal commentary on what I knew of Peter’s character based on my experiences and observations of him.

That’s not to suggest in any way that what I had to say was the be all and end all – far from it – but it needed to be said to put the public discourse about the Waiheke incident in context. The point of my message was to provide an alternative perspective on Peter’s character whereby in my experience, he is used to saying whatever he likes to people and, like Mark Hunt, I have witnessed him using language that is offensive (so Lara’s experience did not surprise me at all) and I have heard him use ‘banter’ when he would have been fully aware that it was offensive and inappropriate – and using ‘generational differences’ as an excuse doesn’t cut it. The other part of the message was to make it clear that one of the reasons for why I think he’s used to speaking this way is because over the years his patronage (in its various forms)  has created a powerful and influential network which tolerates, accepts and is used to him using offensive/inappropriate language as ‘banter’.

There is a lot to be considered here. Particularly with respect to how these issues intersect with what’s deemed as acceptable behaviour and language within New Zealand sporting circles, perceived gender and generational ‘differences’ in what’s deemed as being inappropriate vs. acceptable language, and of course how we are doing on our journey as Treaty partners.

Finally, what do I think my dad would say to me about all of this? Do I think he would have felt that I had ‘shitted on him’ as some people have suggested, by writing my piece? The answer is no. If there is one thing about my dad that cannot be refuted, it’s that he taught us kids to have courage and to always stand up for what we believe is the right thing to do. I did exactly that. And I know that if my dad was alive I would have his full support in writing my truth. There’s no shame in that – and in fact if more people start doing it, we might actually start addressing some of the deep-seated issues that clearly need to be tackled in New Zealand today, in order for us to move forward and grow as a society, together.