“I don’t like funerals, I’m not very good at waiting or being quiet.”

Huhana: four years old.

Dear Huhana and Kāhu o te Rangi,

Huhana, from about 11am – 1.30pm yesterday, you weren’t allowed to talk. We were at your Great, Great, Uncle Jim Webber’s tangi. People were paying their respects, sharing their whakaaro/thoughts or delivering karakia. Tui swayed on the harakeke stalks and helped your cousin Minnie karanga as Jim’s grandchildren lowered the casket. Contrary to what you think, you did a pretty good job of staying quiet. You are four years old though – so I adjusted my expectations accordingly.

Me, your uncle Manaaki and aunty Maia, spent a lot of our childhood on marae. Hui and tangi. Crying and kōrero. We spent hours sitting on mattresses and benches, shifting and grimacing through pins and needles, dead legs and sore bums. We listened even though we didn’t understand what was being said – we were shooshed with words or the unspoken threat in your granddad’s raised eyebrows. While I didn’t learn te reo Māori like I wish I did now, I did learn patience. 

Sitting still and waiting, patiently holding thoughts in your palm a bit longer instead of letting them fly as words, knowing that something bigger is happening than your immediate desire to move, or to stretch, or to let someone know something that feels super important right now, is a great skill to have in your kete.

When you get older, it’s even more useful. Not talking lets you listen more. Listening more lets you understand more. He mana tō te mātauranga, he mana i te kākano o te māramatanga – if knowledge is power, then understanding is the seed of power.

Listen and learn. Learn then do.

The people who always speak first, talk before they’ve listened, they don’t have the full understanding. They only know what they already knew.

The people who wait too long and let the others do all the talking, miss the chance to influence and shape that conversation in the way they want it to go.

Speak up when your words will add value. Never be scared to voice your thoughts but be intentional about the balance. When you get it right, you’ll wield an advantage the people on the extreme ends of quiet and loud don’t have.


By listening first, you’ve learned more than you knew when you walked in the room. You understand more. You have more power when you do place your words, and while that might sound aggressive, there’s nothing wrong with being aware of your power or wielding it when needed in a conversation. Huhana, as a wāhine in a world built by predominantly white men, I especially hope you understand that, and push your power where you want it to go. Kāhu you will have an advantage in some rooms automatically, don’t abuse it, use it for good.

One of my old bosses was a master of this balance. Sometimes he would stay quiet until the very end of a meeting. When he spoke, he had listened and understood all sides of the conversation and the room, the people in a rush to have the first word had spoken – everyone else’s cards were on the table. So he was at an advantage. I don’t mean to make meetings and conversations sounds like conflict or a competition. But you should always be aware of your power and it’s effect or potential.

Keep practicing patience, it’s a quiet strength you can keep in your pocket and sometimes a well-timed silence is the most powerful voice in the room.

Love you,

Dad.

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2 Comments

  1. What a beautiful letter to those beautiful children. They will understand everything that you have said even if they only read it once. because they will be encouraged by you and Danielle every day. Every child should be given the same advice a d encouragement to keep in their kete, but we know that will not always. be the case. If I had been able to attend Jim’s tangi, I would have been very proud of Huhana’s behaviour, well done…Much love from Aunty Grace.

  2. Thanks for sharing this beautiful letter. My 3 and 6 year olds lost their granny a couple of weeks ago, and I had never thought to write them a letter to talk about this difficult time. I will make sure to put pen to paper and add something to their keepsake boxes.

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