Dear Huhana and Kāhu ō te Rangi,

I’m writing this sitting on the mattress at our marae, Whakarongotai, back against the wall, laptop on my knees. Huhana, you’re top-and-tailing on the other side of the whare with your cousin Amalia. Our cousin Vicky Spratt passed away on Monday, and tonight as we shared our memories and stories while she lay in her casket, a woman who was new to the whanau stood. She didn’t have a memory to pass around the room, but after hearing ours, she wanted us to know how lucky we were to have had someone as beautiful as Vicky in our lives.

You’re lucky to have loved ones in your life. Remember that, and tell them when you do.

Pera Barrett - Cousin Vicky

Every Christmas morning we visit my sisters, and our other whānau at the urupa in Waikanae. Erena and Taina were 8 and 6 when they passed away. Two beautiful little girls who never had the chance to grow into your beautiful older Aunties. 

I grew up with their pictures on the old, off-key piano in Mum and Dad’s lounge. The photo of those two cheeky little smiles isn’t just a snapshot of their faces, it’s a reminder they left us much earlier than we thought they would, that mum and dad, your koko and mater, said goodbye to their precious little girls too soon. They didn’t have a say in that.

Life ends, and it’s not up to us when.

By the time you’re reading this, you will understand that nobody lives forever. Huhana, you’re four years old and already know in theory that we all die. But I hope as you come along to visit your Aunties, and dress their headstones in flowers like the ones we put in your hair, the same putiputi Mum and Dad never had the chance to give them on their 21st birthdays, or their wedding days, you come to truly know it.


Every July, more than every other month and morning, I acknowledge the day I crashed my car and took the life of Lorna. I was 21 and nearly lost my own life too, if my head had hit the steering wheel on a different angle, I wouldn’t have been breathing as they cut me out of the car.

Pera Barrett Car Crash

In the years following the crash I’ve made an intentional effort to live life on my terms. I’ve made decisions and changes to do justice to the life I’m lucky to still have, since Lorna doesn’t have hers. Since my sisters don’t have theirs. I have the only say in if I make the most of my life or not.

Life ends, and it’s not up to us when – but the way we spend it, is.

This year and last, we’ve been to a lot of tangi for my friends’ parents. We go as another feather in the korowai of compassion. But I hope every one of those tangi, and moments of death, teach you something about living your life. Your Uncle James and his sister said at their dad’s funeral: “I told Dad I loved him more times in the last three months than I had in the thirty years before he got sick.” They had three months notice to make the most of those moments, so they did. 

You came along to aroha Uncle Sam as he said goodbye to his mum who passed away without any notice – I saw Sam make the most of every chance to tell and show her he loved her.

So, Huhana and Kāhu, to start with, I love you – that’s true however much time we have left – I say it to you every day, and I’ll keep doing that even when you’re older and it’s awkward.


Now let’s talk about life. 81 is the average life expectancy of a New Zealander. It’s actually lower for you two; life expectancy for Maori females is 77, it’s 73 for Maori males. You’ve got mine and your mums genes both, though, and I’m optimistic, so I’m sticking with 81. 

I’m 35 now, this is what my life looks like:

It has a start, and then a finish. I don’t have control over either of those ends – but I do decide what happens in the middle.

Life ends, and it’s not up to us when – but the way we spend it, is.

I want that middle section of the line to be happy. Stripped down to the basics, that’s about it. One of the things that makes me happy is time with my whānau, you, your mum, my Otaki whānau and our extended whanaunga. While I’m sure we’ll have our moments, I’m going to assume you enjoy time with us too.

I was lucky enough to grow up in Otaki with both Mum and Dad until I was 17. I saw them basically every day. Then I moved to Wellington to study at Uni, and saw them once every few weeks. When I started working and rapping, and living my busy life in the city, the times I saw them dropped to once every few months. The moments got less and less. I didn’t realise it then, but by the time I was 17, I had already spent around 90% of the days with Mum and Dad as I ever would have. If I’d moved overseas like I’d thought about, and visited them every Christmas, my moments with them after 17 would have dropped to a single number percentage.

It’s easy to not notice as life rolls by.

Today, my dad, your koko, is 70. According to his life expectancy, he’s got between 3 and 11 years left stomping around and feeding you more chocolate than he should.

If I carried on seeing him once every 3-4 months, that’s 21 moments I have left with him before he’s gone.
21 more chances to say “Hey Dad.” To shake his hand, or, to risk my masculinity and tell him I love him. That’s something I need to do more of.

21 isn’t a lot.

And that’s assuming he lives up to his life expectancy. Erena and Taina were 8 and 6, Vicky was 56, I was nearly 21.

That might sound depressing. But it’s not, it’s life. It has a start and a finish. We’re here for a limited amount of time, short or long, we don’t know until the end. The thought of not stopping to think about that before the tangi is depressing. It’s scary. That’s what this letter is for.

Your mum and I talked about moving to Auckland once. We decided not to. A while back we decided to visit Koko and Mater every Friday for dinner because moments with whānau are important to us both.

Because of those decisions, I don’t have 21 more moments with Dad, I have 416. Because that time is important to me, I try to make the most of those moments, I don’t spend it scrolling my social media feed, arguing, or fighting over things that won’t matter at Mum or Dad’s tangi.

Life ends, and it’s not up to us when – but the way we spend it, is. Make the most of the moments.

You have even less time with Koko and Mater than I do.

The good news is, every one of those 52 weeks, every year between the start and finish of those lines, is full of time to spend with the people you love. After 7-8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work or school, you have 67 hours every week to spend the way you want. 

67 is a lot.

For at least the first 17 years, some of that will be taken up with chores, but we’ll leave you enough free time, promise. Even then, there will be other things you need to do, but you choose HOW you do them. If you can’t see your loved ones this week, pick up the phone. Talk while you walk. Video conference for dinner.

Lastly, again, I love you – that’s why I chose to spend this time writing this letter. Its morning on Whakarongotai now, most of the snoring has stopped, and the blankets around the floor are starting to move.

I hope you choose decisions that make the most of your moments, especially with the people you love. I hope you’re brave enough to challenge yourself and prioritise that limited time with people who make you happy, for moments you can look back on and smile. And I hope you do it today, because you might not have the chance tomorrow. 


Love you, 

Dad

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