Grant Fox’s work with New Zealand’s fatherless boys

Fathers are important role models, especially to young boys. But who can you look up to if you have no father figure of your own?

Grant Fox knows he’s a fortunate man. He’s been one of our All Black greats and is now a selector for the team and a successful businessman. But his good fortune goes back far further, all the way to his childhood in the rural Waikato settlement of Te Waotu.

“I had a great upbringing,” recalls Grant, who grew up with two younger brothers on his family’s 120-ha sheep and beef holding. “I loved the farm lifestyle and the small community there.”

It was a boyhood that taught Grant, now 54, lessons that have gone on to benefit him throughout his adult life.

“One of the most important things my father taught me was to take responsibility,” recalls Grant, who from a young age helped with feeding out hay to the cows in winter and lending a hand at shearing time.

“Dad gave us the opportunity to try things. Often he’d let us figure them out for ourselves and be quite happy for us to make a mistake because that was the best way to learn. That taught me quite a bit of independence around making decisions.”

Sport was what brought people together in Te Waotu. Grant’s mother Pam played netball and his father Ian played rugby and helped to coach. He recalls it as a tight community where families helped each other out.

Going away to board at Auckland Grammar School when he was 13 was a wrench. “It was probably the second time in my life I’d been to Auckland and I only knew one boy, so it was pretty daunting,” recalls Grant. “I really struggled. I remember going home at Easter for the first break to the peace and solitude of the farm. I got on the motorbike, drove to the top of the hill and cried my eyes out because I didn’t want to go back to Auckland.”

Grant and Adele with their children, Ryan and Kendall, in 1994.

But he stuck it out at school and found great role models there, including Graham Henry, who coached him for three years in the 1st XV rugby team. And also the father of his close school friend, the late cricketer Martin Crowe, whose home he was always welcome in.

Grant is well aware many kids today aren’t as fortunate as he was and that’s one of the reasons he’s become involved with Big Buddy, the mentoring charity for fatherless boys.

The programme is based on the philosophy that all boys need strong male role models to enrich their lives and help guide them into manhood.

Big Buddy recruits and screens ordinary guys who commit to spending two hours a week with their little buddy, aged seven to 12, for a year. They might go fishing, kick a ball around, go to the beach or hang out and talk.

“I was asked if I’d come on board and it was a no-brainer for me,” says Grant. “I’m fortunate to have a father who is still in my life and I know the influence that’s been.”

The supportive dad has been known to caddy for his professional golfer son.

Grant’s main focus has been on helping raise money for the charity, which is planning to expand and go nationwide. In November, it will have its biggest fundraising drive yet, the Big Buddy Auction, when two GJ Gardner Homes will be auctioned off.

He hopes his work with Big Buddy will contribute to giving some of the around 8000 fatherless boys in New Zealand more of the support they need. “I’d like them to be able to chase their dreams,” he explains. “It’s about giving kids every opportunity to be as good as they can be at whatever they choose to do.”

Looking back, he appreciates just how much his own parents did to encourage his sporting dreams, driving him to matches and watching him play. “They never complained about how much travel it involved or what it cost. They were always there, not giving me advice or telling me how to play, just quietly supporting me,” tells Grant.

That’s something he and his wife Adele have focused on doing for their own children.

The All Black goal-kicking star at the Rugby World Cup in 1991. His career spanned from 1984 to 1993 and he says the lessons he learned as a child from his dad have served him well as an adult.

Daughter Kendall (26) is a keen netballer and currently in London on her OE, and their son Ryan (29) is a professional golfer, who represented New Zealand at the Rio Olympics.

Grant has caddied for their son, as well as travelled the world with Adele to support him. “They’re precious memories you can’t put a value on.”

In the end, Grant reckons the most valuable thing you can give is your time.

“To be a positive role model, you’ve got to treat kids with respect and encourage them to grow,” he says. “That’s what is really important.”

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