New book shares the experiences of single parents in Aotearoa New Zealand

Monday 8 July 2024

School of Journalism, Communication and Marketing Senior Tutor Dr Teresa Housel and jounalism postgraduate student Caitlin Lester have authored two memoir chapters in a new anthology from Aotearoa New Zealand authors titled Rere Takitahi - Flying Solo.

Senior Tutor Dr Teresa Housel

More than 50 writers from diverse ethnic and demographic communities have contributed to the book. In Aotearoa, a large percentage of the population belong to single-parented or differently-structured families. It explores the lived experience of an often neglected and misunderstood sector of society, focusing attention on aspects of their lives that will resonate with readers.

The book begins with the idea that differently-structured families have existed for thousands of years. These families are no longer on the fringes of society. In Aotearoa today, the decline of marriage, reconsistituted families of different configurations, single parening, non-biological parenting, same-sex parenting, transgender parenting and other family forms make up this volume’s voices.

The book’s chapters represent the voices of parents/grandparents/matua, offspring/rangatahi and others who wish to creatively illuminate the topic, including educators, doctors, social workers and researchers. The book includes more than 50 short stories, poems, essays and news articles.

Rere Takitahi - Flying Solo

Dr Housel responded to the call for chapters before the COVID-19 pandemic. The original draft of her essay Toy Train was written as part of Diane Comer’s evening memoir writing short course at Victoria University.

“Diane gave us writing prompts, such as to think about meaningful objects in our lives. I immediately thought about the toy red caboose - or guard’s van - that my father gave to me when I was a child,” Dr Housel says.

Raised by a single father in northeastern Ohio, Dr Housel’s childhood family life was unusual for the 1970s and 80s in the United States (US). When her father, Clifford Heinz, won sole custody of his two daughters in mid-1976, there were fewer than 500,000 single fathers in the US.

In Toy Train, Dr Housel recounts how her working-class family struggled to make ends meet in the 1970s and 80s. Her father was financially devastated from the court case to win child custody and subsequently lost the house to a mortagee sale in 1977. Still, her father worked hard to create a family life for his daughters.

“At one point, we wanted to go to the local county fair in the early 1980s. To raise the money for our tickets, my father sold a toy train set that had been given to him by his beloved grandmother, Mabel, who helped raise him. He gave the guard’s van to me,” Dr Housel recalls.

Clifford Heinz passed away in late 2005, but Dr Housel says his support continues to guide her.

“Even today, I’m astounded by his selflessness in giving me the train piece, and it forms the crux of my essay and inspires me to keep moving toward my goals.”

Caitlin Lester says she’s thrilled to be part of a project that brings the stories of differently-structured families to light.

“They are so common these days, yet aren't seen as being 'normal' when really there is no such thing as normal. Its so valuable to showcase the variety that can exists within differently-structured families as they are all unique,” she says.

Dr Housel adds that the book’s chapters reflect the diversity of what makes a family in Aotearoa today.

“I want people to understand that there’s no one right way to make a family. Family doesn’t even need to be blood. In fact, chosen families are becoming the norm for many people who have left their family of origin for whatever reason,” Dr Housel says.

Rere Takitahi - Flying Solo is available for purchase from Aoteroa Books.

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