Noa Woolloff didn't tell his family he was going to be a teen dad until after his daughter was born. Ahead of a Both Worlds documentary about the support network he's creating for other teen dads, he tells his story.
I’m 20, [but] I was the tender age of 16 when I got told I was going to become a dad. Fast forward to now and my little girl is three-and-a-half years old, so she’s a proper talking, functioning, communicating human - it’s really cool man. I love her to bits.
[When I found out], I just remember feeling quite isolated and really alone. I didn’t remember hearing any other stories or knowing any other people around my age going through the same thing as me. I felt like there was a big black cloud around my head and that lots of people would be judging me, because at that time my perception of what a teen dad or a teen mum was, was really negative.
I told a handful of my mates. I made sure I didn’t tell my parents, because at that time my mum was pregnant with my baby brother so I didn’t want to stress her out during her pregnancy. I was also head boy at my school so I felt like I was running away from a lot. I really tried my best to hide it until my little girl was about three-and-a-half months old. I saved up to buy my first car so I could visit her after school when she was born without my parents getting too suspicious.
Finally I broke the news to my mum and my dad. Before telling them - I actually still have it saved to this day - I wrote up a letter that I was going to put inside the letterbox and then run away for a couple of weeks, just until things really died down. That was just because I was way too afraid to step up with the courage to speak proudly that I was a parent, because I was scared everything would all change.
But once I told my mum, she just opened up and showed me there was nothing but love for the situation. The main thing she said was, “If you stand up with your head held high, nobody can judge you.” It sounds really cheesy and corny but at the time it was exactly what I needed to hear. Also just hearing “congratulations” for the first time too. Before that, none of [my friends] would say congratulations. Their responses were usually quite negative in some ways - they’d be like, “Oh my god man, are you okay? What are you going to do with your life now?” But when I told Mum, one of the first words she said was just, “Congratulations” - and that’s when it really hit me. I really do wish I’d told my parents earlier. When that’s their granddaughter, they just want to be involved and show their love too.
I feel like now, I would have really benefited from a support group - essentially just a safe space for some more young dads to come together, connect, share some of the challenges. Through the work I’m doing going into teen parent units and speaking with teen mums, I’d say maybe a quarter of them have some kind of engagement or relationship with their [child’s] father. The rest, their partners were out of the picture completely and that really struck a chord with me.
I feel that there’s not that much support there for young dads so … if they don’t have a support network or a supportive family, they can kind of fall into the challenges a lot more heavily and that may result in them actually leaving and not wanting to be there for their family. It’s a really complex issue. In New Zealand, so many young men are so intent on just bottling up whatever’s going on and not expressing it in a positive way. Quite a lot of them just tend to run because they see [teen fatherhood] as a negative and don’t want to be trapped.
My side hustle is a little social enterprise I’ve been running for a year and a bit now. I established that after attending a [leadership] conference and going to Outward Bound. I just learnt so much from attending these really cool leadership courses and thought how can I give that back to other young parents who might not be able to attend these events otherwise. So we create clothing, which we sell - we collaborate with local New Zealand artists to put their artwork onto our t-shirts and from there 100 percent of profits go to creating life-changing experiences for young parents.