Nelson man Blair McKenzie has implored Waitaki’s young people not to live a life fuelled by domestic violence, as he once did.
He shared his story with year 9 and 10 pupils from St Kevin’s College as part of last Friday’s event to mark White Ribbon Day, held to spread the message that violence towards women is not tolerated in society.
More than 30 motorcycle riders, along with police and representatives from Safer Waitaki, also visited Waitaki Boys’ High School, Waitaki Girls’ High School and East Otago High School.
Mr McKenzie, who grew up in rural Southland with his parents and two siblings, said his family suffered from a “generational curse” of family violence.
“My father grew up an angry young man. From my earliest memories, I remember my dad shouting at my mother.
“When I was going to sleep, I would hear him being very horrible to her. I heard her crying. He was yelling about me. He didn’t like me and it made me cry myself to sleep.”
At the age of 13, he said he “snapped” and struck his father.
As a result, Mr McKenzie “got the beating of my life”, and he and his father fought often until Mr McKenzie left home at 17.
Driven by the desire to prove his father wrong after years of being told he would amount to nothing, he became a successful photographer.
However, Mr McKenzie said he was unable to break the cycle of domestic violence that had plagued his childhood when he himself got married.
“I treated her badly. I hurt her,” he said of his wife, Christine.
“I abused alcohol. If she said the wrong thing, I would explode. I scarred her for life. I realised I stuffed up and messed up and was wrong.”
He said he was embarrassed and ashamed of what he had done and begged those he spoke to not to follow suit.
Today, Mr McKenzie and his wife have a loving, respectful relationship, while he had also reached out to his father and was beginning to form a closer relationship with him.
Senior Sergeant Jason McCoy, of Oamaru, spoke to pupils about family violence from a police perspective and said only 20% of family violence incidents were reported to police.
“You are the next generation,” Snr Sgt McCoy said.
“You don’t need to be one of those statistics. You are the next generation that’s going to be respectful.”
He also talked about the impact of cyberbullying and the fact cyberbullying was a “criminal offence”.
Snr Sgt McCoy said the ride had gone well. As a national ambassador for White Ribbon, he was proud to be involved.
“It’s been awesome. The messages are getting through I think and it’s been pleasing talking to a couple of principals and they say there’s been change in the students’ interaction afterwards, so if we can get the message through to even one person, it’s fantastic.”