Josh Koia is a 38-year old father to five stepchildren and 16 month old Ancient. No stranger to father-figure-roles in his career as a social worker. We talk to Josh about his life now as a stay-at-home dad.
In this story we explore Josh’s choice to support his wife Jade to return to work while he became the stay-at-home Dad to baby Ancient – a decision that Josh advocates and encourages other men to consider for their whānau.
Tell us about yourself
Kia Ora, I’m Josh Koia. I was born in Gisborne and nurtured in Christchurch from the age of three. I’m a father, godfather, uncle and husband. I’m a musician, poet and social worker. I think if you asked any of my close friends, they’d tell you I’m a decent guy.
Ancient is my first biological baby, but then I’ve got five more step kids. I don’t really like that label. For me, a stepdad is just someone who steps up to be a dad. We have Jahdae, Michaiah, Ezreh, Preach and Mauri – all the colors of the rainbow.
What was it like to become a stepfather to five children?
I guess a lot of men my age would be afraid of meeting someone with kids. For me, I fell in love with Jades kids from the get-go. I took my time with them, focused on being their friend and not their Dad. I knew when they were ready, they’d adopt me. And that’s exactly what happened.
It took time because I was the first man to enter their life since their Papa. In the beginning, a couple of them didn’t accept me, but I fully understood, and I just honoured their space and reassured them. I chose to let love lead.
Just like you intentionally make time for your girlfriend, you must do things with the kids too, because they’re a full package. So, I communicated with them and tried to be myself and be present all the time. We joke around, play games and share our stories. Now, they see me as their other dad.
When do you think your stepchildren fully accepted you and why?
The day I asked for permission to marry their Mum.
I planned to propose to Jade at a Louis Baker concert, but she beat me to it. I’ll never forget her asking me, “Will you be a part of my rainbow forever?” She didn’t get down on one knee, she did a little booty pop instead. It was a surreal moment. Our journey flashed before my eyes, tears were streaming, and of course, I said yes.
From there, I knew I’d bow my knee and vow to the kids on our wedding day. There’s nothing more important to a mother than her tamariki. They are Jade’s heartbeats, and it was the right thing to do. On our wedding day, I gave them all a bracelet with a gemstone on it and the first letter of their name. I vowed to them, even though you’ve already got an amazing Dad, just know that you always have another one here in me.
They all said yes, and I think that was the moment. I guess that’s what happens when you let love lead.
Now you have baby Ancient, tell us about your journey as her Dad.
I was 37 when Ancient was born. I’ve always said, I wanted to have a baby out of love, not lust and I have that. When she arrived, I had been through a lot of my healing journey and we had a loving family already.
I’ve always known that I need to be a healthy vessel that can love my daughter adequately. The best gift I could ever give Ancient is my own healing. When I heal, I don’t project my trauma onto my children.
A baby needs an emotional connection to one person. Ancient has that connection with her siblings, grandparents, Jade and me. It’s amazing to see her surrounded by love and a village just how our tīpuna did it – it’s how it should be.
Tell us about your choice to become primary parent
Jade had a dream of helping whānau achieve food sovereignty and grow their own māra kai. When the opportunity came along, it felt a no brainer for me to leave my mahi and become a full-time Papa. I was naturally drawn to it and knowing the first 1000 days of a child's life are the most important, I wanted to be there. Jade had already raised five children and I felt it was the right thing to do, for me to step in and free her up.
Most of the time, it’s the Mum raising the children. It’s rare to meet a full-time Papa. For me, it’s a blessing, a privilege and a natural transition to fill the role. Being at home and experiencing this, I do empathise with mothers who do this with more than one baby. I found out quickly it’s not easy at all.
What surprised you most about becoming the primary parent?
Their energy. You’re just tired all the time and I’d never felt like that before. Ancient woke at 4am this morning and that’s testing. I never thought I’d get frustrated at my baby, but the frustration is real.
I learned a lot about taking care of myself too and getting out of the house. You can’t stay at home every day. I try and get Ancient out for a run in the pram, go to the bush and be as creative as we can. We limit screen time and try to have lots of face-to-face time with our village.
How do you take care for yourself as the primary parent?
My outlets are writing poetry or exercise. Eating right is important too. My wife and I do the Daniel fast, which is basically a 21day vegan diet that helps us reset.
I think it’s important for Jade and I to have time away too. Sometimes there’s so much going on, you need to slow down. When we do, it realigns us and it’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s right. I love you.” And that shows in the home and kids too.
What would you say to other men about being the primary parent?
I know some fathers regret not being there for their child's early stages. Often because they were busy with mahi. For me, I’ve found it a gift knowing that I have been present all the way through from birth to being the main nurturer of my kōtiro.
I’d tell them this is a beautiful and honorable thing to do. It’s meaningful and will do wonders for your kids to have you at home. Just remember, it is a fulltime gig and the most important one you will ever perform.
What are you most proud of as a father?
My own journey of healing and looking after myself. It’s been the counselling, unlearning things and trying to better myself. I think because of that, I’ve got the tools under my belt to nurture my kids and I’m present, I’m here for that and that matters.