Devoted dad, and long-time All Blacks Sevens player, DJ Forbes, tells us how he manages to balance family life, travel and study (while still finding some time for himself).
As an All Black Sevens player, you’d think my proudest moments would be receiving trophies or winning matches. But for me, my proudest moments have been the births of my kids. When you become a dad, it’s a pretty powerful moment, and to have two kids is even more special,” says former captain of the Sevens team, DJ Forbes.
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DJ has been married to Lisa for nine years, and they have two kids – seven-year-old Titus, and four-year-old Sarai (not to mention a very loveable husky, called Bear). When it comes to professional rugby in New Zealand, the Sevens are easily the most travelled team. In the last six months alone, DJ and his team have visited 10 different countries – part of the job description that adds some unique challenges to family life.
“Travelling so much is a tough gig. You can never give your partner enough credit for what she does. I was fortunate enough to meet my wife when I was already playing rugby – so she knew what she was in for,” says DJ. After 11 years on the Sevens rugby circuit, and seven years of rugby and kids, the Forbes’ have got a pretty good system worked out.
“I make sure I connect to Wi-Fi as soon as we touch down in a country so I can let Lisa know we’ve landed safely and then we keep in touch throughout the week. I check in to see if there have been any dramas, and Lisa knows to give me a call if anything happens – even if it’s the middle of the night. I want her to know I am always available. Even though I’m a thousand miles away, I am still ‘dad’ and want to be involved in everything that happens.”
Staying connected across time zones means relying on the wonders of modern technology. “FaceTime is our saving grace,” says DJ. “Lisa sends me Snapchats from the kids too. It’s a really fun way to keep in touch and we can send each other silly messages. Even though Sarai is only four, she loves to pick all the fun emojis and GIFs to send to me – so I get a lot of smiles and ‘presents’ while I’m away. She’s gotten really good at using the ‘gift emoji’ to remind me to buy her something special before coming home.” But DJ admits that technology can only achieve so much. “I think we want our kids to always say, ‘I love you, Dad. I miss you, Dad’, but they don’t have very long attention spans, and often just say hi and then run off.”
A big fear for parents who travel a lot is that there’ll be an emergency while they’re away. DJ says they’ve had a pretty good run, but just this year, he got a phone call he wasn’t expecting – “Lisa called to say that the house had been broken into, which is such a scary thing to hear when you’re on the other side of the world. It was really tough because there’s only so much you can do over the phone. I just had to try and say the right things to keep Lisa calm, and then make sure they were getting the help they needed, so I could continue with the tour.”
The Forbes have come to know that having a good support network is crucial in moments of crisis, and for all the moments in between – especially because Lisa works too. With a background in business banking, Lisa is now a facilities manager at their local church and a number of other properties. To make it all work, both DJ’s and Lisa’s mums help out, and DJ’s brother and his wife also form part of a solid community of support when DJ is away.
Having consistent people in their lives, and establishing predictable routines around DJ’s travels, gives the kids a sense of security. Each time they head to the airport to drop DJ off, they do something fun together as family. “It just makes the whole thing easier, and means we are able to have a good time before I fly, rather than them just standing at the airport, in tears, waving dad goodbye.”
As well as the challenge of staying connected while travelling, arriving home after a tournament can also have its bumps and wobbles. DJ has learned that to make the transition home a bit smoother, he needs to fit in with Lisa’s well-practised routine, rather than trying to assert his own. This has gotten a bit easier with time too. “When my kids were younger, they were sometimes quite stand-offish when I got home. Every time I left the house, they would ask, ‘Daddy, are you coming back?’ So that was pretty tough. As they’ve gotten older, it’s a bit easier, because they know what’s going on, they know I’ll come back, and I think they are starting to understand that my job means we have food on the table and everything we need.” Titus is also beginning to appreciate that his dad’s job isn’t so bad after all – which may have something to do with the fact that it earns him serious brownie points at school.
While there has been a shift in how the kids handle DJ’s time away, he is still aware that it does have an impact on them. “Everyone says, ‘Your kids will appreciate what you do when they’re a bit older,’ but you still miss them. You miss out on a lot of stuff too, and you’ll never get the time back. So you have to tread carefully and make the most of the precious time you do have together. Our kids still love jumping into bed with us, and we often camp out in the lounge and watch movies together when I’m home. These moments are precious, and I don’t take them for granted.”
If the grandmas and cousins aren’t too worn out, DJ and Lisa also take advantage of their babysitting skills to squeeze in a date night. “We like to stay home and hang out, and have a meal together. It’s good to make time for ‘us’ to make sure we stay on the same page as parents and as a couple.”
In addition to making time for his family, DJ is all about keeping a balance in other areas of life too. “When you get home, your family will demand your time, but you also need to look after yourself. Body, mind and soul.” To ensure he has some down time, DJ has become a biker. Well, a scooter-er to be more exact. Yes, DJ Forbes is the proud owner of a pimped-out scooter, and he loves getting to cruise around with his mates. He also loves getting to pick his kids up from school on his scooter. “I probably shouldn’t,” DJ reflects, “But they have the full protective gear and they love it. It’s the little things that count. You might break a few rules, but it’s totally worth it to create some fun memories together.”
DJ also enjoys getting to make it to his kids’ sports games when he can. Sarai has just started Rippa, and Titus has joined the under 8’s in his first season of tackle rugby. “I think it’s easy for sportsmen and women to push their kids into their sport, but I have tried to give Titus every opportunity to enjoy a range of sports. He’s interested in soccer and swimming, but has also started playing rugby recently, and has really been enjoying it. He’s got his first game at Eden Park tomorrow, which is pretty buzzy, because it took me half my career to get a game at Eden Park!”
When asked what kind of ‘sideline’ parent he is, DJ insists that he is pretty self-controlled on the side of the field – keeping quiet until after the game when he can give some encouraging ‘tips’ to his kids. He does confess that he would like to have a hand at refreshing some of the coaching techniques though. This may have something to do with the fact that in his ‘spare time’ he is studying towards a Masters in Coaching and Leadership.
It is evident that DJ is a deep thinker and a faithful leader – two things that make him a great dad. “I feel like I can keep going for a few more years, but I don’t think I can keep spending so much time away from family,” he says. “There are a few options, but time will tell what the next chapter holds. If I had the opportunity to get a job I loved that didn’t require so much travel, I would. But right now rugby is my career, I love my team, and it’s a great opportunity.”
This is an excerpt from the bespoke edition of Parenting magazine created by Parenting Place in collaboration with New Zealand Rugby | Written by Shelly Neethling | Photography by Stephanie Soh
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