It’s 6pm midweek at Jim Mora’s house, and as the car pulls up outside the modest Auckland home, into a garage housing enough bikes and scooters to cater for a small school, Grace (11) and the twins, Jack and Elizabeth (9), spill out of Dad’s car, hair damp and tousled from swimming and chatting 19 to the dozen.
As Jim makes the kids drinks and empties the dishwasher, their mum, former Good Morning presenter Mary Lambie, takes the fish and chips order, and the kids scramble to get changed, check out the Weekly photographer’s camera, and bombard Dad with a thousand questions. How many pictures will be taken? Do they have to brush their hair? Can they get a hot dog instead of fish?
“The young ones are quite excited. It’s nice for them to have a childhood memory of being in the Woman’s Weekly,” says their dad, Radio New Zealand’s Afternoons With Jim host, children’s book writer, and former Mucking In presenter.
It’s been five years since Jim talked publicly about his children. It was in September 2008 when he revealed the terrifying time Grace was diagnosed with a rare virus that attacked her myelin sheath – the cover around her brain and spinal cord.
While her medical condition still has to be managed, Jim says she is now “doing swimmingly”, but admits he is protective of his children.
“I think once you’ve had a child that’s ill, you do change – but where Elizabeth’s our theatrical one, and Jack is a real ‘boy’, Grace is our resident daredevil, the fearless one. She’s given us a few shocks since then with broken bones,” says Jim.
Watching the kids clamour around their dad, it’s clear the man whose voice has made him one of the most listened-to radio presenters in New Zealand is also a huge hit with his family.
“I do like going places with them – Mary and I are very conscious of not just dropping them off at swimming or netball,” he explains.
“We stay and watch. Jack’s just started karate, which is good for discipline. I think you have to occupy boys.”
Jim, who is “in his fifties”, and Mary make sure the family is active, regularly going for walks, or taking off on their bikes. But while Jim loves adventures with the kids, it’s the unscheduled pleasures that warm his heart.
“Old-fashioned family times are the best times,” he explains. “The thing I like best, and don’t get enough of, is when you put everything aside, so there’s no dishes, no emails, no piano practice, and you simply make a decision to hang out with your kids,” he says.
“That’s when you realise how important that time is with them. Those moments that are fewer than you’d like, and more precious than you realise.”
That’s the thing about Jim – he has a way with words. He has a love of language, and wants nothing more than for the children to read the books that filled his own childhood with wonder. He reads to them most nights – stories include The Hobbit and Arthur Ransome classic Swallows and Amazons – and he was delighted when they fell in love with the Little House on the Prairie series. But there’s a difference between reading to your kids and getting them to read.
“This is the screen generation – that’s their book replacement,” he despairs. “Jack loves nothing more than going on YouTube and watching guys talk about Minecraft, and I understand that in a sense it’s his equivalent of being buried in a book. But how long should they be on computers? It’s the eternal battle.”
Despite being an older dad, Jim reckons he’s still learning from his kids.
“I do think about how things would have been if I’d had the kids younger,” says Jim. “But would I have been a better father? Maybe they would have made me more mature earlier. But it is what it is.”
Either way, Jim wouldn’t change a thing – and he thinks hard when asked how he’d like his kids to remember him.
“This is something I have considered. I’ve interviewed so many parenting experts and read so many books, I’m very aware of my shortcomings as a parent,” he says.
“But I think the highest honour my kids could ever give is if they said, ‘He really did his best.’”
Photos: Todd eyre • stylist: Jules armishaw • Jim’s clothing from Tarocash, kids’ clothing from Pumpkin Patch, except grace’s jeans from Country Road.