Watching their two children decorate the Christmas tree, league legend Awen Guttenbeil and his wife Natasha realise just how precious their young ones are. That’s why the loving parents to Mila (8) and Niko (3) will be starting a brand new tradition this year, by making Christmas in their home an alcohol-free occasion. The couple are hoping the idea will help raise awareness of family violence in the home during the holiday season.
“This time of year, there is a spike in domestic incidences and child abuse, and it’s openly accepted that alcohol consumption plays a massive part,” explains Awen (37), a former Warriors player.
“Christmas is a time that children love and have high hopes for. We are going to make it a day focused on them. Our goal is to stop child abuse and violence in homes – and show you can still have fun without drinking. “
Awen and Natasha, a fashion stylist and former television presenter, are ambassadors for the charity Mana Ririki, an organisation aiming to stop violence and abuse in homes and making life safer for children. Their new campaign is to encourage families to go alcohol free on Christmas Day and focus on the tamariki.
“The children will be involved in planning the menu and helping organise the activities.” Natasha explains. “If you’re completely sober and present, the games of touch in the park or running races in the backyard will be more enjoyable for everyone.”
Natasha and Awen are disturbed by the increasing reports of child abuse, and want to lead by example to help reduce the horrific statistics. And it’s their own young ones inspiring them to help others.
“We want our home to be a safe haven, so they know they are loved unconditionally no matter what,” Natasha says.
Awen, who has been married to Natasha (38) for 12 years, succeeded in a masculine world of league and was a hard man on the field – but at home he shows a more softer side.
“As a male, I need to set an example for our son, in terms of how he will treat his partner in the future. I also need to set the expectations for our daughter, and what sort of person she’d accept into her life. It’s a responsibility I take seriously. You can tell them what they should do and how they should act, but as parents we need to lead by our actions.”
This will be their first family Christmas without booze. The devoted parents plan to celebrate with other family members at their Auckland home, including Natasha’s older sister, Classic Hits announcer Stacey Morrison and her husband Scotty, who is host of Te Karere on TV One.
They are planning to have a “Dry Christmas Day” every year, and hope other families will follow their lead.
“We just want to start a conversation,” says Natasha. “We may not reach people this year, or the year after that, but we are going to keep trying until the message reaches the people that need it most.“
Holding his wife’s hand, Awen agrees with her strong stance.
“Our motivation is to take the violence out of the homes where the kids don’t have a voice. You can’t give them a better present than that on Christmas Day.”