Three years ago, broadcaster Roman Travers jumped in his landrover for his usual Saturday ritual, which involved cruising around Auckland with his little buddy Aidan next to him, as the seven-year-old chatted away. Roman, a host for MediaWorks station Magic Radio, was used to hearing about the kids at Aidan’s school or the latest cool gadget. But on that day, a year into joining Kiwi mentoring charity Big Buddy, which matches kind-hearted men with boys without dads, Roman was struck by their conversation.
“Aidan looked up at me and asked, ‘How long will you be my Big Buddy?’” Roman recalls. “I told him I wasn’t sure, but as long as he wants. Then he said, ‘Can it be forever?’”
Now, Aidan is ten and the pair still meet for fortnightly catch-ups, spending time at cafes and parks or, as Aidan enjoys most, simply jumping in the car for an on-road adventure. For Roman, who has two adult daughters living away, joining Big Buddy in 2017 to meet someone like Aidan was equally about helping as it was filling his own cup.
He explains, “I’d come back from Melbourne and wanted to do volunteering, but I didn’t want to just hand over money. Although that’s equally important, it wasn’t for me because with one daughter in Australia and another in Wellington, I felt this empty void and wanted to keep doing something.
He heard about Big Buddy and the role it plays in helping to build confidence and resilience for boys needing a positive male rolemodel. “It was perfect because there was also this connection to how I was brought up,” says Masterton-raised Roman. “I was one of seven children and my father left when I was seven, and I used to gravitate to male role-models through things like sport.”
While Roman had a fun childhood with his older brothers and friends, riding bikes and getting old tubes from the service stations to float down rivers, having an absent father left a hole.
“I remember playing at my best friend’s house and his dad coming home from work. I’d watch this mother-father connection that I remembered, but didn’t have anymore.”
When Roman met Aidan for the first time on his mother’s doorstep, he realised they had more in common than growing up without a father. “Aidan is very shy and clearly was not enjoying the prospect of talking to a stranger,” Roman laughs. “I asked what he’d been up to and after some mumbling he said, ‘I had a birthday on Wednesday,’ and I said, ‘Same here!’ Boom, we had something in common straight away and he instantly warmed to me.”
When it came to venturing into the real world together though, there were some bumps that Roman helped iron out. “Aidan was shy to the point of frustration and so I made a point that when we went to a café, I wouldn’t talk for him,” he says. “He had his eyes down when the waiter came up and having to say what he wanted was like someone stuck a toothpick up his nose – he was mortified! But he’s really good now and will walk from the table up to the counter.” Roman even pushed Aidan to try new foods outside his comfort zone, replacing his usual hot chips for scrambled eggs, which are now the budding young storyteller’ favourite.
“Aidan loves telling stories,” Roman enthuses. “For two years I said we should go on the radio for an interview and it was no way! Now he’s done it a couple of times and asks when he can do it again.”
The pair also appeared on TV3’s The Project. “We were walking around a park with the TV crew and I could see Aidan looking at the cameraman’s high-tech gear,” Roman tells. “I asked if he wanted to carry the camera and he looked at me as if it was the biggest treat in the world, so the cameraman helped mount it onto his shoulder and walk with it.”
Later on, Aidan said it was something he might want to do when he is older. “That’s another part, showing him stuff he hasn’t experienced. I told him he can be anything he wants and I took him down to the MediaWorks studio,” Roman says. “He sat where Mike McRoberts does and did this newsreader’s pose where he leant forward and looked into the camera. I said, ‘Bloody hell, you’re a natural!’”
Like the other 800 Big Buddies who have helped to inspire Kiwi boys between the ages seven and 14, Roman hopes more men will get involved. “I don’t have that God-like complex about doing amazing work that’s going to completely turn Aidan’s life around,” he says. “But I view it as is another piece of the puzzle to help him see that men are OK.”
BOOK A TICKET TO BIG BUDDY BANTER NOW!
EVERY TICKET SOLD HELPS BIG BUDDY SUPPORT BOYS WITHOUT FATHERS IN THEIR LIVES