My name is not legal but it’s mine.
My Dad left when I was 6 years old and remarried a Papua New Guinean woman and that led to the journey of my names.
I was the eldest son in a family of boys and didn’t grow up with my Dad being there. I saw him for a week when I was 14, but other than that I didn’t get to know who he was until just before my 21st birthday.
Growing up, we had heard many stories about what kept Dad away from seeing us. Papua New Guinea had come to represent a lot of pain for me. . It was the place that had taken my father away, a never never wild land where Dad had disappeared into the jungle. It had taken him from me and from my life.
We heard that he had got terribly sick from contracting cranial malaria and for a couple of years I was sure he was dead as my mother mentioned there had been a major tsunami that had hit the island. I knew that she had not been able to make contact with him to find out if he was okay. She must have heard at some point that he was fine, but I didn’t get the rest of the story as talking about Dad activated her, so as a 12 year old I believed I had lost my Father and carried a deep grief within me I couldn’t talk about for two years.
I learned early that any mention of my Dad was a no-go topic for my single mother trying to carry the full burden of raising sons on her own. When I acted up and as my body grew into a carbon copy of the man who had caused her so much pain, was when I would hear his name from her lips. My mythical father stayed in my heart though, his blood coursed through my veins and every birthday I would squeeze my eyes tight as I blew out the birthday candles sending a powerful mantra out there - “This year – please let this be the year I will finally be with my Dad!”
Your story is your superpower. When my younger brothers were born I made it mean that I had to be the greatest pillar of strength for them that had ever existed. I had to be unmovable, indestructible without Dad around. As time went by that meant to me that I had to grow up very fast.
I had one part of me that knew “I don’t even need Dad to be here, because I am so much like him and I am strong, he is within me.” I certainly heard how much like him I was from my mother, but this also disconnected us in our relationship. As time went on, this inwards drive to not just take care of my twin brothers but to also be a role model, sent me into striving and I became a child prodigy athlete.
I was a very fast runner, world champion of my age in a couple of athletic sports – Shot put and discus. I defined myself as an athlete and was also aware of what was not in my life –my Dad and his new family and an older sister Dad had had to another woman before I had been born. There was this whole world outside my reach and I wanted to know all about it, but I did not have the power to touch it or even talk about it without activating my mother – so it stayed as a silent dialogue within.
Growing up we lived in a pretty rough neighborhood and when I was nearly 10-years old, we had an intruder come into the house and it scarred us all. I am sure that episode deeply frightened my mother. She is a lioness but that sort of experience is traumatizing for anyone.
So, there we were, as this 6ft4 intruder, all in black walked into the middle of our home. My younger siblings were asleep but I was still awake. I heard Mum screaming and what I heard in my 9-year old mind was her yelling my name “Matt!” This is not what she remembers, she said she was screaming “Get out! Get out!” But for me, it sounded like I was being called to help.
Mum ran at the guy in full lioness rage and he freaked out and ran for his life. She slammed the door behind him, with so much force that she broke it, screaming at him to “Never come back to my house again!” This whole episode only took a matter of seconds and next minute this huge man in black ran hell scared past my window.
I felt that I had to be even more than I had been for the family after that event. In the weeks that followed, Mum found a partner probably as a result of that trauma. So, all of a sudden there was a man in the house, but not a good man. He was abusive, cruel and didn’t like us kids. It was the first time since my Dad had left that a man had been around and for me it added another element of un-safety into the mix.
One day while Mum was out, he was cooking pasta. One of us must have said something to trigger him and he threw the burning macaroni over one of my twin brother’s heads.
There is good and bad in everyone, I know that and sometimes he would play soccer with me and I liked that. Over the course of 6 months I finally got good enough to beat him. In that moment, he held me down, pinning my body with his as he sat on top of me and licked my face for about a minute. This was an ugly and humiliating thing to do to a kid – the ultimate powerlessness for me at the time.
I got up from that, hating him but decided deep within myself that no-one would ever do that to me again.
That began a fire inside me. About that time, my mother realized what she had got herself into and one day while he was out, we speedily packed everything we owned and escaped to a new place. We now had a home in the country, acres to run on, places to ride bikes and neighborhood kids around the same age to play with. We felt safe and things were great for a year until one day, I was sitting in the lounge room, almost 11 years old and he came back.
There was a knock on the door. Intuitively I froze and Mum came out and opened the door with the safety latch on and there he was. She yelled for us to go to our rooms and her words were non-negotiable. As I scuffed my way to my room, I heard the safety latch on the door being kicked in, followed by a scuffle between them fighting. I froze. By this stage I had begun to fill out. I was a fast growing kid and had shaved for the first time at 9. Whatever testosterone needed to come into me early – it did but that day I didn’t get to use it.
Later in time, I made that moment of staying in my room mean a lot, but now I see I was just a little kid doing the best I could with what was happening around me.
Half an hour later, the yelling stopped and I peeked out and they were sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of tea. He turned out to still be married to another woman who also turned up and screamed at my mother. Our oasis where we felt safe for some time was no longer a place of peace.
The scar of that day – of being told to go to my room changed something in me. I decided that I would always make my own calls in life, no matter what anyone else was trying to tell me to do. Nobody would ever make me do something against my nature again. It meant that whoever tried to get me do anything – parent, teacher, leader - whoever – they would not stop me if I felt it was outside what I believed to be the right thing.
That attitude was not always appreciated as I went through life. I am sure many people thought I was obstructive and at times I probably was. From that moment though, I decided I would stand up for the little guy and never let a bully win again.
I stood in front of every bully at school. I was blessed with size and could get away with it. By 14 I was a fully grown man and built like a gladiator. I had this fire inside me that was determined if that man, or any man who had ill intention came to the house again, they were not going to touch my mother.
I defined two archetypes within myself – the ‘drama’ me and the ‘athlete’ me. The drama me was the part that felt emotion and the athlete was a machine. I couldn’t have them exist at the same time. That didn’t feel safe at the time.
I didn’t think I could manage all the tough decisions as well as feel everything that was going on And be powerful. Now I understand that these are the male and female sides of the self and you need both of them to function powerfully as an emotionally and physically healthy person. You can’t connect with others without the whole package.
But at 14 I was all about being a powerful male and protector. I had a ton of testosterone and was hiding in the cupboard masturbating, pretty normal for a young guy but Mum caught me. She did not respond well, we had never spoken about sex and she rang my father’s brother and told him to come and get me. My uncle said that my Dad should come and then all of a sudden after thinking for two years that he was dead, there was my Dad at the front door.
My Dad took me away for four days, gave me the ‘sex talk’ and took me to meet his family, cousins and uncles. He hugged me and he meant it and I saw pieces of myself in him. I saw that he was a lovely human being but he had a lot of hurt and grief and there was a level of shame he carried about us. He didn’t like birthdays or other traditional family holidays as they were too painful for him.
Communication flowed for a few weeks and months after that but then gradually drizzled out again. Dad disappeared again back into Papua New Guinea.
I felt the loss of him again and filled it with my first girlfriend. She was very loving and touch was good, especially as the older I had become, the hugs had stopped from Mum. I was 15 and looked just like my Dad. I fell in love hard and was sure I was going to marry her. We were together for a year and a half and one day she tried to connect with me sexually and I stopped her with the statement of “No, we can’t do that until we are married!”
She must have felt rejected and our relationship started to go downhill. She broke up with me and a week later she was dating my best friend. I experienced my first bout of childhood depression and changed friendship groups so I didn’t have to see either of them. One day my friend tried to talk to me about it as he sat in the bus looking down at me on the pavement. I said I didn’t want to talk to him and he reached down and grabbed my shirt. He was holding me and no one was going to do that to me again.
With all the pent up rage of those moments I had been restricted, I punched him through the gap in the bus he was holding me through just as his bus was pulling out and watched him leave bleeding.
I took all the fire that was loving in me and opened into a rebellious phase. I was chased by police on my bike after peeing on a fence and fell and broke a rib, throwing my bike into the bushes, I jogged home holding my side, aware that there was no-one who had my back. I was a good person, I just didn’t trust people with the same open heart at the time.
I kept my own counsel and I trusted what I thought. I would have intense conversations in my head to work out what to do because I didn’t have any guidance or mentors in those early years. I had a strong internal compass and it always came back to what sort of role model would I have to be for my brothers in each decision. When I think about what Runn Wild means to me now is how I would factor that question into my decision making then. I would always ask “What is the best thing for my brothers to see here?”
A gift my mother gave me at that time was a conversation that helped me see some of my strengths. Someone asked her who she thought would survive the longest stuck on a desert island and I heard Mum say “Matthew. You put him on an island and he’ll be okay.”
I prided myself on being a survivor. In my early teenage years I would go mountain bike riding on my own 40 kms from home and there were instances where I would fall and hurt myself pretty badly – more broken ribs, fractured ankle and fingers and I would just sit until I got my breath back, work out a plan to get back, put my bike over my shoulder and somehow just get home.
I didn’t drink like a lot of other kids my age as I would rather take 20 km runs and liked feeling the power of my body. As Dad had represented the drinking and gambling guy, who had let Mum down, it was not something I could do.
About this time I found a tribe- two best friends who went on to become contributors to the world, dreamers and builders. This brotherhood fulfilled me and gave me a connection and language around connecting and coaching people. I began to read motivational books and by the end of school, I felt I could do anything, I didn’t give myself permission to do what I really wanted to do which was aim for the Olympics. Instead I took the safe B plan, the plan that suited my family and started studying.
I walked into creative industries so I could keep up as many options as possible. I was interested in mass communication and global influence. One of the reasons why I had wanted to be an athlete, was that it meant something to people and if I became a famous athlete I would be listened to. I began wondering how else I could create influence.
I began my first business at 19 years old a marketing company and it became very successful. Then suddenly, my girlfriend of 2 years dumped me and I suddenly found myself in a really bad place. I knew something was wrong as for a couple of months, I found I also could not get an erection, so my internal chemistry, my wiring was not right. About this time too, my best friend’s mum committed suicide. We both spiraled into a really low place. I was diagnosed with depression and the doctor suggested I take medication but something in me knew there was another way. I knew that the answers were somewhere within me if I could just listen.
When I was 13 years old, I had this idea of riding my bike from Sydney to Brisbane and this thought kept returning. My best friend and I jumped on a plane and decided we would walk the 1000 kms from Sydney to Brisbane, a powerful walk that would offer healing bigger than us
We linked up with a charity called the Inspire Foundation, a youth suicide awareness group and set off walking from the Sydney Opera House, talking to radio stations and media on the way. Without a support vehicle we walked and ended up reaching over 5 million people helping the charity get a massive donation spike. Our reason for supporting that charity was that we knew from our own battle with depression that suicidal thoughts started early and we wanted to help as many people as we could. Walking for those with depression, helped heal my own and led me to study education and be a Youth speaker, someone who would help young people become all they could be.
The call to get to know my Dad and see the place that he had lived for so long called me and I got on a plane just before my 21st birthday, to finally see where my half-brothers had been born and raised, hang with my Dad and meet his partner. I was amazed to find they all knew of me, knew of our family and although we had lived so far apart, we had somehow been spiritually woven into the fabric of life there all this time. I felt loved and immediately accepted by the community. I was just one of them.
Two weeks later, on the day of my 21st birthday, I was welcomed and traditionally initiated into the tribe. I was given a sacred headrest of shells and a new name Kanomon.
At the moment I was given my new name, I looked into the eyes of the village Elder – my step-grandfather, and saw that he was a man just like me, an Elder of his tribe. I realized that I too, was an Elder of sorts of my own family back home. I gave myself permission in that moment to create whatever meanings I wanted to in my own life about what was happening to me.
I accepted and received the name Kanomon with respect and grace and it became part of who I was but an inner dialogue began that wondered “If this great man can gift me this name of who I am- what can I gift myself?”
So that began the journey where I found myself on the eve of 2009 standing looking over the edge of a cliff with midnight striking. I jumped, hoping and trusting that somewhere in the inky depths below, there would be water that would catch me. My intention was that in that fall, some words of wisdom would come that would define me – who I was now.
I knew that in that that leap of faith, a new name would imprint, something powerful that would be of my own creation.
As my body slammed into the water, I felt my legs hit the freezing liquid, then my hips, my torso and the last thing I heard from my lips as my head submerged were two words roared loud and echoing off the walls of the mountain pool I had thrown myself into. “Runn Wild!” I knew with every part of my blood and breath that this was my true name.
What this represented to me was all that I was and had been on the journey so far. All the strength I had found within in the hardest of times, in the times when my Dad wasn’t there, all the best parts of my truth in any moment. This name has become something I can call upon. People still call me Matt or in PNG they call me Kanomon and a whole bunch of people now call me Runn. All of them I am okay with, but Runn Wild is a gift to myself, a tool I can call on when I am challenged. I can just say “Okay, what would Runn Wild do here?”
An excerpt from Runn Wild's story for "Made by Scars- real men's stories' expected out late 2017
Runn is a powerful facilitator on his retreats The Canvas Method, grab his inspiring book "Growth and Greatness" here. Runn is also a spoken word artist of contemporary poetry - buy his book "Words of the Winding Road' here