He isn’t much of a playful guy – going to parks isn’t really his thing – yet I still remember dad taking us to Australia’s Wonderland and Taronga Zoo during this period because he knew us kids wanted to. I never sensed self-pity in him, even when his life was being turned upside down in full view of the public. He put his family ahead of everything else.
This episode and others taught me how to be resilient when life isn’t going according plan – like when I’m going through injuries from footy, personal or family challenges, facing keyboard warriors or any other setback.
I’ve learned to be resilient and not to feel sorry for myself. And being the provider for my wife Jimicina and our children Aaliyah, Will Jr and a daughter to be born any day now, I’ve learned to put family first, even if I’m facing challenges.
Resilience to me is the ability to bounce back despite setbacks.
I learned this in a very different way from most people. But I learned it all the same and it was because of dad.
MY FAITH IN jesus CHRIST
My faith in Christ is my anchor in life. It strengthens me to endure challenges, provides me with perspective and blesses me with peace.
My spiritual journey started at home with my parents. They helped me enough to now be spiritually self-reliant. For that, I’ll forever be grateful.
Mum and dad encouraged my siblings and I to read scriptures, say our prayers and attend church every Sunday. Our church was in Harbord, close to home, and one of my favourite passages of scripture is in The Book of Mormon, Moroni chapter 10, verse 32: ‘Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him.’
Throughout my younger years, dad was the youth church leader, meaning he looked after boys aged 12-to-17 and helped us spiritually. He would take us to youth activities, church youth dances, youth camps and teach youth Sunday school.
When dad would teach Sunday school on principles like patience or love, the young men and I would ask, ‘So John, why aren’t you applying this in your own life?’
His swift reply would be, ‘Do as I say, not as I do!’
It can be a challenge to get active, high school boys to listen and maintain discipline for an extended period of time. I know this from experience. I’ve since had the opportunity to be a church youth leader myself.
Dad had his own way of dealing with kids who were disrespectful – and it was pure John Hopoate. He’d say to the culprit, ‘Hands on the wall,’ and that young man would walk to the wall, place his hands above his head and close his eyes. All the other kids would laugh and cheer because they knew what was coming next. A ‘body shot’.
It wasn’t hard or abusive or anything like that. It was a pretend whack in the guts, a funny and playful way to keep us in line. Parents of the young men would laugh when it would happen because I think they realised their kids listened to dad more than they did themselves!
Even after he retired in 2005 after being suspended for an elbow on Keith Galloway, which was a very tough time for him, dad still encouraged us to go to church.
He cherished his NRL career and it had been cut short. I realised this when, shortly after the hit on Galloway, I walked into my parents room to say our morning family prayer before school and I saw dad crying. He knew he had been handed a lifeline after being sacked over the bum-poking incident. Another ‘last chance’ would have been near impossible.
Throughout, we kept going to church. It was a little sanctuary for all of us.
My parents played a significant role in helping strengthen my faith in Christ and it is a very big part of who I am today. It doesn’t make me better than anyone, but it brings me stability, purpose and clarity.
Dad encouraged me to serve a mission. When I decided to go, he supported me 100 per cent. He would always tell my siblings and I that one of his biggest regrets was that he didn’t serve a mission when he was younger. Maybe it was a good thing. With his short temper – and knowing first-hand the amount of flack you cop as a missionary – I’m not sure it would have suited him!
The three principles – humility, resilience and faith in God – have instilled in me confidence that I can do anything I put my mind to if I’m willing to put in the work.
I learned these valuable principles through personal experiences, taught by a man who continues to dominate the headlines for the wrong reasons.
But he taught me, not just to know, but also to understand.
I’ll always be grateful for that.