Adam: In a League of Gentlemen

May 16, 2019

earth-star The Rusty Rabbit

I met Adam Hafda at a Parramatta sports ground where we watched kids play rugby. He’s a 29-year-old Muslim man and I’m a single mum of four boys. Yet we clicked immediately. We got to talking about rugby league, children, religion and more.

Adam, tell me about your family.

My dad was 14 and my uncle 21 when they came to Australia. Our family are builders from Tripoli. Their five sisters migrated too but my grandfather had to stay in Lebanon because he was ill. To me, Lebanon is as a country of many religions; Muslim, Christian, Jewish people. And all have suffered from the civil war.

I lost my uncle to civil war. He was shot in front of my grandmother. Wrong place wrong time. He was in his early 20’s and his wife was pregnant. It was the hardest part of my family’s history. That son is now our elder brother, Tarek.

Being Muslim is what we were born into. My family is filled with love and inclusiveness. We actively identify as Australian Muslims.

We understand the importance of hard work. My father and uncle, Ahmad and Aref, taught me to work and uphold Australian values and I respect them both.  They are at the core of our family. However, I do believe that coming out of a place of war had lasting effects on them. When I was growing up I would have loved to understand a little bit more of what they actually went through.

My mother, Sahar, became more religious and spiritual in her late 30’s and started to wear the hijab. It is a support to her, not a limitation. My mum is one of the strongest women in my life and her advice is always positive. Both my parents want me to be the best I can be for myself and our community.

Very rarely do I go to mosque. Mum and dad raised us to be very open-minded and there were no mosques where I grew up. I don’t believe I need to be in or around the mosque to devote to my beliefs.

Is your family close?

We are. I have around 100 first cousins. Tarek is 10 years older than me and someone I admire greatly.  

Today is the first day of Ramadan and I am going to my uncle’s house. It will be a huge gathering. It’s not just to celebrate our family and past, it is to give thanks that we are together in Australia. I can’t stress how important that part is to the progression of my whole family. We came from a place that we don’t want to go back to. I think our family has grown significantly on the back of adversity.

Do you have an opinion on migration in Australia today?

I sympathize and empathize with migrants wanting to come to Australia. They are coming from places of hardship and war. I don’t want people coming here bringing their wars with them, they have to embrace peace. The conflict has to be left behind. But having no migration would mean I wouldn’t be here today.

I understand people are scared of migration and conflict from religious differences. I’m scared myself. When the Christchurch massacre happened I was at work. My wife sent me a message saying don’t watch the video. And I didn’t.

What is marriage like for you?

I have been married for five years. I met my wife, Hannah when I was 14. We were great friends and we met through our communities. She’s Egyptian.  I wasn’t always the sharpest tool in the shed and when I was in my teens I went off the rails a bit. I made a lot of bad decisions. When I came out of that I saw that the one constant in my life was my friendship with Hannah. It was always the one constant positive in my life.

One day I told her I wanted to marry her. And she laughed. But when I was 22 I said, look, I’m ready to get serious and she was too. Traditionally in our culture we have to invite parents to each other’s houses to acknowledge the formality of it all. Two years later we got married. We used a registrar and a traditional gentleman from our respective communities to say a few prayers to acknowledge our family and culture. We had kids straightaway. That’s what we wanted to do. We’ve got two beautiful girls. And I just want to be the best version of myself for them.

It’s nice to have daughters. I’ve been surrounded by men at work and home and I’m still learning all the complexities of having girls. However I do believe my youngest daughter is exactly like me.

Hannah has a career as well, so we work together to raise our daughters, though she took some time out and is now is easing back into full time work. We have great support around us, but it’s a juggle. I think it’s important for our daughters to see us both working.

What do you do for work?

I worked with my father in construction and formwork since I was a kid. I studied exercise and sports science. My dad got injured at work. For me, with my sports science background, it was a light bulb moment. I felt why am I treating an injury? Why not prevent it? I began a career in site safety and now manage the safety of a few hundred workers. I ensure that people can get around the site safely including risk management and everything to do with site safety.

My family also probably have 300 to 400 people who work for them. I don’t work for my family anymore. I moved away two years ago for personal development. It was time to move on. I work for a different company but culturally it’s very similar. The owners have a similar migrant background and that experience gets into the fabric of who we are and what we do.

Adam at work Image: Andrew Fisher

Your family has had a tough time recently. What happened?

My uncle’s son owns a formwork company. And one of the workers passed away. It was very close to home and as I said, we have a very tight family. Everyone is shook so up.

I am trying to manage my own emotions as my job is in site safety. Even though I don’t work for my family, it has hit me really hard. I can’t stop thinking about what happened. All these emotions and thoughts went through my head. But I can’t change what has happened. My family is devastated.  My uncle’s son is probably the most affected. But it affected us all.

Working in such a male industry means site safety is more than the site. It’s also mental health. I am working to adapt my own skill set as quickly as I can to understand how I can help with mental health of our workers. I work with these guys day to day and it’s hard for a young man to admit, even to themselves, that they are struggling. The best way to help them is by gaining their respect and trust.

What does Rugby League mean to you?

For me, Rugby League is probably the best part of my life. When I was growing up, league was a place where all the stress and anxiety disappeared. On that patch of grass it was just me, the team and the ball. There was no noise.  And being part of a team kept me making the right decisions.

Why do you support the Bulldogs?

I grew up as a Dogs supporter; I love them. My dad’s a supporter; my uncle’s a supporter. It is part of the family fabric. I would say that I was born into supporting the Bulldogs.

Adam & I clicked, despite our different team loyalties.

Did league help you become who you are today?

Definitely. My coach worked as a volunteer and he helped to make me the person I am now. His advice was to keep life simple. To work hard and to commit to being honest and to compete fairly. Those are the core values that I have today.

My coach walked me through a lot of my decision making. I wish I had listened to him a lot more. A few years back when I tried to reach out to him to thank him for all of the effort that he put into me, I found out that he had passed away.

Are you still involved in sport?

I volunteer for the Strathfield Raiders. I am the coaching coordinator and I try to give advice to coaches, parents and kids.

I see a lot of kids who are struggling. With social media and its impacts on body image. There’s a lot of negativity for these kids and they are going through a lot of trials and tribulations. I believe I can help. My coach helped me and I want to help kids the way he helped my team.

I coach on Sunday so that I can still be with my family. My employer is the Vice President of the Raiders but I didn’t know that when I volunteered. There was a flyer on the board at work asking for volunteers and I rang up. It was only later that I found out that the person I spoke to was my boss. It put things into perspective for me. The team is supported by men like my father and uncle, builders from Lebanon who love league.

Does your family share your passion?

I try to bring my girls to the ground as much as I can. My wife comes along. She loves the Bulldogs as well. She’s extremely supportive of me and my wanting to help kids.

And I don’t mind if my daughters want to play touch footy, but I get scared of them being tackled. They see women play and if they want to, it’s up to them. I’d love for them to be competitive. League creates a competitive nature that I loved growing up.

Who do you look up to?

My boss is my mentor. He doesn’t know he does it for me but he’s two people for me; my boss and my mentor.  I respect him so much for what he does and what he’s achieved in the construction industry.  He is also a guy who is helping kids with the Raiders. Being around him for the last 18 months has helped me so much develop as a person. He’s helped me get my focus laser sharp.

He brings so much to the table with his actions. He’s got two girls and a son himself and runs a company with his business partner but he makes time for all these other kids.

What do you want for yourself?

I want to grow to the highest level in risk management and welfare. And my dream is to coach at a representative level.  I want to mentor others and I’m trying to develop that skillset.

I see people opening up to me day in, day out. Just today, I got stopped by a man at work who has gone through a lot. He stopped me in the middle of the road and just unloaded his story. I felt humbled that he could trust me, and that I could help him.

I really don’t know why people open up to me. But I find that they do. And it’s a privilege.  And I feel like I’m doing my job for a reason and they’re talking to me for a reason. And I feel like I can help them a little bit.

I want to be a good a dad and husband. Family will always be important. I want my daughters to be proud of me and be competitive and strong in themselves.

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