So much of a Dad’s work can go unsung. Father’s Day is one of the precious few chances we get to celebrate him. Aaron shares his special story this Father's Day as part of The Dad Files editorial series.

Horses, dogs, kids and cousins  

10 minutes out of Townsville on 120 acres overlooking the Black River is an old Queenslander, home to Aaron Payne, Naida (6), Fletcher (2) and Aaron’s partner Brooke.

Aaron says he loves living out on this bit of land for the peace and quiet. Their nearest neighbour is Aaron’s brother, so the cousins get to play together often.

The property is also home to thoroughbreds, ponies, dogs Elise, Ruby and Tilly and ‘Naida’s horse’, Wolf. 

“As soon Wolf sees Naida, she’ll come over to the stables with me and puts her head on Naida’s lap for pats.”

By the end of the year there’ll be a new addition, as Aaron and Brooke are expecting their second child together. 

Common sense and unconditional love

Aaron believes the rewards of fatherhood certainly outweigh the hard work.

“I was taught common sense stuff about how to be respectful and be a good person and I want to pass that onto my kids. That's the route we're taking: give them unconditional love but teach them to use their pleases and thank yous.” 

“My ex-wife Amanda’s been really good – it’s just the logistics (of co-parenting) are sometimes hard,” says Aaron. 

“It’s challenging trying to parent when the kids sometimes get different messages at different houses. No-one sets out for that to happen, it’s just how life pans out.” The good part is that Naida talks to Aaron and Amanda about her feelings and “she knows she’s loved by both families”.

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You want to take their pain away

Aaron talks about past challenges, like when he accidentally dropped Naida and she had a hospital stay for a while and the scary time when Fletcher he wasn't even a week old and was put in isolation for four to five days, hooked up to machines.

“Luckily it was just staph. He was given antibiotics to treat it. When that happens, it puts stuff into perspective. You want to take their pain away.” 

Some of the better moments are simple, “like when you haven't seen them for a while and how excited they are to see me: the big cuddles, when they’re excited, screaming your name and running to you”.

“I love watching how they interact now that they're older. Naida was always a great big sister, but now Fletcher is old enough to join in and be part of what me and Naida are doing. That's pretty cool.”

Aaron’s own Dad was adamant he'd be close to his kids. 

“I never wanted for anything. My parents always made a lot of sacrifices for us; it’s something I’ve always been appreciative of. Still to this day, we spend a lot of time together and Dad helps with feeding and exercising my horses.” 

After Aaron retired from playing for the North Queensland Cowboys in 2012, he became a rugby league mentor and is now in charge of the Cowboys’ Academy program for elite juniors, 15-20 years old. 

“All up we'd have around 200 kids. I enjoy making sure they have the fundamentals down pat, so the building blocks are good when they transition to the next level.”

With squads in Townsville, Cairns, Mackay, Rockhampton, Brisbane and New Zealand, Aaron is away a lot for work and comments. 

“If Dad wasn’t there to help we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

And about Father’s Day?

“Father’s Day is another chance to have a day with your family and to recognise the positive things fathers do. We'll spend most of the day together, maybe have breakfast somewhere, catch up with my father and chip in to buy him a nice bottle of rum.”

“But I don’t want to make it all about me. I’d be stuffed without Brooke.

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