Man-Child podcast: Father gives half a century of unconditional love to disabled children

Cliff Robinson has been a full-time carer for his children for nearly five decades. 

The moment his wife walked out the front door on June 15, 1970, was the moment his life changed forever.

Cliff had been working as a steelworker at the time. He returned from his shift late at night and went to bed.

"In the morning she woke me up. She said, 'I'm going off,' and I thought she was going to the shop."

He got out of bed a while later and his daughter, Marita, who was three at the time, was crying and Johnny, who was only eight months old, was in the cot - their mum had left for good.

Both children were born with a condition called microcephaly - a condition where the head is smaller than normal.

Cliff says the prospect of caring for two children with intellectual disabilities was just too much for their mother. So he stepped up.

Almost half a century later Cliff is in his 80s and still looks after Marita, 51, and Johnny, 48, full-time.

That decision shaped not only his family's future but also the lives of other parents of adults with disabilities.

In 2013, he was instrumental in forcing the Government to start providing financial support for the endless work that parents of disabled children do.

Caring for his kids has never been a job, Cliff says, it's his life's purpose.

He told Newshub his mum instilled in him the importance of caring for your children.

"My mother, who had only one good leg, had a number of miscarriages and had a son who only lived a week. Poor medical support and those awful conditions were responsible.

"Then I came along. She loved me to bits and impressed on me the importance of loving and caring for your children."

The Robinsons lives have been full of adventure. A former seaman, Cliff was eager to share his love of travelling with his children and has taken them "all over the place".

"Some of the highlights have been helping in Mother Teresa's home in Calcutta and meeting Pope John Paul II in the Vatican City.

"We were also fortunate to have afternoon tea with Sir Ed Hillary when he was High Commissioner in India."

Cliff has some advice for parents of children with disabilities.

"Enjoy them for what they are and not what you want them to be. Social skills are very important - very few will make progress academically." 

And he has a message for everyone in New Zealand.

"I wish communities would make the effort to get to know the disabled," he says.



Man-Child follows journalist and new dad Mike Wesley-Smith through the first 90 days of being a parent, following the birth of his daughter, with all the ups, downs and gritty reality of life with a newborn.

Listen to Mike Wesley-Smith's interview with Cliff Robinson on Episode six of Man-Child.

Subscribe to the Man-Child podcast on Rova, Apple, Google, Spotify, Omny, and wherever you get your podcasts.