She’s Not Your Rehab: How Matt and Sarah Brown Turned Pain into Love and Healing


Matt Brown (35) is the owner of My Father’s Barber in Christchurch. He co-wrote a book, She ain’t your rehab, with his wife Sarah (38), a creative producer. The couple organize monthly men’s groups at their barbershop and partner with the Department of Social Development to help barbers create a safe space for men. The couple have three children – Oceana (18), Angelou (6) and Frida, 3.

MAST: I was born in Auckland, but moved to Christchurch when I was three when my father got out of prison and was offered a job in Christchurch.

Were once warriors came out when I was 10 and the nine kids in my family thought it was a comedy because the violence in that movie was nothing compared to our lives and the violence we experienced.

Matt and Sarah Brown have co-authored a book, She Is Not Your Rehab.

Provided

Matt and Sarah Brown have co-authored a book, She Is Not Your Rehab.

I was sexually assaulted from the age of 3 and stayed in all of the women’s shelters in Christchurch. Due to this traumatic upbringing, I had trust issues and struggled to form relationships.

That’s why I was single for 10 years when I met Sarah. I was 24 and I was part of a hip-hop group, because music was my liberation – that was how I could escape my education. Sarah was an event manager for Tearfund and booked my group to play an event. The five of us in the group had similar backgrounds, and we would go to schools and youth groups to talk about it.

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I was drawn to Sarah’s beautiful eyes and her sense of style – she takes pride in her appearance. It was elegant, but also deep and moving. A lot of men live in a culture where they wear masks to hide their pain, but Sarah saw right behind my facade.

We were friends for four years before it turned into something else. Sarah had signed up on Tinder and was going out to dinner with a guy. I got jealous and thought I might take a back seat if a new guy comes on the scene, but I don’t want to.

I also loved Sarah’s daughter, Oceana, so I didn’t want to ruin that. But I knew Sarah was the person I wanted to live with.

She Is Not Your Rehab, the book based on Matt and Sarah Brown's story, is out now.

Jared Yeoward / Supplied

She Is Not Your Rehab, the book based on Matt and Sarah Brown’s story, is out now.

I proposed a few months later. I booked a luxury getaway to Akaroa and told Sarah there was a wedding, but I would go first. When she and Oceana arrived, I showed her a video I had made of all of her friends. I first proposed to Oceana, asking her if I could be her father and marry her mother. Then I proposed to Sarah.

What I love most about my wife is her kindness and compassion. She is a believer and a dreamer and if she is in your corner, she will be faithful until the end. When I met her, she was working to end human trafficking and poverty – that’s the kind of human that she is.

This is why we work so well – we both share a passion for these things as well as communities free from violence.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without Sarah. She really is my taonga.

Christchurch-based My Father's Barber, run by Matt and Sarah Brown, launched the anti-violence initiative She Is Not Your Rehab, and it is receiving international attention.

Provided

Christchurch-based My Father’s Barber, run by Matt and Sarah Brown, launched the anti-violence initiative She Is Not Your Rehab, and it is receiving international attention.

SARAH: My manager at the time heard Matt’s band play so he asked me to book them for a gig.

I was blown away when I heard him speak – his raw tale of his childhood was incredibly powerful. I thought he was so brave and vulnerable to tell his story.

We really connected on a soul level and became good friends. I was a single mom in Auckland at the time and Matt came and stayed with me while he recorded his album. When he told me he wanted to be a barber, I put him in touch with my dad who owned barbershops and asked one of his barbers to teach Matt.

I was exhausted from work so I moved to the Cook Islands. A year later Matt asked me to help him with his new hair salon, so I moved to Christchurch and did his marketing. About a year later he told me he was in love with me and didn’t want me to date other guys.

I was quite shocked because we had always been friends. I called a friend, and she said, it’s about time, we were all expecting this. I guess everyone could see it except me.

Matt took me by boat up the Avon and to the top of the gondola on our first date. I don’t really like the look but the soul connection, and I already had that with Matt. It moved pretty quickly after that. About four months later I was pregnant with our son Angelou which was a total surprise as I had medical issues and the doctors told me I might not be able to have more children.

Matt is probably the nicest person I know. He would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it. Which is good, but sometimes people can take advantage of it. During the lockdown, many men turned to Matt for help, and he stayed up all night answering hundreds of emails. I tried to help him put limits in place, so that he could still love and give, but had enough left for himself and his family.

Matt’s only downfall is that he’s a desperate handyman! I certainly didn’t marry him for his handyman skills. Whenever something needs to be fixed, my daughter Oceana usually fixes it.

I suggested that we write this book because Matt needed to share his story. That’s his story and his direction, but we thought about it and I did the actual writing and then he edited it. Matt’s message of non-violence and what he’s been through is so powerful I knew it needed to be shared.

She Is Not Your Rehab by Matt Brown starring Sarah Brown, published by Penguin Random House NZ, is out now.

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