Cape Town – Jonathan Kaplan is one
of the best international referees to have ever come out of South Africa.
Known for his clear and concise approach to officiating,
Kaplan took charge of 70 Test matches during his 17-year
career, which was a record at the time of his retirement in 2013.
These days, though, Kaplan is transferring the
skills he learned on the rugby field into something far more challenging …
Now 51, Kaplan is the single father of 22-month-old
Kaleb, and while he acknowledges that he makes parenting mistakes all the time,
he is loving every minute.
“A lot of my refereeing style has translated
into how I parent,” Kaplan tells Sport24.
“My style was very direct, collaborative and
I’d like to think I was empathetic and connected. That’s basically how I
approach my son.
“I give him direction, but ultimately I want
him to express himself.
“On the field I used to give the responsibility
to the player … if he oversteps the mark, then I’ve got to reel him in and
it’ll test my decision making in respect of discipline.”
Kaplan, like any new parent, has had to figure
things out along the way. His situation, however, is more unique than most and
he details that journey in his new book, Winging It.
As he neared the end of his refereeing career,
Kaplan knew that he wanted to be a father.
But, at 47, he had not followed the conventional
path to family life. Unmarried, Kaplan decided to go another route and began
exploring the process of surrogacy.
“I grew up like a lot of other people,
thinking that a family unit was the only way to go – get married, have kids and
live happily ever after,” he explains.
“But for some people, that is not their path,
as has happened for me. I had to go down a different road to get my family. It
was about learning what the process was and then being brave enough to follow
“I was 47, I had been on the road for a long
time and, for whatever reason, the conventional route didn’t work out for me
… so I decided that I would do it on my own.
“Once I made the decision, it was balls to the
wall. I wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
What followed was a two-year process that, Kaplan
acknowledges, required a “considerable amount of resources”.
The book, written with author Joanne Jowell, sees
Kaplan unpack the surrogacy process from beginning to end as he opens up on his
decision to become a father.
Expenses aside, Kaplan needed to find a surrogate
mother and go through a tedious legal process to get the whole thing off the
In the end, a married mother of two named Jacqui
Davies was the answer.
In his book, Kaplan details the unique relationship
he shares with the woman who gave him the greatest gift he has ever
“Thank God for her, because she really held my
hand throughout the process,” he explains.
“She is happily married with a couple of kids,
but she wanted to do this her whole life as a good will to humanity. I was very
lucky. It was timing, more than anything.
“She is a good person and she did it for all
the right reasons.”
Kaplan and Davies are still in contact, and she was
a guest at Kaleb’s first birthday party, but when it comes to parenting Kaplan
has enjoyed the support of Susan, his girlfriend of 16 months.
“She has been amazing with Kaleb,” he
“He’s a beaut of a child. I’m so blessed.
“I’ve had moments where I’ve questioned my own
parenting and there are other times when I think I’ve done well.
“I will make mistakes and I have already, but
I do think that this experience adds a lot to one’s life.”
Kaplan’s motivation for the book is clear: to show
others that the conventional method is not the only answer to becoming a
“There are lots of different ways to be
creative about a family. There is no need to be a sheep and jump on the
bandwagon … there are different ways of doing it,” he says.
“That’s essentially why I wanted to put the
book out. It’s not just for people who are thinking of having kids. I think
it’s an interesting read.”