Kaplan 'Winging It' on unique journey to fatherhood

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 Tests 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 ... fatherhood. 

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 through.

"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 ground.

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 received. 

"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 says.

"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 parent.

"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."