Phil Walsh’s death a wake-up call for fathers

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Tragedy delivered a wake-up call to fathers following a sad incident earlier this year.

Phil Walsh, the coach of the Adelaide Crows AFL team, was killed at the age of 55.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

His son is currently in a high security psychiatric centre facing a murder charge.

He is due to appear before a court in Adelaide this month.

The coach had been seen as a mentor and father figure for many young players aged mostly between 18 and 32 but his son Cy, who is around the middle of that age group at 26, was charged with his killing.

That “wake-up call” for the role that fathers play in the lives of their children was sparked by Phil Walsh in an interview on work-life balance shortly before his death.

“I remember one year I snapped at my son over something and he said: “Footy’s started again has it dad?’

“That rocked me, so I’m working on it.”

Stories resulting from that conversation recorded how it seemed he had concluded that his career had been for one man: himself.

In that reflective interview, he had spoken of his inability to leave the game at work and how a “wedge” had developed between him and his son.

He said: “I tell my kids (apparently also meaning young footballers) to chase their dreams … I don’t want to look back at 70 years old and think what might have been.”

Sadly, Mr Walsh won’t be able to do that – but regardless of the tragic end to his life a short time later, his words should resonate with every parent and especially fathers who, despite changes which have occurred over recent generations, still carry heavy responsibilities to meet the material demands of their families.

Whether a career delivers a role as a football coach or varies somewhere between holding one of the nation’s highest offices or trying to forge a reasonable living out of the most menial of jobs, the lesson from the near-final words of Phil Walsh was to avoid allowing the demands of work to intrude on more important and on-going relationships.

Use of the term “on-going” is important because when a person reaches the years that I have been lucky enough to amass and has said farewell to a large number of people when leaving various jobs, realisation dawns that those with whom great service has been shared and delivered seldom bother to make contact after you have moved on.

Ultimately only those close to you should matter – and that closeness usually comes from family.

Being a father carries enormous demands that are not always immediately returned by love and care from those we nurture but regardless, dads need to be there whenever possible and put their chance to share love ahead of spending weekends playing golf or tennis, instead following the pursuits of their offspring aiming to deliver on the love craved, often in silence, by their children.

It can be pleasantly surprising in senior years to learn that activities which may have failed to excite many parents have actually produced very pleasant and long-lasting memories for offspring.

We may be able to parent more than a single child but each one will cast individual judgments on our efforts.

Media reports branded Phil Walsh as a “wonderful man” and claimed the AFL family had lost almost as much as his own family who said that their “lives will never be the same”.

If that “football family” was grieving then they did it again more recently when another AFL great, Brett Ratten, lost his 16-year-old son, Cooper, in a road accident, victim as a passenger in a tragic joy ride.

“I wish I would kiss you, hug you and hold you tight,” were the words that Brett – assistant coach of Hawthorn, dual All-Australian and former captain and coach of Carlton – used in responding to that death.

Those words should resonate with every family because, too often, we can fail to grasp the opportunities that good times provide for us to embrace the good times.

This column may have generated some sadness when we’re meant to be celebrating Australian dads but hopefully it has stirred feelings about getting the most out of giving and receiving fatherly love.

Embrace this day, and also remember “Our Father who art in heaven”.