I received an early morning phone call from a producer on 5AA radio station in Adelaide, wanting an interview with someone from Dads4Kids. They wanted a comment on the famous Adelaide Football coach who had been murdered by his son. I hesitantly said, ‘yes’ and then quickly started a Google search to find out more about the horrific crime.
It seems that there had been some form of confrontation in the family home at 2.00 AM between father Phil Walsh and his son Cy Walsh. Cy is now being held in a mental institution without bail and charged with his father’s murder. His mother was also admitted to hospital with wounds to her leg. Apparently the police seized drug paraphilia at the scene of the crime but other than that, the details have been sketchy.
Worrying about what I had gotten myself in for, I came across an article by well-known football commentator Mark Robinson which gave some background to the story.
IN April, Phil Walsh told Mark Robinson that he was trying to “reconnect” with his son after his obsession with football made family life difficult at times. Read his in-depth interview below.
IT’S 6am and the coach has been at the club for an hour.
He greets with a hand shake-up and a smile and straight away you know Phil Walsh has two faces.
There’s the footy face, all earnest and genuine. And there’s the other face, the fun face, where a lot of the time he’s just the boy from Hamilton, the youngest of seven siblings, who laughs at his own jokes and who happened to grow to love a game so much it both rewarded him and consumed him.
In many ways his love became a destructive obsession.
He’s 55 now and his work-life balance is reasonably normal, that’s if you think going to bed at 8.30pm and waking any time between 2am and 5am to do his work is normal…
“I’m one of seven, I was the youngest and mum and dad were battlers. Mum gave us the world and if they made mum treasurer of Australia we wouldn’t have this deficit.’’
“Dad went to World War II, saw some action and never spoke about it, but his mates tell me he was never the same bloke.
“I talk about man conversations and I never had a real man conversation with my dad. There’s a bit of me in him. I’ve been a bit of a lad over the days and he was bit of a lad. He liked a drink.
“I had a crack at him once in my only real man conversation with him. And he said to me, ‘I’ve made a promise to my mates who aren’t here, I’d never go thirsty, son. You don’t know what it’s like to go to war, so don’t judge me’. I said fair enough.
“He was always proud of me. I don’t know what your parents are like, but their view of the world was, all they wanted was their kids to do better than them. They were simple people. They wanted their kids to do well and as long as we were happy they were happy. It was a simpler life.’’
His own family life hasn’t been as simple.
His obsession with football at times drove a wedge. At West Coast, after the game was played on a Saturday, Walsh the next day would fly to Melbourne and back, 10 hours all up, just to watch two hours of live footy. He reckons it got even worse when he was Port Adelaide.
Asked if he was a good father, he said: “That’s a really hard question.
“The bonus of me taking the Crows job is my son is 26 and my daughter is 22, so the collateral damage isn’t so big.
“But have I been a good father? To my son, I had a disconnect because of footy.
“I just immersed myself, got consumed and was selfish with as much time I committed to footy. I’m basically talking about my 10 years at Port Adelaide, just the desperation to win a premiership and I thought it was all about me, when it’s all about the players.
“I lost that connection and I’m trying to reconnect with my son, which I have done.
“In a selfish way, I taught my daughter to surf, and that’s my release, so when I go surfing, I take her. Now I’ve got my son into it as well and that’s what I should’ve done a long time ago.
“A couple of months ago, we all went surfing together at Middleton and it was almost the best day I’ve had … ever. We all got a wave, went to the bakery on the way home, we smiled, and laughed and there was none of this stuff, that I’ve got Melbourne, then the Bulldogs, then Port. Just none of that.’’
Those days with the kids remind him that coaching is a lonely job.
“It is really lonely, this is lonely,’’ he says waving a hand around the empty office.
“I used to shut down all relationships because it was too hard to be in the moment with people, hard to be in their moment if you know what I mean.’’
I read this eerily prophetic story about a man’s love for his job becoming destructive obsessive and thought back to some of my friends in the music world whose obsession for their careers cost them their marriages and in some cases their relationship with their kids. The thought of the many times I was not there for my own children because of my own obsession with my career came to me at that moment – so who am I to judge?
The radio interview was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I deliberately didn’t talk about all the stats that show how fatherlessness increases the risk of drug addiction and violent behaviour. It was not a day to talk about what could have been, but to reflect on the bravery of a man who told the world his challenges and who was working hard at fixing his shortfalls, when tragedy struck at the hands of his only son.
As I finished the interview I told the fathers listening that they had to get on the Fatherhood BUS: Be there for their kids; show them Unconditional love and make your children feel Special. The radio announcer who took his 11 year old son to the Memorial Game for the departed coach was most grateful.
The Phil Walsh story is very sobering and it reminds me of the recovering alcoholic who sees a man on the streets drunk and making a fool of himself and says, “There but for the grace of God go I”. The work-life-family-balance eludes us all as fathers, I think half the battle is to start talking about it publically and honestly. Phil Walsh broached a difficult subject in the sport’s world and he should be remembered for his truthfulness and bravery as a husband and a father.
Yours for more brave men
PS: Our apologies for the late newsletter. My wife and I have been battling the flu all week.
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