Monday, July 6, 2015

Nothing Can Be Taken From The Death Of Phil Walsh. Except...

The city of Adelaide was thrust into a collective shock over the weekend, following the murder of AFL Adelaide Crows coach Phil Walsh, by his own son. 

Acres of page space and swathes of internet bandwidth has been taken up with the reporting of this tragic event so, for the sake of brevity, I won't reproduce the story in full here. A quick Google Search will yield all you need to know about the event and the circumstances of the murder.

In the collective grief that has followed, I have conversed with many people who are trying to come to grips with this heinous act. Clearly it is one in which many can't - and justifiably so. Here we have a son, coming home in the early hours of a Friday morning and, following a domestic dispute, has fatally knifed his own father. It is an unforgivable act. One which he will be tried and judged for. 

The ramifications are incomprehensible. A loving father, husband and family man has been taken from this earth and his family has, in one fell swoop, been utterly destroyed. 

In the immediate aftermath, through the white noise of incessant media analysis, I myself tried to get my head around it. I happened across one newspaper article which was moving and prescient. Penned by Herald Sun columnist Mark Robinson in April 2015, that very journalist embedded himself with Phil Walsh for a period of time and produced a insightful piece on the AFL Coach - both the professional man and the private man. 

image credit: News Limited / Sarah Reed.

In it, Phil Walsh is cast as a committed football coach, brilliant tactician, father figure to many young footballers and widely respected as an astute football mind. Walsh also reflects on himself as a family man and father and he admitted that all was not well between himself and his son. I should clarify here that nothing - Nothing - can excuse the behavior and the actions of Cy Walsh, nor can Phil Walsh be blamed in any degree for those actions. 

What does become clear is that the demands of his job and his obsession with it drove a wedge between father and son that was damaging. 

"...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."

- Phil Walsh, April 2015. 

Walsh goes on to reflect on the commitment he made to re-connect with his son, to remove that wedge and it would appear that he and his son were making strides in renewing their relationship. 

Apparently, it was not to be.

On Sunday morning, I was at my own son's local footy game and I fell into a conversation with one of the other dads. Inevitably the talk turned to the events of Friday and the shocking aftermath. Terms like utterly shocking, pointless, a waste came up. And then he asked the question, "What can be taken from this?" 

I  have indeed asked myself this very same question. My eyes were inevitably drawn to my own son, out on the field. Reflecting on my own relationship with him, there have been plenty of times where I have placed other priorities ahead of that relationship - be it work commitments, writing commitments or any one of a number of other things. One can argue the merits of degrees of neglect in this but I do know that I have disappointed him and I have disappointed myself.

If anything can be taken from the tragedy of Phil Walsh's death - perhaps it will prompt fathers and sons to sit down with one another and talk...

...just talk.  


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  1. Thank you, Dean. You've cast this event in a new and important light for me. I'm thinking again.

    1. It's a terrible thing to have to contemplate - but the relationship between fathers and sons is just so important.

      The relationship between a father and his children full stop!