Sunday was a sad Father’s Day for me.
I couldn’t see my Dad because of lockdown and it was the first Father’s Day without my Grandpa.
Grandpa passed away last month and despite the fact he was 92, his passing was a shock and the most humbling experience of my life, as I took my Grandmother to the hospital to say good bye.
But he had a great life and I have nothing but fonds memories of him, as he and Nana helped me during the most pivotal period of my life.
A fork in the road
After graduating high school, I left Sydney to study Sports Journalism at the University of Canberra as it was the only interesting degree I could get into.
Once settled into campus life, I joined the Uni-Norths Rugby team and they got me a job as a bouncer at a nightclub.
Somehow I managed to play some good footy and got myself selected for the Brumbies Academy, which was a dream I’d always loved watching Brumbies more than the Tahs, despite being from Sydney.
I was having a blast. Rugby, partying, eating whatever I wanted, and just loving the freedom that comes with moving out of home.
But after a small knee injury and an increase in partying, things went south quickly and I soon became a complete mess.
I don’t throw around the term “a complete mess” lightly, but by late 2004 I was:
Unfit & Overweight (Tipping the scales at nearly 130kgs)
A pack-a-day smoker
Broke (Once lived off $10 for an entire week)
Getting boils from poor nutrition and hygiene
Failing Uni and placed on academic probation
and on the verge of being kicked out of the Brumbies Academy for laziness.
This may be hard to believe, but it’s totally true and my friends who lived with me at Arscott House will vouch for my “mess status”.
But one day after a long week of partying, I hit rock bottom and when I told my parents that the Brumbies wanted to kick me out and that I’d failed every subject at uni, they drove to Canberra to try and help me realise that I was heading down a dark path.
“What will you do if the Brumbies and Uni kick you out?” they asked.
“Ummmm… not sure” I replied. Between playing Grand Theft Auto and partying, I’d been too busy to give my future any thought.
“Do you even want to be at the Brumbies and Uni?”
“Well you can’t keep going on like this. You need to leave the uni dorms and stop working late nights.”
Sadly I agreed, and even though I was having a great time, I realised it was too easy to get caught up the partying lifestyle which was killing my footy training and study. Plus working at the nightclub until 5:30am every weekend was throwing my sleep patterns out, which meant I struggled to focus during the week.
So we decided that I should ask to move in with my mother’s parents (who had just moved to Canberra), and they agreed to take me in and help me get back on my feet.
While Grandpa was an accountant, Nana was a Weight Watchers Advocate who taught me about the importance of good food, and after 3 months of living with them, I lost 15 kilos and was sleeping much better.
And because of that, I trained well and went on to have a breakout season, by playing for the Brumby Runners and starting for the Australian Under 21’s, which helped me earn my first Brumbies contract, and I have no doubt that if my Grandparents hadn’t of helped me to get back on track, then my life today would look very different.
So different in fact that I’m scared to think about of how things would have panned out had I not made it in Rugby, as the game taught me so much and gave me almost everything I have today.
I never thanked Grandpa properly for helping me get back on my feet, and I hope that by writing this, Nana will know just how grateful I am and how much he is missed.
Cricket and Quotes
Grandpa was a painfully slow driver, and one day when I was in a rush and needed to get somewhere, he kindly offered me a lift.
But after few kilometres at a snails pace I turned to him a said:
“C’mon Grandpa. Second gear please”
To which he instantly replied:
“The time for safety is all the time”
Which was his favourite saying we’d all hear many times, along plenty of uninvited financial advice as his other favourite saying was:
“Monthly income, £20. Monthly Expenditure, £19 and 10 Shillings… equals HAPPINESS.
Monthly income, £20. Monthly Expenditure, £20 and 2 Shillings equals… MISERY!”
He could have just said “Spend less than you earn”, but I guess that was his way of saying that not over-stretching yourself is a path to happiness.
A Pom (Prisoner of the Motherland) thru and thru, Grandpa and Nana migrated to Australia from England in the 60s with their children so Nana could be closer to her parents who had already made the move.
But Grandpa’s heart was always in England.
Prior to their move down under, Grandpa was a land surveyor in Tanzania and like any good Englishman, he bloody loved his cricket and he’s probably where I got my love of sport from to.
I loved nothing more as a kid than to call him up and rub in any Aussie victory over the English, and as soon as the last ball was bowled I’d race over to the phone and start dialling.
“Grandpa! You wouldn’t of been watching the game by any chance would you? Didn’t happen to see who won?” I would say cheekily, knowing full well that he’d watched the match.
“Your Uncle Robert has already called” he’d reply - his Australian son in-law who loved giving Grandpa grief as much as I did.
England are now the current World Champions and while he never called me up to rub it in, I guess he did have the last laugh.
But what really hit home about how much he loved cricket, was in the days after his death when my Grandmother gave the book he’d last been reading called 1001 Days that Shaped the World.
And as I flicked through pages past the birth of Christ, the Declaration of Independence, and other important events in human history, I found his bookmark.
September 2nd, 1882… the Creation of the Ashes.
Well played Grandpa. Rest in peace.
Desmond Eyre Ritchens
17th May 1929 - 19th August 2021