TERRORISED IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER
No matter how well she played or how many victories she notched up Jelena Dokic lived in constant fear of her father’s explosive temper and savage beatings
Idon’t know where my dad is. I’m stan standing in the plush Wim Wimbledon players’ lounge waiting, looking around for him: we’re due to go out for a nice dinner with my manag managers, Ivan and John. I am 17-ye 17-years-old and I have just played in the semifififinals. finals. Of Wimbl Wimbledon.
Surely, you you’d think, he would be ok okay that I got this far at th the All England Club. You would think. At the end of the match, as I shook Lindsay Lindsay’s hand, I looked up to the stands and saw m my father bolt out of his green seat, nothing bu but the back of his burly f frame rushing from Wimb Wimbledon’s Centre Court. Usually after my matche matches, he stands around somew somewhere near the players’ lounge and a I have to fififififind find him. But tod today there’s neither sight nor so sound of him. I called his mo mobile after I fifififinished finished my press duties and he didn’t pick up.
This has been my greatest run ever in a grand gra slam and I want to know w what he’ll say, and to organise h how we will get to dinner with Ivan Iv and John. So I call him again, ag and this time, finally, he p picks up.
The dull slur in his slow, loud voice tells m me he is drunk. I know this tone; it’s the tone of white wine and p probably a few glasses of whisky whisky. He is angry. Furious that I lost. lo His voice booms down the phone. “You are pathetic, you are a hopeless cow, you are not n to come home. You are an a embarrassment. You can’t stay at our hotel.”
“But, Dad …” I say quietly, trying to plead w with him.
“You need to go and find somewhere else to sleep,” he yells at the top of his voice. “Stay at Wimbledon and sleep there somewhere … Or wherever else. I don’t care.” He hangs up. I have just made the semifinals of Wimbledon. But in my father’s eyes I am not good enough to come home.
Players around me are getting on with life, chatting, eating dinner, winding down with their coaches. I am alone and shattered. I have no money – well, no access to it – no credit card. It is Dad who has all that. He controls everything in my life. Emotion starts to overwhelm me. Failure – I’m a failure. Minutes tick by and then hours. I tuck myself away on a small couch in the corner of the players’ lounge, hoping no one notices me, and eventually the place is empty.
At around 11pm the cleaner arrives. She sees me in the corner and comes over. “You can’t stay here,” she says softly.
I make the confession: “I have nowhere to sleep tonight.” As I say it, the reality hits me. The tears prick in the corner of my eyes.
“I have to let the tournament authorities know,” she says.
Wimbledon’s referee, Alan Mills, arrives. “What happened?” he asks gently.
“I have nowhere to go,” I say. “I have nowhere to sleep.”
Hot tears are running down my face, but I don’t let on that my own father has banished me: as always I must protect him. Alan, however, seems to know what’s going on. My management agency, Advantage, has rented a beautiful house in Wimbledon village; Alan calls my managers and they say they will take me in. He arranges for a tournament car to take me to the house.
I arrive sobbing and Ivan and John look concerned when they see me. They ex- plain they’d called my dad earlier in the evening trying to locate us and my nine-year-old brother, Savo, answered. John says he could hear my father’s voice in the background. Apparently Savo said simply, “My dad isn’t here.”
I am both heartbroken by my father’s rejection and embarrassed by it.
Every morning I wake at home and worries assail my mind before I have even lifted my head off the pillow. How can I make sure he doesn’t hurt me today? How can I make sure he doesn’t explode? These days that’s hard – he’s getting more aggressive.
It feels as though ever since we walked through the doors of Sydney Airport he has been panicked, fearful and miserable. His eyes are now never soft like they sometimes were in Serbia; he is still grieving the death of his father. Nor have my parents been able to get jobs. Once more, at times our main meals are bread and margarine with salt. On the day before we are due to receive our fortnightly government benefit we are usually down to our last $8, and six of those must be spent on train and bus fares for Dad and me to get to White City.
Fortunately my work is paying off. At White City, on my hectic training regimen I am improving at a rapid rate. I’ve made the kind of gains in my tennis over three months that most other children would manage in three years. It’s not normal, but it’s impossible not to improve like this when you’ve got someone like my father behind you. There is no other option but to succeed.
He tells me I must succeed as this is our only way out from this situation here in Australia. He tells me this daily – in our Fairfield apartment, on the way to training: “You are our way out.”
And I know that I am. Absolutely, I am our only chance of a better life in this new country.
I begin to feel that the stakes are so high for my family around my success or failure that every shot has to be perfect. Indeed, Dad tells me he wants me to be perfect on the tennis court. But even when I deliver perfection he wants more. When I reach No. 1 in the under-14s, he demands I should be No. 1 in the under-16 age group. It doesn’t take much to set him off into a rage.
Things aren’t all bad for our family. There are some good times – a few hours when we have a happy