It’s another beautiful May Sunday here in Germany. As I mentioned in my travel blog, I was hoping Bill and I could go do some really fun stuff this holiday weekend. But, thanks to a lack of planning and general laziness, together with raging allergic symptoms, we’ve kind of stuck close to home. It has been kind of a busy weekend in other ways, though. Bill and his daughter have been talking a lot, mainly because the youngest grandchild has just turned one year old.
We’ve been learning more about younger daughter’s college years and escape from Ex. Every time I hear more about what happened during that time period, I’m flabbergasted anew. I sense that younger daughter doesn’t want us to feel badly for her, nor does she consider herself a victim. I find that a very refreshing and admirable attitude to take. However, it still shocks me to hear about the challenges she faced during that time period. I do think a lot of her blessings came from being involved in her church, where people are encouraged to help each other. That’s one of a few things I do like about the LDS church. I especially find it funny that church people helped younger daughter so much, since Ex used the church as a parental alienation tool against Bill.
Anyway, as we were reacting to some of the revelations last night, I found myself trying to explain my reactions. I reiterated that I don’t think of younger daughter as a victim. I think she is incredibly resilient and resourceful. I just find it regrettable that it was more important for Ex to be hateful to Bill than do what was right for their daughters. Younger daughter didn’t have to go through what she did. Bill would have been so happy to help her. It would have been an honor for him to set her up for success at school. But Ex not only didn’t want to allow him to help their kids, she didn’t even want her kids to help themselves. I think she meant for her kids to all stay in her home, and those who try to flee the nest get punished.
It became clear as younger daughter was talking that Ex didn’t expect her kids to have ANY money of their own. At the time younger daughter was applying to school, Ex didn’t know that younger daughter had some money socked away, and she used it to pay the application fee for college and have her transcripts sent to her school of choice. She had just $80 of her own money— at age 18, no less. And she used it for higher education. Ex had not wanted her to go to school away from home and when she found out what younger daughter did, she got VERY angry with her. I think she was angry, not just because she’d applied to college (imagine being a mother upset about THAT), but because she’d secretly had the money in the first place!
I mentioned that I didn’t think Ex wanted her daughters to have money because money equals power. And, as I was talking, I explained… “Bill wanted very much to help you. He just didn’t want Ex to be part of it, because Ex always has to be part of the deal.” And then, before I knew it, I blurted out, “Your mom is a total psycho.”
And then I apologized… because “psycho” really isn’t the best word for what Ex is, at least not when I’m talking to Bill’s daughter. I didn’t want to offend younger daughter, either. But then it became pretty clear that she wasn’t offended by that comment.
I did explain at the end of our session that I am not the most politically correct person. I often speak my mind, sometimes out of turn. Often, I piss people off because I don’t tend to hold back on what I’m thinking, and sometimes I use language that would make a sailor blush. But… at least you know that what you get is what you see… as the great Tina Turner once sang.
Once again, I am absolutely floored by how forgiving and kind younger daughter is. She doesn’t seem to have a drop of anger or bitterness in her. I’m sure it’s there somewhere, but I have yet to see it. I find that amazing… and very admirable. Maybe she has much to teach me. But anyway, she says that there are always people who have it worse. That’s true, but it doesn’t negate what she dealt with back in the day. She shouldn’t have had to struggle like that.
I’ll try to be a little more circumspect… or thoughtful about what I say. I suspect younger daughter’s husband, if he heard that comment, probably thought it was funny, though. I think he and I can commiserate about a lot of things. I don’t envy his position, when he has to deal with his mother-in-law. She is a challenge… or maybe she’s more like a trial. Whatever she is, one thing’s for certain. She is a psycho, and that is the truth.
Or… I’d like to think that Tina is somewhere incredible now, anyway. She certainly lived in a beautiful, idyllic, paradise like part of Switzerland off of Lake Zurich. A couple of years ago, Bill and I visited Kusnacht, Switzerland, where Tina’s home was located, but we were there because Bill wanted to visit Carl Jung’s home and museum, which is also in Kusnacht.
Last night, just after dinner, Bill blurted out the headline that Tina Turner had died. I wasn’t surprised by the news. She was 83 years old, and had suffered a host of serious health problems at the end of her life. She was also predeceased by two of her sons, Craig and Ronnie. Ronnie passed away just six months ago, which I’m sure was hard for Tina to bear. But, of course, I am only speculating, and I did read that Tina was somewhat estranged from her sons in later years. In any case, as sad as it is for the public to lose a legendary superstar like Tina Turner, I also suspect that the end was probably a relief for her. In spite of her incredible career and worldwide fame, Tina did not have an easy life.
My heart goes out to Tina’s two surviving sons, Ike Jr. and Michael, and her husband, Erwin Bach, who famously donated a kidney to Tina when she went into kidney failure. They had a very long love affair with each other, having started their relationship in the 1980s and married in 2013. That was also the year that Tina gave up her U.S. passport and became a Swiss citizen. I don’t know what, exactly, drew Tina to Switzerland, but if I were to guess, I’d say it’s probably because it’s a very serene place with lots of natural beauty and security. It’s a far cry from Tina’s beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, where Tina was born on November 26, 1939 as Anna Mae Bullock.
Tina Turner’s family of origin was very poor, and she was the youngest of three daughters. Her father was an overseer of sharecroppers, and she grew up helping her family pick cotton. When Tina was eleven years old, her mother, Zelma, ran off without any warning, supposedly to escape an abusive relationship with Tina’s father, Floyd Bullock. According to a passage on Tina’s Wikipedia page:
She stated in her autobiography I, Tina that her parents had not loved her and she wasn’t wanted. Zelma had planned to leave Floyd but stayed once she became pregnant. “She was a very young woman who didn’t want another kid,” Turner recalled.
I have basic knowledge of how that feels, although I do think my parents love(d) me, in their own way. Tina was able to turn that fundamental rejection into incredible success. Imagine, being a tiny child who knows her parents didn’t want her… and then growing up to be such a renowned phenom whose death the world mourns. It just goes to show you that there is endless potential in most people. Tina went through many hardships, but she was also blessed with extraordinary talent, drive, creativity, and quite a lot of luck.
Still, it amazes me when I think of Tina’s humble beginnings as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, picking cotton with her family, enduring years of separation from her parents, living with her very religious grandparents, and finding the gift of song in their Baptist church. Then, years later, she met Ike Turner, who propelled her to fame, but used and abused her until she found the courage to leave him. In the years between leaving Ike and breaking out as a rock star, Tina did have to pay some dues in Las Vegas hotels… and perhaps most embarrassingly, on an episode of The Brady Bunch Hour. Still, she always gave it her all!
I will never forget the first time I heard Tina’s remake of the Al Green classic, “Let’s Stay Together. I was maybe 11 years old, and had never heard Tina’s hits with Ike Turner. I don’t think I even knew their version of “Proud Mary”, nor was I even exposed to Al Green’s song. To be honest, my first reaction to Tina’s “Let’s Stay Together” wasn’t very favorable. At that time of my life, I didn’t have an appreciation for unique voices. I didn’t like listening to Bob Dylan, either– even though he is an incredible artist and songwriter. I remember thinking Tina had a terrible singing voice!
But then, the next year, the title song on Private Dancer came out on the radio… Suddenly, I understood what the fuss was all about. I remember that album so well, as I was right in the middle of puberty when it was a hit. I’d see her videos, enchanted by her big, bushy, wild hair (wig), her mini skirts, leather bustiers, high heels and bright red lips. I was shocked to find out she was less than two years younger than my mother! I liked her other songs just as much or even more, and then I became a real fan. Maybe I wasn’t as big of a fan of hers as others were. I never got to see her in concert. But her unusual sound made me want to know more about her.
In 1993, when I was in college, my friend Chris worked at a video store. He got a screener of the movie What’s Love Got to Do With It starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. I loved that movie! I’ve seen it a bunch of times over the past thirty years. I never get tired of it, or the wonderful soundtrack with old songs from the Ike and Tina era. What I really love about that movie is that it introduced me to Tina’s past through Angela Bassett’s masterful acting. As I mentioned up post, I wasn’t familiar with Ike and Tina, and it wasn’t until I saw that movie that I started to seek out those old performances that were so different from Tina’s 80s image. I also love Angela Bassett’s work. She is a fantastic actor, and is perfect in her role as Tina Turner.
Tina’s story, as depicted in What’s Love Got To Do With It, was made entertaining, even though she truly went through Hell to get to where she ended up. The truth is, Tina escaped her hellish marriage to Ike Turner and soared into a career of her own that way eclipsed what she ever had with Ike. She served as a role model and icon to so many people of my generation. I heard her collaborate with other musicians, changing classic songs into her own creations.
It wasn’t until the early aughts that I read Tina’s book, I, Tina, ghostwritten with Kurt Loder, which provided a much rawer look at her life story. It’s been many years since I read I, Tina, but I do remember that the book was very candid. I distinctly remember reading about how and where Tina lost her virginity. Tina was just as forthcoming and unbridled in her book as she was in her stage performances. I think I still own a copy of that book– it’s in storage. I shouldn’t be too surprised that the day after Tina’s death, the prices for the first edition of her book are way up on Amazon! Years ago, I wrote a review of that book. I’m not sure if I still have it available. I’ll look and see, and if I find it, I’ll repost it.
Not too long ago, I saw a 2021 documentary about Tina Turner’s more recent life. It was called Tina, and it filmed in her home in Switzerland. She spoke candidly about her life, and that was when I heard about her serious health concerns. But even with those health problems, she still looked amazing and spoke with such lucidity and wisdom. I remember being amazed by her all over again. She was obviously destined to be an icon… but even icons have an end. Fortunately, she left behind an astonishing treasure trove of works that will continue to inspire and amaze people for many years to come.
I know a lot of people are expressing sadness that Tina Turner has died. I think it would be disingenuous for me to be sad about Tina’s death, because she lived a long, full life, and death is something that happens to us all. Instead of sadness about her death, I feel grateful that she lived, and we all got to know aspects of her by watching her perform and hearing her sing. I am consoled that she no longer has to suffer from ill health, or even just the ravages of getting older– the aches and pains that make it harder to enjoy living. Even if there is no Heaven after death, the condition of no longer suffering is a kind of heavenly peace.
Any sorrow I feel is not about Tina’s death, but for those who knew and loved her, and will have to go on without her in their lives. I know she will be missed by so many people– not just her legions of fans, but the people in her life who had the pleasure of knowing her personally. To those people, I offer my most sincere condolences… and to Tina herself, I offer gratitude for the many memories I have of the 1980s version of Tina Turner and the way she served as a positive role model to so many young girls like I was, back in those days. I really wish I could have seen her perform live.
Tina really was a queen for us all…
I’m sharing the link to I, Tina, for those who might not have known it exists. If you purchase through my site, I get a small commission from Amazon. But I don’t expect anyone to pay so much for this book. I recommend looking in your local library for it. ETA: I see a new edition is out and offered at a relatively reasonable price. If you want to know her unvarnished story, I recommend picking it up.
January seems to be my month for reading true stories. Early this morning, because I couldn’t sleep, I finished reading 2017’s Unbreakable, the story of tennis phenom Jelena Dokic, ghostwritten by Jessica Halloran. I bought this book a week ago and finished it in less than 48 hours. Part of the reason I finished so quickly is because I’m alone this week, but I also found it a very compelling and interesting book. I don’t follow tennis at all, and had never even heard of Jelena Dokic before I read Unbreakable. But her story interested and frustrated me on many levels. I think anyone who has ever had to deal with a controlling, narcissistic, alcoholic person will relate to it.
Who is Jelena Dokic?
Born April 12, 1983 in Croatia, which was then part of the former Yugoslavia, Jelena Dokic once played tennis with the likes of Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, and both Venus and Serena Williams. But her earliest days in Osijek, Croatia, didn’t lend a hint to the fame and fortune she would eventually attain.
Jelena Dokic’s mother is from Croatia; her father was born in Croatia, but was of Serbian descent. She was an only child until 1991, when her mother gave birth to her beloved brother, Savo. From the very beginning, Jelena adored her brother and saw herself as his protector. His birth was at the time when the Iron Curtain was falling apart, and that included Jelena’s homeland, Yugoslavia, which was really just a conglomeration of different states with different languages and cultures cobbled together.
One day, when Jelena was still very young, she and her father, Damir Dokic, were in a rowboat fishing, when they saw a body floating past. As Yugoslavia was breaking up, people from the different countries were fighting among themselves. Murders were increasingly common as the area became a war zone. The obstetrician who delivered both Jelena and her brother was murdered, prompting the family to temporarily move to Serbia. There, Jelena had to learn the Serbian language as the civil unrest and ethnic and religion based violence continued.
During those early years, Jelena’s father got the idea to see if his daughter could play tennis. Boy, could she… Jelena was a natural talent. From the age of six, she showed everyone that she was born for the game. Reluctant coaches in Serbia didn’t think she could hang with the bigger girls, but she soon proved herself a formidable player. Before she’d hit puberty, Jelena had launched what would turn into a lucrative career.
Enter “Daddy Dearest”…
Besides dealing with the violence of war and the upheaval of moving from Croatia to Serbia, Jelena’s family was poor. For some time, Jelena, her mother, and brother lived in a garden shack owned by relatives. It was rat infested and freezing cold. Meanwhile, her father and other relatives were in Croatia. Jelena’s dad, Damir, came back when it became clear that his daughter had the potential to go far in the tennis world.
The family eventually immigrated to Australia, where Jelena rose in the ranks to become a great tennis player. But she would inspire jealousy among other Aussie tennis players, who weren’t a match for her. Her entire life revolved around winning tennis matches and making money for her abusive father. Jelena’s mother, beaten down by years of abuse, aided and abetted Damir’s tyrannical behavior.
Damir Dokic had a tragically effective way of “motivating” Jelena to succeed. He drove her to train constantly, berated her, called her vile, filthy names, and when she didn’t win on the tennis court, beat her with his leather belt. Damir was also a severe alcoholic with a weakness for white wine and whiskey. He would show up to Jelena’s games rip roaring drunk, screaming at her from the sidelines. Jelena was treated like a commodity. She wasn’t allowed to have friends, and her abusive father would threaten and humiliate her constantly, even when she did well.
Still, in spite of being called names like “whore” and “cow”, and even though her father would regularly terrorize Jelena, and tell her she was a disgrace, the young tennis phenom consistently rose to the occasion. At the pinnacle of her tennis career, Jelena Dokic was ranked number four in the world. For awhile, she was unstoppable, although her father never praised Jelena for her achievements.
But sadly, before Jelena was even twenty-one years old, it all began to unravel. She went through many coaches, endured a narcissistic boyfriend, and through it all, had to face her terrifying father, who leveraged Jelena’s access to her mother and brother to get what he wanted… which was basically ALL of her money and complete control over her career.
A familiar story, yet still shocking…
As I read Jelena Dokic’s story, I was reminded of several other stories of extremely talented and successful people. A couple of years ago, I wrote a review of a book written by Verona van de Leur, a former elite gymnast from The Netherlands who eventually went to prison and then became a porn star. Like Jelena Dokic, Verona was expected to perform and achieve in her sport, mainly because her parents were leeching money from her.
I don’t believe Verona van de Leur ever made as much money as Jelena Dokic did, as Jelena’s father eventually built a mansion with Jelena’s earnings, complete with a wine cellar and stables. He made her agree to keep sending him payments of $200,000, as well as most of her other earnings. Jelena’s father also forced her to sign over her rights to a house paid for with money she won. Naturally, she was also expected to pay the taxes on her winnings, which she soon couldn’t do as she stopped winning. Not winning meant making much less money playing tennis.
I was also reminded of Dominique Moceanu, an American former elite gymnast of Romanian descent, whose father abused her in order to motivate her to achieve. I remember how adorable Dominique was in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. I didn’t know, at that time, the price she was paying to be at the top of her game in gymnastics. I read and reviewed Dominique’s book, too.
Finally, Jelena’s crazy abuse story reminded a bit of Tina Turner, and her story of being mentored by her ex husband, the late Ike Turner. Although Tina is known for being a great singer, she shared the same tragic fate as Jelena, Verona, and Dominique did. All of these incredibly gifted and talented women basically served as “golden geese” for abusive men who exploited and terrorized them to get money and power from them.
As compelling as Unbreakable is, I have to admit, I found it a frustrating read. Jelena Dokic was caught in a terrible abuse cycle. Over and over again, her father would abuse her in almost every way. He would make her run for miles after exhausting tennis matches or in extreme heat. He would verbally abuse her and terrorize her. Or he would beat her up, kick her with his pointy toed dress shoes, or whip her with his belt. When she became an adult, she would say “enough” and try to leave. But he’d always manage to talk her into coming back for more abuse.
Ditto to other abusers in Jelena’s life. She had a tennis coach who took advantage of her. He wasn’t very experienced in the game, but he was manipulative. More than once, Jelena tried to get rid of him, only to take him back later. She had an abusive, controlling boyfriend of the same ilk who was hard to shake.
On a conscious level, I understand that Jelena was trapped in a cycle of abuse. She was coping the only way she knew how. She didn’t have much help from other people, even though some had seen evidence of her father’s telltale abuse. Jelena was a valuable commodity to a lot of men, and I guess it was easier to allow the blatant terrorism to continue, rather than do something about it. I have had experience with an abusive alcoholic father myself, so I do have an inkling of what Jelena was facing. My dad wasn’t as bad as Jelena’s dad is, either. But still, it was frustrating to read about this very talented and successful woman being horrifically abused, and nothing being done about it. It’s pretty shameful, actually. Fortunately, the story ends well.
I think Jessica Halloran did a fine job writing this book. It’s in the historical present tense, which is kind of different. I never got the sense that I wasn’t reading this book from the source, though, which is a good thing. There are some photos included, too.
Like I mentioned up post, I don’t really follow tennis at all. I’m not into sports. But I could relate to and empathize with Jelena Dokic’s story in Unbreakable. It sounds like she’s gotten her life back on track, as she now works as a tennis coach and motivational speaker in Australia. Jelena’s story is horrific at times, but ultimately, she’s triumphed.
Yes, it took a long time for Jelena Dokic to get to where she is… and that may frustrate some readers, who will see her making the same mistakes repeatedly. I notice some comments on Amazon are about how Jelena didn’t ask for help and/or denied the abuse, and the stories of abuse became “tedious” and “repetitive”.
I think it’s helpful to remember that people who are caught up in abuse don’t have the benefit of clarity. They have been conditioned to accept bad treatment from their abusers, who isolate them and swear them to secrecy by using shame, violence, and fear for other loved ones. In Jelena’s case, it was her beloved brother who served as a bargaining chip. If she didn’t cooperate with her father, she would lose contact with Savo. When abuse victims are in that kind of a bind, it can be especially difficult to break free from tyranny. Yes, it’s frustrating to watch obvious abuse when it happens, but getting away from abuse and “stepping out of the F.O.G.” is legitimately hard.
In any case, I think Unbreakable is worth reading. I’d give it four stars out of five.
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