My dad, Wojtek, was a Polish migrant who came to Australia in the late ’80s when I was 11. He was very entrepreneurial. A risktaker. With the wall about to come down, it would have been easier for him to stay in Poland. But I have this great respect for him and my mum because of the sacrifices they made to move here and provide opportunities for my sister and me.
He comes across as a tough guy. He had this authoritarian approach. But because I had this drive from a very early age when it came to sport, I never felt I was being pushed. He knew everything that was going on in my sport and would help and facilitate, but he wasn’t like, say, a typical tennis parent. He’s actually pretty soft.
He’d pull me up on things, like respect for elders. He comes from a Polish generation that would kiss a woman’s hand on greeting her. He tried to instil that in me.
He travelled to every competition I went to around the world. I could always look up and see him. He actually had a callout, which he made with his tongue, that would let me know that he and my mum were there watching.
I share the parenting of my three kids 50/50. We all live in Bali now and it’s a week-on, week-off arrangement. You just need to give kids structure. They crave that. They want to know that when they come to me that they’re going to follow the routine they’re used to. No surprises. No last-minute changes.
All my kids swim pretty well. But they all have other pursuits they prefer. Which is a little bit hard to swallow, to be honest. My oldest, Stella, is a mad surfer. My son is a mad tennis player and basketballer. Actually, my youngest . . . she might be the chosen one for swimming. She’s only seven and does squad twice a week. If she ends up pursuing swimming as a career, that’d be great. But what I’d really like to see is my kids take on a challenge and pursue it to the end, through all the inevitable ups and downs, because that’s when personal growth happens. It’s very easy to pull the pin on anything when it gets hard.
The kids say, “Oh, dad, can you wear a tank top to school when you pick us up, because all the kids are really scared of you”. Then their friends come over and . . . I’m actually pretty goofy. I mean, my kids know there’s a serious side to me. But I would like to have a friendship with them. Just an open sense of communication. I want them to feel they can come to me about anything. An approachable dad: that’s what I want to be. Looking back, I probably didn’t have a mateship with my dad when I was growing up. But that’s changing. He’s just turned 70 and he’d been losing a bit of size, so now we’re working out together.