Viola Davis opens up about forgiving her abusive father

'Forgiveness is not pretty. Sometimes people don't understand that life is not a Thursday-night lineup on ABC.'
April 13, 2022 2:23 p.m. EST
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To heal, Viola Davis says she had to forgive the abuse her father inflicted on her mother while she was growing up.

While promoting her new memoir, Finding Me, Davis shared with People the physical and emotional abuse her father Dan perpetrated on Davis's mother, Mae Alice, for years. 

Explaining how she handled the behaviour at the time, Davis says, "How you react is based on survival."

"The key is to survive. I did what was at my hand to do at 8 years old. I fought. And that fighting served me because I'm still on my feet."

Viola was one of six children and grew up in a home that was always stuggling (and not always succeeding) to make ends meet. Her book details the trauma she experienced in an environment that was physically unsafe to live in, the blatant racism she experienced at the hands of classmates and the sexual abuse she and her sisters survived. She says forgiveness is part of her healing and forgiving her father was a huge process. 

Fortunately, in his later years, Davis's father changed, "My mom said he apologized to her every single day. Every single day, he rubbed her feet. Forgiveness is not pretty." 

"Sometimes people don't understand that life is not a Thursday-night lineup on ABC. It is messy. He did hurt me then, but love and forgiveness can operate on the same plane as anger."

Mae Alice and Dan made peace before the end of his life and were together for 48 years when he died of pancreatic cancer in 2006.

Davis, too,reconciled her relationship with her father before he passed.

"I wanted to love my dad," she explained. "And here's the thing: My dad loved me. I saw it. I felt it. I received it, and I took it. For me, that's a much better gift and less of a burden than going through my entire life carrying that big, heavy weight of who he used to be and what he used to do.”

Davis is grateful for every part of her journey, explaining, "I count it all as joy. I do. All of those things happened to me, but I own it. And it's a part of who I am." 

In the end, even the most painful parts of her story have led her to a family with her husband of almost 19 years, Julius Tennon, and her daughter Genesis, 11.

"That's my choice. That's my legacy: forgiving my dad."

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