“Amazing Grace” is the theme of Robin Given’s compelling memoir, Grace Will Lead Me Home. Her maternal grandmother, Grace Turner Newby Scott, was amazing grace personified and a true phenomenal woman. She had deep faith and strength of character which she instilled in her daughter, Ruth Newby Givens Roper.
Ms. Roper is an ambitious and highly successful entrepreneur who had big dreams for her daughters Robin and Stephanie. She was an early helicopter mom and a bit of a narcissist. Her incessant demands for perfection exhausted Robin and significantly undermined her self-esteem. For three generations, the Turner-Newby-Givens women chose to be single mothers rather than tolerate abuse and infidelity.
All three generations experienced abandonment. Grace’s mother died when she was small. Ruth experienced PTSD episodes from witnessing her mother’s abuse and didn’t connect the man in her nightmares with her absent father until he finally came for a visit. Robin’s father missed her birth (we’re both Thanksgiving babies ~ she was born the day after my sixteenth birthday), and he forgot he was her father until he extorted her for money when the tabloids came calling. The book’s dedication gave me chills:
I would like to dedicate this book to all of the fatherless daughters who grow up feeling abandoned and unworthy of “good” love. . .For all of the abandoned little girls searching to fill the emptiness, all of the lonely little girls desperate to be made worthy, I want you to know the fault does not rest with you.
The matriarchs in Ms. Givens’ family gave her a solid foundation of wit and wisdom ~ some of which she didn’t timely comprehend. Three of my favorite nuggets from her great-aunts:
You can walk into a blessing just as soon as you can walk into some shit. [Liza]
Mama always said if you find a man with character, you’ve found a man worth his weight in gold. [Cindy]
Some men have a way of just sucking the life right out of you. . .Take your heart and suck the love out of it too. ‘Cause, baby, truth be told, that’s where a woman’s beauty comes from. . .Comes right from her heart. . .I don’t know what it is about some women hell bent on loving the wrong man, on trying to fix something that only God can fix. [Ruth]
Ms. Givens had loving relationships with her maternal grandfather Louis Newby, Jr., and with her grandmother’s second husband Harry (“Poppy”) Scott. She admits that she intentionally sabotaged her mother’s second marriage to Frank Roper. Her extended family all lived in the same New York apartment building. Her mother’s assistant Olga was part surrogate mother and part spiritual sister. A romantic at heart, Olga played a major role in introducing Mike Tyson to Ms. Givens. My sense is that these people gave Ms. Givens the skills she would need to form enduring, supportive relationships.
I knew before I said “I do” that I shouldn’t.
I could kill you and get away with it. People love me. I could kill you and no one would care. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt. You’ll never see it coming.
Ms. Givens’ Ivy League education, success on Head of the Class, and role in Oprah Winfrey’s Women of Brewster Place were minimized by men who wanted their own piece of the exceedingly lucrative Mike Tyson pie. After Mr. Jacobs’ sudden death, his brother Bill and Don King battled over who would be the head of Team Tyson. Ms. Givens suggested Donald Trump:
If hell had been quaking, it threatened to break loose then. I had no ties to the man, and I hardly even knew him. . .The very thought of this Don having a foothold in boxing must have ruffled the feathers of some mighty big birds. The stage was set for all-out war. . .I was caught. . .in the cross fire. . .so was Michael. Oh, he thought he was in control and he hoped to use this war to control me. . .we were both casualties of war. I was seriously wounded but he would be taken hostage and held as a prisoner of war.
. . .it was that simple. By introducing another option, another Don, I became the enemy of powerful people.
Norman Brokaw, who was friends with Barbara Walters, envisioned an acting career for Mr. Tyson and set up the infamous interview on 20/20. It was scheduled to be taped in their $4.5 million, 30-room mansion in Bernardsville, NJ on the day after the couple returned from Russia.
On the last night of their Russian trip, Mr. Tyson got drunk while visiting American troops. He raped [Ms. Givens’ refuses to use this word] her before attempting suicide twice and going on a drunken rampage in the hotel that terrified everyone in their entourage.
Oprah Winfrey witnessed Mr. Tyson’s bizarre behavior. She had been a frequent guest at parties and was with the couple at the NBA All-Star game in Chicago on February 7, 1988. Later that night, Mr. Tyson surprised Ms. Givens by taking her to a Catholic rectory to get married.
Ms. Givens’ must have felt a powerful betrayal when Oprah didn’t call Mr. Tyson out during an interview on her show for making a joke of his brutal spousal abuse. I was shocked that Ms. Winfrey apologized profusely:
I felt that I should have said, “Audience, that isn’t funny” or, “Audience, this is really serious.” So I regretted even in that moment. . .I would say to you and to every woman who’s ever been hit, I feel that I did not handle that as well as I should have. . .I apologize to you and to every woman who has ever been in that situation.
Ms. Givens left Mr. Tyson several times after abusive episodes. The final straw came shortly after the Barbara Walters interview. Ms. Givens, her mother, her sister, and Olga barricaded themselves in the laundry room with the couple’s puppies during one of Mr. Tyson’s violent tirades. Contrary to the “gold digger” vilification, Ms. Givens left the marriage with the clothes on her back. When I read this moving reflection in her book, I thought it would make a powerful soliloquy in a Tyler Perry or Lee Daniels movie:
I drew on the strength of all the strong women who had come before me, women of vision and courage, women of pride and purpose, women striving for perfection. No, these women are not perfect by any means, but in striving to be the best they could be, they found the courage to go on. Standing on the shoulders of these women, I was being lifted beyond my circumstance and above what I could see in front of me. It must have been my heart that glimpsed a better future, the very thing that had inspired and motivated them, the very thing they wanted and believed in for me.
Ms. Givens returned to Hollywood. The failure of her marriage caused her to slip into a deep depression:
When the adrenaline left my body and I saw everything for the first time, I felt shame and embarrassment and overwhelming guilt. . .I became very sad. I mean, very, very sad. . .I was immobilized. And I could not get out of bed. . .clinically depressed. It took me awhile. . .to get help and to get over the shame of what had just robbed me of so much time. I was unable to participate in life.
She met Brad Pitt, who helped her start the healing process. He put her on a plane to Paris, and she traveled to escape. She immersed herself in work. Eventually, she bought a cottage near Hilton Head, SC. Mr. Tyson continued to call and escalated his chilling threat:
Remember I said I was gonna kill you? Don’t worry, I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to make your life so miserable, you’re going to cut your own throat. I’m gonna love every minute watching you go down.
Earlier this year, Ms. Givens launched The Art of Acting. . .For Life, a national tour of acting workshops for adults and children, in Detroit, MI. In the above photo, she is coaching Amina Johnson at Miles College in Birmingham, AL on the role of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Her life has come full circle. The role of Dorothy in a school play was Ms. Givens’ first acting gig.
She lives in Florida and New York with her sons Michael (“Buddy”) and Billy. Ms. Givens is determined to “give good husbands and good fathers to the world.” The boys are avid tennis players like their aunt Stephanie, who followed her dream to become a tennis professional rather than the lawyer her mother wanted her to be.
We loved each other once. . .He has a place in my heart, but he’s really not a part of my life.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Please join me in wearing your purple and celebrating survivors.