by Dr. Ben Kim
A few days ago, I was flipping through an Oprah magazine that my wife borrowed from our public library when I came across a short piece on forgiveness by playwright and actor Tyler Perry.
Here’s the part that I felt a strong connection to:
“My father was a carpenter. He used his hands to pour concrete and hammer nails. He also used his hands to beat me.
“I was a tall child, but sickly — I had asthma — and when I went to work with him, the sawdust made me cough. I preferred staying home, writing and drawing. I conjured up other worlds: worlds in which I didn’t worry about being poor, in which I was someone else’s child, a child who lived in a mansion and had a dog. My father — a man with a third-grade education who was orphaned at 2 and sent to work in the fields at 5 — understood only the physical. He thought he could beat the softness out of me and make me hard like him.
“When I was 21, I left my house in New Orleans and headed to Atlanta to be a playwright. I got a day job as a bill collector and scrimped and saved to put on my play I Know I’ve Been Changed— a musical about recovering from an abusive childhood. But even though I was writing about recovering, I wasn’t doing it. Every day I felt angry and bitter and terribly lonely. I rarely dated, and if a woman told me she loved me, I headed for the door. My play bombed; 30 people came on opening weekend. I put it on the next year and the year after that, and each time, it bombed again. Finally, 28 years old, out of money and months behind on my rent, I started sleeping in my car. When the car broke down, I asked my father to cosign on a new one, as he had just done for my sister (the light-skinned sister he adored). When he refused, I forged his signature. And when the car got repossessed, he called me, yelling. Sitting in that little room I’d just scraped together enough money to rent, listening to him berate me, something snapped. Something dormant in me woke up, and I began to yell back.