Monday, March 11, 2013

The Inspirational Story Of Tyler Perry - Dealing With Forgiveness

Dealing With Forgiveness
Tyler Perry
Whenever Tyler Perry is in front of the camera, he's usually behind it as well. A screenwriter, director, producer and star, Perry grew up poor in New Orleans, but he has become a movie phenomenon — he was described in the New Yorker as the most financially successful black man the American film industry has ever known.

Tyler Perry was ready to give up on his dream. For years, he had poured his passion and money into performances of his first play, "I Know I've Been Changed", always hoping that this would be the one that drew a crowd. But "every time I would go out to do the show, it would fail," says Perry, 39, the now highly successful author, director, producer and star of the movie Madea Goes to Jail.

"I would go to my boss and say, 'I need time off to do the show.' And they'd say no. I'd go to my desk, I'd sit and I'd pray. God would say, 'Leave. Quit.' I'd hear the voice as clear as day. I would leave, do the shows, and they would not work. I'd pray again: 'God, where are you? You told me to leave.' And I wouldn't hear a thing."

But he stuck with the play because he knew he was on to something. "The work was about adult survivors of child abuse and how one character confronted their abuser and went on to have a better life," says Perry.

As a child, he himself had endured years of physical and emotional abuse by his father, who was prone to violent outbursts, especially when he drank. But unlike his onstage character, Perry had not yet confronted his own abuser. The message of being changed by forgiveness was there, but the play failed because the man reciting the lines had not yet felt it himself.

Several of Perry's films are told from female perspectives, which he says was a result of his childhood experience. "My father who was there in the house, he wasn't at all a role model, and my mother who was trying to protect me from him as best she could. She took me everywhere with her, which gave me a tremendous amount of sensitivity to the things women go through. ... I would spend more time at the laundromat and Lane Bryant than any young boy should. [In my writing] I'm speaking from the little boy who's at her apron, looking up at the world and seeing all that I'm seeing these women go through."

It took a few years for him to get there. Back in 1992, Perry saw an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in which she recommended writing as a form of healing. At that point in his life, he had never written about his abuse but decided to give it a try. He wrote a series of letters—using "different characters' names, because if anyone found it, I didn't want them to know it was me." Those letters eventually became "I Know I've Been Changed". For the next six years, he performed the play, but it didn't become a success until after he—like his character—confronted his abuser.

In 1998 "I had an argument with my father," explains Perry, "I was screaming and yelling and using every four-letter word in the book; I was 28 years old and as profane as I could be. But I got an opportunity to have my catharsis on the phone. After it was over, I was empty, and I went on this journey to find out what was ripped away. And, of course. any journey for me is going to begin with faith, begin with God. I didn't pray immediately, because I was angry with God, angry with everybody. But remembering everything I had learned in church really helped me to get through that anger.

"No matter how far I would stray, no matter what the sin, I would always come back because He would never let me get too far. There would always be something that would happen that would make me pray."

When Perry went onstage for that last-gasp production, something profound had changed. "I had accepted the words I had written; I had forgiven my father. The show wasn't hypocritical anymore. It was coming from a very real place. And it started to resonate with people on a different level."

Perry had discovered that forgiveness "wasn't for the other person; it belonged to me, it freed me. So many people remain bitter all of their lives. You have to tell yourself, 'I need to forgive this person for me, so that I can go on. Not for them.' "

From that moment on, his life—like his show—was Changed. Crowds started showing up to see his performances. It led to another play and then another, each one expanding his fan base; he developed his signature character, the gun-toting, sharp-tongued, so-bad-she's-good Madea (whose name comes from a common Southern conflation of "mother dear"), and went on to produce hit movies, television series and a best-selling book.

On forgiving his father, he says "The thing that helped me the most was understanding who he was as a child. The man was found — he and my aunt, and my uncle ... they were all in this drainage canal and they were found by a white man who saw the kids and brought them to a woman named May to raise, who lived on some of the property that the white man owned. ... He left the children there with her and she was 14 years old. And her father was a former slave and a very old man who was bedridden at the time, very old and dying, and everything that she knew to do was to beat the children — so everything my father did, whatever he did wrong ... she would put him in a potato sack, tie him in a tree and she would beat him for everything he did wrong, so that is what he came out of. And understanding who he was helped me to be able to forgive a lot of his behavior and what he tried to pass on to me. It doesn't excuse it, but it gave me an opportunity to understand who he was."

But that doesn't mean his road was an easy one; he had held on to his anger toward his father for so long that reconciling with him was "scary," says Perry.

"If the energy in being angry at a person is your fuel source, you're afraid to give it up. But once you give it up, it's like having a car that used to run on unleaded fuel and you switch to diesel; if God is diesel and the anger was your unleaded fuel, you have to learn to reprogram everything in the car to work off that diesel."

I am a big fan of his work ethic and spirit of ownership. He found an ignored and hungry market, fed it and has used it not only as a platform for himself, but to employ others whose talents have been overlooked. But more importantly his humility and the level of insight into the human condition is something that could only have come from personal experience with confronting his own family issues and a relationship with God. His ability to understand and forgive his father is magnificent. Yesterday was Mother's day and it seemed like everyone had the best parents in the world but for many, it was quite on the contrary. Those who might have been abused or abandoned by their parents look at Perry and realise there is a blessing in the storm.

Ijeoma Olujekun

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