Celebrating Christmas in New Orleans at age 6, 1975
Oprah: This issue of the magazine is dedicated to miracles. I love the idea because I think my whole life is a miracle, and I wonder if you think yours is also.
Tyler Perry: I know it is. There are a lot of people who have dreams, goals, and hopes, but there aren't a lot who get to see them realized.
O: What's your definition of a miracle?
TP: A prayer answered. I remember being a kid and praying in the hell of my house to have somebody love me and somebody that I could love.
O: Did you ever feel loved, growing up?
TP: I knew that love was around. I truly believe my mother loved me. But feeling it all the time? I didn't.
O: Last year you caused quite a stir when you wrote on your Web site about your extensive abuse as a child. What made you do that?
TP: My intention was to free myself. My mother was very ill at the time. I was told she had only a month or so to live, which turned out to be true. And I'd just turned 40. I was frustrated with so much in my life. I had been carrying so much heaviness for so long and trying to smile my way through it. It was cathartic to write things down. That's what I do when I need freedom from something. Because it's hard to keep smiling. Even when my mother was well, it was hard to go home and sit with my father and try to smile. It didn't matter that I was 40; I still felt so much fear around him.
O: What was life like for you with your father?
TP: My father was a man who didn't know his parents. When he was 2 years old, he was found in a drainage canal by a white man and brought to a 14-year-old black girl called May to be raised. This girl's parents only knew to beat her, so what she knew was to beat my father. Beat, humiliate, ridicule, all his life. So this is what I was born into. I didn't understand it for a very long time—why so much disdain and hatred. It wasn't until I got older and my mother and I had some conversations that I started to get where his anger came from. And that it was his issue, that I didn't own any of it.
O: When you're a little boy, you don't know that.
TP: You don't know it. I think about the child I was, the tremendous debt I owe him now. There wasn't anybody there to protect him or make sure he was okay, but he made it through. He died to give birth to me.
O: Oh, that makes me want to cry!
TP: And me, too, when I say it, but it's so true. I feel like he had to endure so much so that I could be here.
O: What would your father do to you?
TP: Well, I hated the food that was in the house with a passion. Maybe it was just disgusting to me because I didn't like seeing dead animals lying on the table—raccoons and squirrels.
O: And possums. That was in my grandmother's house, too. We were country folk.
TP: Those eyeballs looking at you. I wouldn't eat that food. Which meant that I was always hungry. But my father knew I loved cookies, so he would buy them and put them on top of the refrigerator and wait for me to go get them. And then he would beat me.
O: What's the worst thing he did to you?
TP: I don't think I allowed myself to single out one moment. He would scream at me, "You're a dumb motherfucker, you got book sense but you don't have no street sense!" 'Cause he hated the fact that I would read and draw and get straight A's in school. But even though he would humiliate me to my face, I would sometimes hear him talking to the neighbor, telling him what a great kid I was. How smart I was. It confused me to no end. That was one of the most agonizing things, because I didn't understand it.
O: I read that he once hit you with an electrical cord.
TP: Yeah. He cornered me in a room one night and I still to this day don't know why. I've racked my brain to figure out, what did I do? He came in drunk. That was his thing. Friday about 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening, we'd be waiting for him to get home. He'd come in, give us our allowance, and then leave to go get drunk. And as it got closer to 10, 11 o'clock, we all became very quiet.
O: Because you knew he was going to come home and raise hell?
TP: He would walk in the door raising complete hell. Sometimes he would come home in such a rage that he was a totally different person. Then he'd get on his knees, pray, and go to sleep. The vacuum cleaner cord—that was one of those nights. He beat me till the skin was coming off. He was much bigger than me, so I couldn't get away. When he finally went in and did his prayer and lay down, I ran out of the house to my aunt who lived around the corner.
O: That's a slave whipping. I had a couple of those, too, growing up....
TP: Mm-hmm. So I went to my aunt, who is one of those strong black women. She got her gun and came around to the house and put it up to his head. Her husband had to come take the pistol from her. And she told my mother then, "Wherever you go, you take this boy with you. Don't you leave him with that crazy motherfucker." That's when I started going to Lane Bryant and beauty salons and everywhere else with my mother.
Next: Perry opens up about being molested as a child
We Hear You!