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“I must have done Something Right”: My mother and Tyler Perry’s Father

This week on the Oprah show Tyler Perry shared with Oprah how as a child he was beaten senselessly by his father and that even now his father denies any wrongdoing.  His father states, “If I had beaten your ass one more time, you probably would have been Barack Obama.”Of course, Oprah was stunned and I too was somewhat flabbergasted, but for a somewhat similar different reason. His father’s comment reminded me of something my mother recently said about how she must have done something right given that one day people will call me Dr. So and So. Mind you, my mother did not beat me or my sisters black and blue. For all intended purposes she was a good mother outside the fact that she was never meant to have children. Yes, I said she was never meant to have children which would mean that I future Dr. So and So would not be a living breathing thing which would not be necessarily a bad thing because I do not think non-existing things sit around moaning about their non-existence. When I say she was not meant to have children I am referring to the fact that my mother’s spirit like so many feminine spirits were meant to be free unencumbered by the trappings of domesticity and motherhood.

“I must have done something right” and statements like “If I had beaten your ass one more time, you probably would have been Barack Obama” can speak of blurred lines of strengthening and abuse, love and cruelty, and intentions and outcomes. Tyler Perry’s father felt his abuse was in some way responsible for Tyler Perry’s success—owning his own film and stage company. And depending on one’s philosophy of life or religion of choice one can argue that every event that transpires is purposeful and a part of some divine plan. However, the ever emerging old woman in me pushes against such simple constructions of providence. Don’t get me wrong my mother was not a bad mother. She did not beat us. She never left us with people who did not love us. All she did was leave. She left a lot. First, it was physical absence than it was emotional absence. And, somehow given her estimate of it all, I became a strong and successful future Dr. So and So. Perhaps.

Perhaps, her leavings made me stronger or just more driven thirstier to find attention. Perhaps, her leavings made me more independent or just more conspicuous if not downright manipulative about feeding my neediness. Perhaps, her leavings made me the somewhat successful woman I am today . . . perhaps. However, the ever evolving old black woman in me knows that the “leavings” were not only meant to strengthen me and make me independent (i.e. my mother says, “It is/was my job to raise three independent girls) but were at times life saving and at other times selfish ways for my mother to first cope with raising three little chocolate girls all simultaneously pleading for her attention and care. In many ways my mother was still a girl when she had my older sister and me. Meaning, she in some very fundamental ways was starved for attention too so the cycle was leaving and coming . . . leaving and coming . . . leaving and coming.

“I must have done something right.”

There’s an old Bible saying that says, “What the devil meant for bad God meant for good” so perhaps my mother’s leavings and comings were for my good instead of having her daughters see firsthand what it means to be as Alice Walker writes an artist without an art form or an artist who lacks the instruments to create. It means unfathomable forms of madness. And the three years I stayed with mother in high school were times of madness from her manipulative threats of suicide (i.e. she was starved for attention) to untold forms of despair. So, perhaps, the statement, “I must have done something right” is not “fully” a statement of prideful adulation or simply taking credit for my success, but I think it is a type of acknowledging that I know I have done many things wrong, but somehow in the midst of me doing things wrong you, my daughter, were able to thrive and now flourish as a future Dr. So and So, “I must have done something right.” Perhaps.

In general, when I read what Tyler Perry’s father said it struck a chord in me about the challenges and complexities of having and raising children and how parents are not gods, but imperfect creatures. Now, that is a hard lesson to swallow because we expect our parents and care providers to be as Gods . . . all knowing . . . ever present . . . full of love . . . sacrificial. However, with truth being told the reasons why they had you was not simply acts of spiritual penitence, but moments of sexual and biological bliss which we all know that biology does not necessarily teach you how to parent a child.

But, when it is all said and done, perhaps, my mother with all her faults and there are many did something right.