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Will Smith on the ‘core trauma’ of his childhood caused by his ‘abusive’ father

The "Men in Black" star reflected on the life-shaping moment when he was 9 years old and saw his father hit his mother.

Will Smith believes a "core trauma" that happened when he was around 9 years old created a wound he has spent the rest of his life trying to heal.

The "Men in Black" star details the moment in his new memoir, "Will," and he spoke about it with Hoda Kotb on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna on Wednesday.

Smith, 53, writes in his book that his movie star persona is a construction created to hide "the coward," a description of himself that stems from a traumatic part of his childhood.

"In that same chapter, I talk about the idea my father was abusive with my mother," Smith said. "And I was probably 9, and I watched my father beat up my mother. And I was too scared to do anything. And just on my young mind, it became imprinted.

"It's like, what kind of kid stands there and lets somebody hit their mother and they don’t do anything, you know? And that became really the core trauma of my childhood that my personality and my persona became to form around, to be the opposite of that, you know? I was never going to be scared again."

Making the moment even more overwhelming was that Smith very much looked up to his father, Willard Carroll Smith Sr., who died from cancer in 2016.

"What was really difficult for me is my father’s my hero," he said. "My father’s the greatest person I’ve ever known, and that dichotomy breaks a young mind, you know? It’s like, how do you love somebody who did that?

"That really just became the central core of the wound that I was overcoming throughout my childhood, and then ultimately throughout my life."

He told Hoda his book gave him the courage to write about his childhood in an honest way.

"I want to make it OK to not be perfect," he said. "It’s so much easier to just live as who you really are and feel bad when you feel bad, and feel good when you feel good. And to get into that space where who you are is good enough that you don’t have to be something different than you to be deserving of being loved."

Smith also saw some parallels between his father and the role he inhabited in the upcoming film "King Richard," which comes out on Nov. 19 in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

He plays Richard Williams, the gruff father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams who raised them in a rough neighborhood in Compton, California, to become breakthrough stars in a sport with few Black players.

"There was a certain amount of brutality that Richard Williams and my father suffered that created a certain hardness and endurance," Smith said. "And then sort of blending that with my own parenting style. It’s my job to nurture and water them into becoming what they already are, to grow into what they are, versus being an image of something that I need for me to feel good about my parenting."