Confessions of a Divorced Dad: Robin Williams Helped Me Be A Better Father
I'll tell them how she made me laugh and how she made be cry.
And I'll explain how she taught me how to be a better dad.
Euphegenia Doubtfire, of course, was the alter-ego of Daniel Hillard in the film "Mrs. Doubtfire." Hillard, recently divorced and limited to weekend visitations with his children, takes on the persona of the elderly nanny in order to spend more time with his three kids.
Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire proved to be a defining role for the late Robin Williams. Not only did he have the chance to show off his legendary improv riffs and physical comedy, he also injected genuine pathos into the role of Hillard, a man who realized, too late, the he took his role of husband and father for granted. And while his marriage was past the point of saving, he committed to pull out all the stops to be a a full-time dad.
By the time the movie hit theaters, in November 1993, my first marriage was in trouble. Our second son had been born that summer and our oldest was two. We did well as parents but as a couple we were breaking down gradually.
My wife and I ultimately separated two years later and, like Williams' Daniel Hillard character, I found that the loss of my children was hitting me harder than the loss of my wife. In hindsight it makes perfect sense. While you may have anger toward your spouse, you likely don't have such animosity toward your children, so there is no wall behind which the pain can hide.
And like Daniel Hillard, the anxiety and stress of the situation led to me losing my job just a few months later.
I rented "Mrs. Doubtfire" shortly after that and watched it twice in two days.
The first time, I had been drinking and the self-pity poured out in waves. Not an especially productive use of my time.
The next day I watched it again, sober. Once again, the tears flowed when I saw the pain in Williams' eyes as he dropped his kids back at their mother's house after a visit. But this time, I also paid close attention to Williams' look of determination, as he hatched his plan to get hired by his ex-wife to be the kids' nanny. And his look of utter adoration as he interacted with each one.
Daniel Hillard made a commitment to spend every moment he possibly could with his children, so that he could be as positive an influence on their lives as possible and so that they would know how much they were loved.
I made that same commitment. No, I wasn't tempted to don a gray wig, support hose and sensible shoes but I did start to brainstorm ways of spending every moment I could with my boys and being as involved in their lives as possible.
From nightly "goodnight" phone calls, often with bedtime stories, to help providing rides to school or activities, to attending soccer games and cub scout meetings to being available to help with homework any night of the week.
Through his portrayal of Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams taught me that you can't take your children for granted. But more importantly, he taught me not to let anyone define your role as a father except you and your children. Love them. Encourage them. Make sure they know they are cherished. And spend every moment you can with them.
Thank you Robin, for the laughs and the lessons.
Rest peacefully, Mrs. Doubtfire.
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