My parents’ divorce in 1980 was difficult for me in ways my five-year-old brain couldn’t possibly understand. There was arguing and yelling and mostly anger. I imagine my parents thought they were succeeding in keeping it from me, but voices carry and I was still small enough to hide in nearby places without them knowing.
After all was said and done, my father rarely talked about it. It made him angry and he didn’t want to ruin our weekend visits, nor burden us with his emotions. He was stoic and stubborn.
So this was the frame of reference I had for establishing the identity of my dad. He was happy when he was happy. He was quiet and brooding when he was mad. As far as I knew, he was never sad.
On almost every weekend visit, we’d go to the movies on Saturday afternoon. I remember the first movie we saw was Popeye, starring Robin Williams. I don’t remember too much about it, but I remember liking it and I remember liking being with my dad.
We saw everything we could for years and years. It was our thing, my father, my sister, and me. Even after I graduated high school, the frequency slowed, but we still went. I think it centered us.
In 1993, we went to see Mrs. Doubtfire, also starring Robin Williams. I remember the movie well, but what I remember most wasn’t on the screen.
My father cried. When Robin Williams’ character spoke about how much he missed his kids after the divorce, my father cried.
It was the first time I ever witnessed my father display that kind of emotion at all, never mind so openly. It gave me a new perspective on him. He was more than just my dad. He was a person, a human being, and he had feelings just like anyone else.
There’s more to the story and the different things I thought and felt about my dad after that day, but I’d always felt I owed a debt of gratitude to the funny man Robin Williams for making my dad cry.
Thank you, Robin. Rest in peace.
The more things change…