This blog post is three years in the making. It’s taken me three years for me to find the right words — or just the best words I can. Why am I finally posting it? Because an actor, rather a person, whom I admire with every inch of my heart has died by apparent suicide, and I owe every bit of gratitude to him for helping me put myself back together when I was once so, so broken.
I never met Robin Williams, but I feel as if I did. Reading condolences on social media sites, I’m amazed at how one man can inspire many people to say the same. But when you’re Robin Williams, I suppose it’s not hard for people to take notice.
His batty improvisational skills and gusto-packed impressions in films like “Patch Adams” and “Aladdin” are mesmerizing. Williams has long been a welcomed guest in the homes of so many.
It only takes 90 minutes and one of his classic mischievous half-smiles for Williams to take families to a different world, an escape from the present one that offers up some hearty laughs.
When I was about 4 years old, it was always the 1993 hit “Mrs. Doubtfire” that did it for my family. Williams plays a father who crafts up some cross-dressing antics in an attempt to reconnect with his children in response to a bitter divorce and custody suit.
The film inspired many animated evenings at home with my own father.
On more than one occasion, my dad would channel his inner Williams by squeezing into my mom’s old dress, throwing on high heels and puckering up to a tube of gaudy red lipstick. With my little palm in one of his hands and a broom in his other, we’d take to the living room floor blasting Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” and dancing like fools.
The childhood memories those nights created remain at the forefront of my mind as some of my life’s happiest, still vivid to this day.
Had it been any other actor who played the role of Mrs. Doubtfire and not the ridiculously charismatic Williams, I’m not quite sure this wacky father-daughter ritual would’ve ever come into fruition.
Now, flash forward from the happiest moments of my life to the saddest. Not even a week into my senior year of high school, I was slapped with the abrupt news that my own parents were separating after 19 years of marriage.
I sobbed hysterically in a secluded corner of my high school each morning before class, that is, if I even made it to class. I had perfect attendance in school from seventh grade through 11th grade, but nowhere could be far enough from campus then.
I shunned my dad for two months and could only bring myself to yell at my mom.
One of my brothers became essentially mute. My other brother couldn’t keep his grades from slipping.
By the time June 2010 rolled around, we were all still a mess. Graduation was one of the worst days of my life. Instead of celebrating with classmates, I was more preoccupied with insuring one side of my extended family kept their distance from the other. We couldn’t even eat out as a family to celebrate the occasion.
It hurt too much to talk about it, so I didn’t. Here we are five years later, and I don’t tell even my closest friends that my parents are divorced unless they ask me outright.
I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but looking back on the whole thing now, I was depressed. At one point I felt as though nothing would ever lift my spirits again.
After a grueling two years of domestic purgatory, my parents ultimately decided to go through with the divorce in 2011.
A few weeks after my parents signed the papers, I heard a knock on my bedroom door. My dad walked into my room, tears rolling down his face. He held a laptop in his hands and silently pushed it towards me. On the screen was a queued up YouTube video, a scene from an old favorite of ours, “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
The scene features Williams dressed up as Mrs. Doubtfire. He sits in a chair reading a letter from a girl named Katie who is afraid she’s lost her family after her mom and dad decided to separate two months earlier. Or at least, that’s what her brother told her, who shares the same name as my brother, Andrew.
“Oh, my dear Katie. You know, some parents, when they’re angry, they get along much better when they don’t live together. They don’t fight all the time, and they can become better people, and much better mummies and daddies for you. And sometimes they get back together. And sometimes they don’t, dear. And if they don’t, don’t blame yourself. Just because they don’t love each other anymore, doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. There are all sorts of different families, Katie … But if there’s love dear, those are the ties that bind, and you’ll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you, poppet. You’re going to be all right. Bye-bye.”
Some might say the scene’s relatability is just a product of good screenwriting and mere coincidence that the girl who wrote the letter shares my name. I see it differently: Behind Williams’ delivery was pure soul, and it was speaking directly to mine.
It was then my dad apologized for all the hurt I had endured those past few years. “We’re still a family, we’re still a family,” he repeatedly murmured into my ear as I breathed deeply into his shoulder. I felt as though a massive boulder had been lifted off my back.
And though the situation didn’t magically become better in that one moment, Williams was correct when he said I was going to be all right.
Though my parents aren’t together, we all still laugh together and talk together. Sometimes my whole family will go out to dinner, both parents included. When my dad was in a car accident in February, my mom was the one who drove him to the hospital to get his head checked out for a concussion.
We’re unconventional in every way imaginable, but we’re making it work.
I wish I had been there to tell Williams everything was going to be all right when he needed it Monday night — just as he was there for me. When depression torments someone for so long as it did Williams, it’s difficult to say if my words would’ve helped, but I’d like to hope they would.
I can’t compare the grief I endured to that of Williams’, but I think I can understand how much it must have hurt to keep all that pain bottled up inside for so long. Sometimes the toughest battles are fought behind the biggest smiles.
Williams spent his life lifting up the spirits of others, and his death teaches us that no one should feel like they need to keep pain a secret. That’s why I’m finally publishing this blog post now, three years after creating an initial draft.
Though Tuesday and today have been steeped in sadness, writing this has made me feel just a little bit better. Thank you, Mr. Williams, for once again shedding light upon my life. I just wish you had stuck around so I could thank you in person.