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Thanks, Mrs. Doubtfire. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Thanks, Mrs. Doubtfire. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

When I learned that Robin Williams
died, I watched Mrs. Doubtfire. Right before I watched it, my mother and I stood
beneath the ceiling fan in the kitchen of her Brooklyn home. She looked at me. Mrs.
Doubtfire
, which showcased the brilliant performance of Williams as a newly
divorced father named Daniel and Mrs. Doubtfire, a snarky and sweet nanny, was
one of the many films we watched together in the nineties, after she and my
father were divorced. After long days spent at her nursing job, she would come
home to the apartment we shared then.  At
night we would pop in VHS tapes that we’d rented or bought from a nearby
Captain Video: Beaches, Terms of Endearment, Mermaids, This Is My Life, and some
others. Each film had meaning for us because it touched upon relationships
between parents and children.  I was
thirteen years old when Mrs. Doubtfire was released.   I was thirty-three when I held the
dusty VHS tape that she brought me from her basement to watch in Williams’
honor. In her kitchen we both felt for this man who
entertained film watchers like us but who suffered tremendously.  My mother is a
mental health nurse; he easily could have been one of her patients.  Often she works with individuals who are at high risk for suicide. She sees the effects of
depression first hand.  And as a teacher,
I’d lost a military student, who was warm and funny, to suicide two years earlier. The tears
in my mother’s eyes came when she asked me to remember the powerful if common
message Williams offered in the film: Children are not responsible for
their parents’ divorce.  In response, I
hugged her.

These days I understand things
about her and my father’s divorce that I didn’t understand when I was
nine. Back then, all I could focus on was
my own pain.  I wanted us to be a family
again, rather than being shuffled back and forth between two homes for the joint
custody arrangement my brother Michael and I had chosen. On a summer day not long before our family of
four ceased to exist, he and I took a walk to our local drugstore in Midwood, Brooklyn. It was a place where we’d often bump into neighbors because it was also near a
popular pizzeria, Sal’s. It
was next to Five Star Video, another video store that housed VHS tapes and
always had updated posters in the windows: such as the poster for Ghost,
starring Patrick Swayze. On the stretch of residential blocks towards
the stores, our four year age difference, which sometimes caused Michael to tease
me about my “black tooth,” one of my two front ones that was permanently gray
from a dead nerve after I fell on it, was put aside. I asked him who he wanted to live with. He said, “Both of them.” I rapidly agreed. It
was impossible to choose. We wanted our mother and father equally. 

Recently, watching Mrs. Doubtfire
for the first time in years, I found myself paying closer attention to the
parents’ words and actions, and less attention to the children’s. While I am not a parent, Michael is. So are
many of my friends. I am a constant
witness to their responsibilities, in addition to the ones my own parents still
hold. I am trying to secure a full time
job in a difficult field and economy.
They continue to embrace their roles with nothing but love. I didn’t fully see how that kind of love
could exist in life or in the film while watching it in the apartment my mother
and I shared.  I could only find myself
in Daniel’s children, viewing the three of them, and Michael and I, as victims
of “a broken home.” I was sullen Lydia,
who wasn’t used to having her parents living in separate homes. I was Chris, who resented having had a
birthday; if I hadn’t had a stupid plaster paint and clown party at age seven
with the son of the man my mother was seeing after the divorce and later
married, maybe they wouldn’t have coupled up, and she and my father could get
back together. I was Natalie, who hated how my parents didn’t get along; they’d
gone from smiling on Christmas mornings together, when Michael and I opened our
gifts, to being unkind about one another in the same way that Robin Williams
angrily delivered the line, “You’re my goddamn kids too.”  But as an adult, I understood that I hadn’t
been the only one who felt badly. My
parents had their struggles as well.

In Mrs. Doubtfire, Daniel hugs his
children when he moves out. My mother hugged us when her friend Susan helped
her carry furniture down the stairs of our home.  Standing by the couch witnessing this was one
of the saddest moments I had experienced yet. 
My mother wasn’t crying, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t hurting. She was holding it together for Michael and me. My father did the same when suddenly
he had to make dinners and manage a household on his own much like Daniel and
his ex-wife Miranda. The difference is
that the film ended after 125 minutes, and my parents’ job was never really
done. From those early days of packing
lunches, making sure we had the things we needed, such as school uniforms,
books, food and a roof over our heads, to today when they are doing all they
can to be good grandparents to Michael’s daughter and eventually his son, they stand by us. In the past I saw Michael and myself as part of
their failed marriage. I now know that
the vacations they didn’t take, the expensive clothes they never bought, and
the very few dinners they had out were done for the same reasons stated at the
end of the movie. I can still hear Robin
Williams’ voice in my head: “If there’s love, dear, those are the ties that bind.”

Although Robin Williams is no longer with us, his
roles as Daniel and Mrs. Doubtfire will continue to shine because of what they
represent to families who experience divorce firsthand. There will always be families like mine, who
have learned to adjust to less than ideal circumstances.  There will be children who need to be
reassured that “grown up problems” have nothing to do with them, and they are
still loved. When I hugged my mother
last night, we both said we felt terrible about Robin Williams. And I’m certain
that we were appreciative, not just of each other but of Mrs. Doubtfire, too.

Kathryn
Buckley lives in New York and teaches in New Jersey so she spends lots
of time on trains.  When she isn’t grading papers, reading or writing
she goes to concerts, spends time with people she is fond of who
tolerate her and her strange ways and uses Fujifilm disposable cameras
to take pictures she actually has developed because she prefers the
Stone Age to this digital one.  She has an MFA in Fiction from The New
School and her work has appeared in
From the Heart of Brooklyn Volume 2,
Toad Journal, The American, Ebibliotekos, 34th Parallel, and Eclectica and
is forthcoming in
The Chaffey Review.

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