I sobbed, viscerally and violently, when the news broke that Robin Williams had died. I grew up picturing him as this hilarious, honest, understanding and wildly inappropriate father figure I needed when I felt misunderstood or just needed a laugh. His films were a comfort to me during each phase of my life.
Hook and Jumanji made me feel like I could be a child forever. Jack and Patch Adams made me laugh until I cried and cry until I laughed when I began to realize life was, more often than not, painful and unfair. Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society helped shaped me when I discovered my passions for film and the written word. The Birdcage helped me feel like I could come out before I even knew I was queer, and Mrs. Doubtfire made me feel like my parents’ divorce was normal. It helped me realize that messy separations, weekend visitations and stepfamilies were normal.
I clung to Mrs. Doubtfire through every stage of my family’s evolution, during the moves I made with my mother to different towns that took me further away from my dad and through the frustration a young me felt when I didn’t think he was trying hard enough to see me. This film was my safety blanket, my tie to some semblance of a happy ending or whatever resolution was coming. But as I sit here 25 years later, as a stepparent myself, I realize that Mrs. Doubtfire is not in fact a story written for me, despite its good intentions.
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Guess who? Today, after 25 years, I gathered around a table in the company of three beautiful young people, to talk story about a film that has touched the hearts of so many. Sally is on tour with her new book. Robin is in heaven making the angels laugh and was spoken of with the fondest of love and sweet memories . Can ya guess the movie? The Today Show is airing our interview in early November. Join us for the 25th anniversary of the #MrsDoubtfire
Mrs. Doubtfire doesn’t feel like it was created for the normalization of the everyday stepfamily. It was built to validate a fun-loving, forgetful, immature father who realizes a bit too late that being a father and a husband requires lots of hard work. In the description for Mrs. Doubtfire on Amazon, Daniel Hillard is described as “eccentric,” but actually, he’s immature.
This is a film for those who mess up and want to be told that it’s OK, that they can bully their way into shaping the lives of their families if that shape doesn’t fit the mold they preferred. Mom is depicted as the shrewd, strict disciplinarian who needs to lighten up. Daniel works hard to change, but we’re supposed to sympathize with him the entire time, following the premise that dads always draw the unfair short straw in divorce.
As a daughter, I wanted my dad to fight and manipulate his way into my life with every breath he had, just like Daniel. As a stepmom, I look to Miranda and Stu, who want to move on, to grow a subfamily unit together that fits under the umbrella of what Miranda and Daniel made. As a woman, I disagree with Daniel’s methods and selfish motivations for deceiving everyone around him. I get angry at Daniel for the picture he paints: that there’s only room for one of them. For vilifying the role of a potential stepparent in the wake of a separation.
Miranda doesn’t want to take her father away from his children. She wants a partner and a parent for their kids, not a playmate. She clearly recognizes Daniel’s growth as he works to hold down a steady job and provide a clean home for his kids. Chances are that Miranda would have vouched for this when it came time to revisit their custody arrangement, but Daniel, in his desperation, had other things in mind.
As for Stu, he’s sabotaged from the beginning. Finding your role in a family that’s already been formed is tricky enough, but when you’re physically assaulted, your property is damaged and you’re undercut at every turn, that uphill battle becomes nearly impossible to fight. Now, as an adult and a stepparent, I watch Stu and all of his genuine effort to be a good partner and earn the trust and love of Miranda’s children, and I admire him. I feel sad for Stu, and I wish that in all of his effort to be near his children, Daniel would have kept in mind what was best for them.
I still yell an operatic “Hello!” on occasion as an ode to Daniel’s famous face in the Cool Whip scene. I still cry at the end, when it seems like everyone is on track for healing together and supporting one another through the transition of rebuilding a family unit. However, I no longer look to this film as a representation of my life, what it could be and what it might become. It is not my gold standard of a father’s sacrifice to be with his children; rather, it’s the journey of a man and a father who continues to work to be better for his kids. I still love you, Mrs. Doubtfire. I’m just not in love with you anymore.
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