I saw Mrs. Doubtfire in the theater when it was released in 1993. At that time, I watched the story through the eyes of a child with divorced parents. I thought it was a nice story, and a funny one. But there was a lot that I didn’t understand. Yet.
For those who don’t know, Mrs. Doubtfire is a movie featuring Robin Williams as a divorced dad who is unhappy with his custody situation. In a desperate attempt to spend more time with his children, he dresses as a woman and lands a job as his ex wife’s housekeeper. During this time, he also has a front-row seat to watch the new Stepdad Figure move in to fill his shoes.
I watched the movie again over the weekend. And this time, I saw it from a different perspective.
This time, I was crushed when the family court denied custody to Daniel Hillard because he didn’t have a job or an apartment. The apartment aside, I’ve heard of many women being awarded custody on the basis that they do not have a job and therefore will be more present to care for the children.
This time, I was enraged when Miranda Hillard arrived an hour early to pick up the kids from their once-a-week visit with their father. As the three children stood up from the dinner table to rush out and meet their mother, I heard the pain in Mr. Hillard’s voice when he instructed them to sit down and shouted “you’re my goddamn kids too!” …And then I noticed Mrs. Hillard’s sense of entitlement and superiority when she burst into the apartment without knocking and demanded that “her” children leave with her immediately.
This time, I recognized the rejection felt by the man disguised as Mrs. Doubtfire as he sat at a bar and pounded beers while watching his family frolic at a country club pool with his ex’s new suitor.
In seeing the movie again, I was able to understand and sympathize with both parents in addition to the kids. I identified multiple facets of the divorce process which I was too ignorant to observe nearly twenty years ago. And I was able to make note of the messages sent through the screen:
- “Different” does not equal “unfit”
- “Desperate times call for desperate measures”
- It not appropriate to disparage another parent in front of the kids. And it’s not a laughing matter.
- Respectful interaction between parents makes things easier for everyone.
- Life goes on.