One of the Older Ghosts

On the TV in the background is the ending of “Mrs. Doubtfire”, the bestselling cross-dressing movie of all time and beloved by millions.

Well, supposedly. I’d imagine it’s loved the most by people who have gotten divorced and the children they leave behind in broken homes looking desperately for a reason not to blame themselves.

The mother in the movie ends up looking particularly awful. At the beginning of the film, the straw that breaks her back is the insane birthday party Robin Williams is having for his children. She needs to break it up, which makes her look like “The bad guy” one too many times. Funny, I hear that complaint from wives in a lot of places. Most don’t throw their husbands out.

Robin Williams heartbreakingly claims he’ll get counseling, but she won’t hear it. He says it in a way that makes it clear that it was never attempted at any point of the marriage. They get married and raise children for over a decade, but apparently it’s not worth counseling to try and fix it. “Looking Like The Bad Guy” is too awful a burden to bear.

Now Robin Williams needs to prove to a judge, not that he is able to raise the children himself, but that he can keep them in his house sometimes; this is something that will take him months. In the meantime he isn’t even allowed to see them, leading to the conceit of the film where he dresses up as their nanny in order to be near them.

Let’s skip to the end of the film. The middle is wacky and all, Robin Williams plays a shockingly convincing old woman, and the other characters do nothing interesting. Robin Williams has been found out. He’s in front of a judge, who informs him that thanks to the Doubtfire stunt, he is no longer allowed to see his children except for once a week with a supervisor. This despite the fact that even when he was “unstable” or whatever he never did anything at all to harm his children. His wife looks absolutely horrified at the judge’s decision, but says nothing; she knows it’s a bad decision, but she doesn’t say anything.

Fast forward to a later conversation where she speaks with Robin Williams’ character, who stars in a children’s show. He rightly calls her out on her not saying anything when it was obvious she knew the decision was bad. Her response? She was angry! He HURT her!

Do you get that? He “hurt her”, so she is justified in harming both him and, more importantly, their children, something it was very clear she knew at the time, but did nothing to change out of, apparently, pure spite.

But don’t worry! She has pity on them and permits Robin Williams to see them when he wants to. Robin Williams, of course, thanks her for taking pity and not using her godlike powers to ruin the lives of her family, after several months of spite-induced torture.

The movie ends with Robin Williams talking about how sometimes it’s better for the whole family if mommy and daddy don’t live with each other. Apparently this was added to make actual divorced people feel less guilty after watching divorce wreak a path of destruction throughout the film, where the parties harmed the most are the ones the most innocent. Can’t have divorced people thinking they might have made a mistake, after all.

The end. What a beloved family classic!

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27 Responses to One of the Older Ghosts

  1. Joseph Moore says:

    Right. I saw that movie once many years ago and had exactly the same reaction – just another attempt to make mommy and daddy feel better about wrecking undeserved havoc on their children. See it all the time at the school – parents not even willing to consider the possibility that their children’s miss behavior and misery are the obvious result of their narcissism, selfishness and subsequent divorce. Nope, just give them Ritalin and counseling and that’ll fix their problem!

    • To be fair, the movie is a pretty good portrayal at how much destruction and misery is caused by divorce, though the three children are probably a little too well behaved. It just seemed tone-deaf as to how one-sided it was making the central conflict seem.

      And that little coda at the end, where Robin Williams gives a speech to a little girl how there are all different sorts of families and how sometimes it’s best if mommy and daddy abandon their children in turns stop living with each other as touching music plays, is pure propaganda. It serves no purpose except to make parents feel better for not honoring their vows and putting their kids through Hell – something that the movie itself made very clear.

      • James says:

        There’s another flip side. It’s not that I don’t agree with you, but the fact remains that a lot of children have divorced parents. What you tell those children? That their parents are sub-standard losers and as children of divorced homes they are doomed to live dysfunctional lives? Or do you help them find a way to make the best of the situation?

        My son and his wife recently divorced. He’s living with us for now, which means that each week he has his children, we have our grandchildren. My wife and I relate to our son and our ex-daughter-in-law in the most optimistic way we can, not only to keep lines of communications open and to avoid an adversarial relationship, but for the sake of our grandkids.

        They need to love and respect both of their parents and be able to engage in the process of growing up.

        It’s easy to complain about films such as “Mrs. Doubtfire” in the abstract and the message they send, but in real life, people get divorced. There was nothing my wife and I could do to change what happened. You don’t trash can the children because you disagree with divorce. You help them grow up and love them. You may not agree with our family constellation, but it’s the best we’ve got.

      • Mike T says:

        @James

        There’s another flip side. It’s not that I don’t agree with you, but the fact remains that a lot of children have divorced parents. What you tell those children? That their parents are sub-standard losers and as children of divorced homes they are doomed to live dysfunctional lives? Or do you help them find a way to make the best of the situation?

        You tell them what my wife told me when my parents divorced while I was finishing college and I saw some truly ugly things that made honoring my mother nearly impossible: you aren’t your parents. You also don’t lure into a false sense of security that this is normal or respectable behavior.

        @Malcolm

        Some of the stuff I’ve seen and heard with my own lying eyes and ears are why I tend to get angry with “typical conservative narrative” conservatives on divorce. My own father was told by his judge that he didn’t want to hear even the vaguest allegation of adultery because he wouldn’t waste his time trying to sort out who was right and who was wrong. And that’s in Virginia, not in a functional matriarchy like California.

        This divorce porn, like the Kendrick brothers’ garbage is an obscenity worse than most hardcore porn.

      • James says:

        My grandchildren are ages one year and seven years old and you want me to tell them that their parents are abnormal and unable to be respected? You do what you need to do in your own life, but please don’t project your issues onto my grandchildren. Also, not all parents who divorce are automatically “evil”. They’re human. They make mistakes. They have “issues”. I’m still a grandpa. I’m going to take care of my grandkids and love them as best I can. Your mileage may vary.

      • My grandchildren are ages one year and seven years old and you want me to tell them that their parents are abnormal and unable to be respected?

        That’s not what Mike T said. You can’t lie to them and say that – somewhere along the line at least – their parents didn’t make mistakes that they don’t have to make themselves.

        But you’re, as you said, their grandfather. If you think there’s a better way to handle it, go ahead…but I submit that lying is not the way to go.

      • James says:

        I never said lying. It’s a matter of providing age-appropriate information. At age one year, my granddaughter doesn’t have much language, so what am I supposed to tell her. At age seven, my grandson can talk about his feelings, but I’m still not going to drag him into a “he said/she said” argument about his parents’ issues and what led to the divorce. Children aren’t little adults, they’re children. There’s a reason we don’t let little kids watch R-rated movies or other, similar content.

        We have an opportunity to show children they are loved even when their lives are far from perfect, even when their parents are far from perfect (and the next time anyone in an intact marriage thinks they are perfect parents, I suggest they try being a little more honest with themselves).

        Each family’s situation is unique. As the kids get older, we’ll help them process their lives and the lives of their parents in an age-appropriate manner.

      • At age seven, my grandson can talk about his feelings, but I’m still not going to drag him into a “he said/she said” argument about his parents’ issues and what led to the divorce…

        Who said you should? I didn’t. Neither did Mike T.

        (and the next time anyone in an intact marriage thinks they are perfect parents, I suggest they try being a little more honest with themselves).

        Can’t have divorced people thinking they might be doing anything especially bad, after all!

      • James says:

        Divorced parents have to deal with their issues like adults. If I’m going to err, it’ll be on the side of my grandkids.

      • But, once again – nobody ever said you shouldn’t.

      • James,

        Mike T’s response is good, but another good response is that it’s a very different thing to talk to your own family about your own unique situation and to make a movie sharing the “no fault divorce” message with the masses.

      • Zippy says:

        Shorter Mike T:

        You tell the truth, always, in an age-appropriate way. Or you keep your mouth shut.

        But you don’t lie and represent moral failures – and divorce is always, without exception, a moral failure – as value-neutral alternative family structures or whatever.

      • Mike T says:

        They need to love and respect both of their parents and be able to engage in the process of growing up.

        That’s not always possible. It should be your goal, but at the end of the day your grandchildren need the truth, not warm feelings about their parents. How you deliver that must be age and situation appropriate. Each divorce and family is different. However, if say, an affair ended the marriage, you need to be prepared to tell them the hard truth if that parent tries to cover it up and make it sound like the divorce just happened or was justified. They need to know that this is what their parents chose, not something that happens out of the blue. That’s the only way you can tell your grandkids that the outcome of their future marriage is fully in their and their spouse’s hands, not nature or society.

      • James says:

        In truth, what ended the marriage was that his crazy and her crazy didn’t match up at all. My son tells me that he had no business getting married eight years ago. My wife and I tried to talk them into waiting until after he was deployed (he was an active duty Marine back then), but they wouldn’t listen and, them being adults, we couldn’t stop them.

        But has my son started to get his head together, he realized he never should have married her. They were so fundamentally incompatible that there was no way this was going to last.

        Not sure how to explain that to the grandkids at their age, but it’s something we’ll address as they get older. There’s not always one clear cut “bad guy” in a divorce, and both parents love their children. No one’s using drugs or having affairs. Bad judgment and bad decisions are involved, but a lot of that’s pretty sophisticated stuff, so we can only tell them so much at their ages (and like I said, my granddaughter’s only one.

      • Crude says:

        In truth, what ended the marriage was that his crazy and her crazy didn’t match up at all.

        You may as well have just thrown your hands in the air and said ‘Because reasons!’ This is just some blog comment to strangers – you’re under no obligation to tell us these details. At the same time, that kind of explanation – ‘We were just incompatible!’ – is both content-free, and at the same time, offered up as a legitimate reason to break vows and end marriages. Which ultimately means ‘Just break up if you feel like it, it’s completely justified. After all, if it wasn’t justified, you wouldn’t be getting divorced now would you?’

        This is the sort of lesson which causes these problems to begin with.

      • James says:

        As you say, I’m under no obligation to provide the details. What I offered is the best I could come up with and still be accurate. If that’s not good enough for you and you still wish to assign blame, please do so.

        Bye.

      • Crude says:

        As you will, James. And I do mean that – I’m not pressing you for personal details. But just as you’re under no obligation to provide details, no one else is under an obligation to just automatically say ‘Oh well then the divorce was proper and the right thing to do.’ Automatic acceptance that ”divorce due to respective craziness’ is legit’ is part of the problem.

        Frankly, a good step towards keeping one’s marriage intact may well be to keep divorced people out of your social circle.

      • Mike T says:

        @James

        Even if all of that is true, you can still teach them that it was choices their parents made and choices they don’t have to repeat. In fact, you may be the best person in their lives to help them gain wisdom from their parents’ choices.

  2. Mike T says:

    I’ll just add that Robin Williams’ acting was the only redeeming quality of that movie. He was a very talented actor. Probably about on par with Denzel Washington in his ability to carry an awful script and turn chicken feathers and crap into chicken salad.

  3. dpmonahan says:

    Wow, I forgot how much I didn’t like that movie.
    In the first few minutes we saw the main character get fired for messing up a cigarette commercial that had been inserted into his cartoon show, as if cigarette commercials in cartoons was a huge problem in the 90s. I suppose this was to establish that he is a man of conscience, but it was just dumb, poor writing.
    Williams was good of course, in the way he always was – you could always feel the sorrow under the antics, which is what made him engaging.

  4. Pingback: The “Mrs. Doubtfire” Philosophy to Divorce and Parenting | Powered by Robots

  5. James says:

    OK, OK. This is obviously a very difficult conversation to have, and I don’t feel I’m expressing myself adequately. If you’ll forgive this bit of “spamming,” I wrote my own blog post to expand upon what I’ve been trying to say: The “Mrs. Doubtfire” Philosophy to Divorce and Parenting. Hope it helps.

  6. Elostirion says:

    “The bestselling cross-dressing movie of all time and beloved by millions.”
    Even more than “Some Like It Hot?” Hoho. I kid.
    I don’t ever recall seeing this movie in full. In fact, my parents always seem to change the channel whenever it came on the TV. I suppose that’s a good thing.

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