The shock of the news of his death will be forever carved in my memory. I heard it from one of my least favorite sources, Fox News. I was taking care of my elderly parents who insisted on having the conservative channel on, and the breaking bulletin interrupted their regular programming.
Robin Williams was dead.
I had been filtering out the misinformation from the channel for the previous hour, but this report, sadly, had a ring of credibility. I jumped onto social media and announced it to my immediate base of followers. There was some push back as Williams had been the victim of previous hoax death announcements before.
As more news sources picked up the story, it was confirmed. The unthinkable was true. Fox News went on to more disrespectful commentary of Williams, but I was too overcome to deal with small mindedness.
My instant grief over this celebrity was profound, but it took me a while to process and get some clarity as to why.
Certainly, he was a man of incredible talent and accomplishment. He was a cultural icon and it is unfathomable to imagine the creative landscape without him.
There was a deeper profound loss in the news for me, however, something very personal, and it took a night of sleep for me to fully get a sense as to what it is.
I am a dad. It is the part of my being with which I identify first and most strongly.
As I awoke this morning, the first morning of a Robin Williams-less world, I felt a loss in the definition of what it is to be a dad. The icon depicting the spirit of the modern dad is gone.
The tapestry of Robin Williams characters had given me the rich definition of what it took. His enormous resume had everything on it, from alien to robot, to mythical genie, but , unlike any other artist, the golden chord running throughout was a comment on what was required to be a dad. Titles of his lesser known movies “Fathers Day” and “The World’s Greatest Dad” seem to underscore the point.
In the decades before Williams we had the Spencer Tracey-style dads who ruled homes from a detached but lovable distance. We had the hero dad in “To Kill A Mockingbird” with Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch.
In television we had Ozzie Nelson and fathers knowing best, culminating into the first significant depiction of all dad parenting in Fred MacMurray’s “My Three Sons.”
Fred MacMurray’s father image also carried into films such as the Flubber movies, and fittingly, Robin Williams was the modern heir who stepped into the Flubber dad shoes.
My first recollection of Robin Williams as a dad was in “The World According to Garp.” It was in this first venture in which he depicted the true complexity of modern fatherhood.
Garp was a dedicated dad, but he was tragically imperfect. He had failure, guilt and resurrection. His story was strange and atypical, yet the spirit of what many good men, and good fathers felt was true.
Even monumental roles where Williams did not literally play a father still spoke unflinchingly to the behavior of fathering.