Over the past few days, I’ve been inundated by all of the posts about Robin Williams. For 48 hours, I think half the status updates in my Facebook feed read, “O Captain, my captain” or mentioned climbing on desks. For me, I needed a little more time to process my feelings. Robin Williams wasn’t just a great actor for me. He was a pivotal figure in my growing up.
When Dead Poet’s Society was released in 1989, I was about twelve years old. I don’t remember exactly when I saw it, but it was probably a few years later on VHS (or betamax). I remember watching it with my father, and both of us sharing a love for it. That movie was one of the first adult things we connected over. The relationship of the mentor to his students resonated with me in my relationship with my father, and the focus on poetry brought out my father’s love of poetry. We were sharing Robert Frost poems, and talking about the movie. I always had a good relationship with my father, but until that moment he was always a bit of an enigma to me.
Back then, I had no idea how to have a close adult relationship with another man. Men were stoic and aloof and…manly. I was lucky enough to have Robin Williams teach me what a close adult male relationship can look like. In 1991, my favorite Robin Williams film, The Fisher King, was released. Bonded over our love of Dead Poet’s Society and some of Robin Williams earlier films (Awakenings), my dad and I went to the theater together to see it. Its the first movie that he took me to see. Just me, the two of us out sharing the world. Again, its a poetic film dealing with love and loss, and focusing on the relationship between two men. By the end, I suspect we were both crying, though I can only be sure of my own tears.
There’s a scene in The Fisher King, where Robin Williams tells the following tale:
So to Robin Williams, I say “Thank you.” I was thirsty and you handed me the grail full of water, a relationship with my father. That is a gift that I will never be able to repay you for. I’m sorry I couldn’t quench your thirst. I will do my best to take up your banner, and quench the thirst of others.