THERE was a man in my childhood who taught me a great deal of things that helped shape part of who I am today.
He is part of some of my earliest childhood memories, he continued to mentor me through my teens, into my adulthood and now passes these same lessons to my own son.
I learnt that sometimes we have to stop trying to grow up and sometimes we just have to dare to dream, to imagine a world beyond our own.
Robin Williams was never just a character on a screen. He was a man behind each character and he was sending a message to the world in every character he chose: that message was clear and it always resonated with me from childhood to the present day, that “it’s okay”.
As a young man, unbeknownst of my own growing sexuality, this message was so vitally important to me — seen through a man front and centre in every film he chose challenging the norm and defying the world to contain him.
Mrs Doubtfire wasn’t just a slap-happy comedy. He challenged the ideals that society held against men and their ability to contain and express emotion, he challenged ideals of gender, dressing as a woman and declaring indirectly that this was perfectly acceptable.
As Peter Pan in Hook, he taught me lessons about being a parent years before I was to ever become one: to love and to live, and to never stifle and judge.
My childhood was littered with his films. They made me feel safe, happy and rested some knowledge in my heart and my head that you didn’t have to be “normal”. What was “normal”, anyway?
In a time where other actors may have feared taking on the role of a gay character at risk of tarnishing their reputation, becoming stereotyped or ridiculed, Williams flounced into his role on The Birdcage with style, charisma and confidence.
As a gay 15-year-old boy I could only watch on with hope as this big, loud, hairy, hilarious and heterosexual middle-aged man was teaching me that everything I was starting to know about myself was fabulous — and that it was perfectly okay. The mainstream visibility a man like that gave to LGBTI youth was immeasurable, irreplaceable and should never be underestimated. Williams had extended his hand to me and slowly, but surely, became part of my journey as he helped guide me out of the closet.
Gasping through tears as I sat through Dead Poets Society, I listened breathlessly to every word Williams spoke as John Keating, captivated by his passion, his love for language and the power it possessed. “Make your lives extraordinary,” he said, not words from a script but instructions spoken to an impressionable teen in a small mountain town who heard them and never once forgot them. His words resonated throughout my teen years, that one man — whether I knew it at the time or not — became a symbol of hope and love for who I was, who I wanted to be and everything in between.
As I grew up and continued to study, to become a teacher, Williams’ works and his words guided me. My pursuit of the extraordinary was always in the forefront of my mind, part of my life and its lessons in so many ways.
His passing brings a great sadness to the world. I am not alone — he spoke not only to me but to many for decades and for that I know we are all grateful.
One man who I never met yet had such an impact that he never knew, now rests in a place we cannot see.
From the bottom of my heart Robin Williams, thank you for seeing me through.