Study Guide

Kramer vs. Kramer Quotes

  • Gender

    TED: You're terrific. Boy, you're… Thanks very much, really. (sighing) The sisterhood. I wanna thank you for coming up here and cheering me up, but you—

    MARGARET: I didn't come up here to cheer you up. I came up because I'm concerned about Joanna.

    The sisterhood Ted's trying to blame here? It has nothing to do with traveling pants. Ted's referring to the women's movement, which sought equal rights for American women. Ted's blaming it for blowing up his family.

    TED: I got people to see, and Daddy's gotta bring home the bacon. Not only does he bring home the bacon, but he's gotta cook it, too, doesn't he?

    This was kind of a radical idea, even in 1979, that a man would handle domestic responsibilities. Ted's doing his best to convince Billy that he can handle it, because he's not exactly confident himself.

    TED: (reading Joanna's letter to Billy) "Mommy has gone away. Sometimes in the world, daddies go away and mommies bring up their little boys, but sometimes a mommy can go away, too, and you have your daddy to bring you up. I have gone away because I must find something interesting to do for myself in the world. Everybody has to, and so do I. Being your mommy was one thing, but there are other things, too, and this is what I have to do. I did not get a chance to tell you this, and that is why I'm writing you now. I will always be your mommy, and I will always love you; I just won't be your mommy in the house, but I'll be your mommy in the heart. And now I must go—"
    Billy turns the TV back on.TED: "—and be the person I have to be." We're gonna read this another time.

    BILLY: I don't care.

    If you ask us, the key thing to zero in on here in Joanna's letter to Billy is this idea that everybody has to find something interesting to do for themselves in the world. This was a revelation to Joanna; before she realized that she could be more than just a wife and a mother, she felt that, because she was a woman, being a wife and a mom were the only options available to her. That's probably why she stuck around for so long, too.

    TED: I'm not that late, Billy. I'm only 20 minutes.

    BILLY: You wanna make a bet?

    TED: Yeah.

    BILLY: All the other mothers were there before you.

    Surprised that all the other parents picking up kids from the birthday party were women? Yeah, us neither. Billy's using "mothers" to mean "primary caregivers"—clueing us in to what was the norm in those days.

    JOANNA: I have a whole speech.

    TED: No, go ahead.

    JOANNA: All my life I've felt like somebody's wife or somebody's mother or somebody's daughter. Even all the time we were together, I never knew who I was. That's why I had to go away, and in California, I think found myself. I got myself a job. I got myself a therapist—a really good one—and I feel better about myself than I ever have in my whole life. And I've learned a great deal about myself.

    Personally we find the whole "finding oneself" a little buzzword-y in an otherwise moving speech by Joanna. We'll forgive her because she admits it was kind of a prepared speech.

    SHAUNESSY: Now, how old is the child again?

    TED: Uh, my son is seven.

    SHAUNESSY: Oh, that's tough.

    TED: Why?

    SHAUNESSY: Well, in most cases involving a child that young, the court tends to side with the mother.

    TED: But she signed over custody.

    SHAUNESSY: I'm not saying we don't have a shot, but it won't be easy.

    At the time the film was made, dads were being awarded custody in increasing numbers, but courts still mostly thought that women are better parents simply by virtue of their gender. Shaunessy is laying out the odds pretty honestly.

    TED: You proud of me?

    BILLY: Yeah. How'd you get this job?

    TED: I told them I wanted it.

    It's hard to picture Joanna saying this, isn't it? A man pulling off what Ted did— demanding that Spencer and Ackerman decide whether to give him the job on the spot—is aggressive and bold. A woman doing the same thing might be just as easily regarded as pushy and another word that starts with "b" that isn't "bold."

    SHAUNESSY: Motherhood. They're going right for the throat.

    Shaunessy's trepidation reflects society's prevailing attitude toward the role of fathers at the time—namely that, outside of extreme circumstances, they're second-rate parents.

    JOANNA: At the time I left, I felt that there was something terribly wrong with me, and that my son would be better off without me. And it was only after I got to California that I realized, after getting into therapy, that I wasn't such a terrible person, and just because I needed some kind of creative or emotional outlet other than my child, that didn't make me unfit to be a mother.

    Hopefully, the fact that Joanna was expected to be a wife and a mom—and only a wife and a mom—seems ludicrous to you now in the 21st century.

    TED: My wife used to always say to me, "Why can't a woman have the same ambitions as a man?" I think you're right, and maybe I've learned that much, but by the same token, I'd like to know what law is it that says that a woman is a better parent simply by virtue of her sex.

    No law, Ted. Ted's speech may not resonate with the judge, who grants custody to Joanna, but it presents the central question of the movie, as well as an interesting critique of gender roles and expectations in 1979.

  • Marriage

    JOANNA: Don't make me go in there. If you do, I swear, one day next week, maybe next year, I don't know, I'll go right out the window.

    TED: Oh, please. Now, come on.

    Ted's dismissive reaction to Joanna's admission that she's at the point where she might jump out the window of their high-rise apartment to escape her bad marriage illustrates Joanna's point. Ted just doesn't take her seriously.

    TED: Look, the fact is, for the last six months, I've been spitting blood to get this agency one of the biggest accounts it's ever had, and at 5:00 this afternoon, we got the account! At 8:00, I'm walking home with the vice president who tells me I'm going to be the next Creative Director of this department. I come through this door to share with my wife what's probably going to be one of the five best days of my life, and she looks at me, cool as a cucumber, and tells me she doesn't want to live with me anymore! Can't you understand what she's done to me?

    MARGARET: Yeah, she loused up one of the five best days of your life.

    Rock on, Margaret. Ted's wife has just left him, and he's complaining about how that messed up his day, how that inconvenienced him. He sounds like a kid because he's acting like one—and he's making it clear how he views his and Joanna's roles in their marriage.

    TED: You know sometimes you and your friends don't get along, and you have a fight?

    BILLY: Uh huh.

    TED: And you wanna go off and be by yourself for a little while, right?

    BILLY: Yup.

    TED: Well, sometimes, Mommy and Daddy don't get along and, you know, one of them wants to go off and be by themselves for a while, so that's what happened with Mommy.

    BILLY: When is Mommy coming back?

    TED: Soon. Very soon.

    Um, no. No, she's not. When Joanna first leaves, Ted thinks it's temporary, despite the fact that Joanna tells him in no uncertain terms that it isn't and even leaves her keys and checkbook behind. He doesn't understand the severity of the situation because he hasn't noticed how rotten his marriage was. Apparently it was working just fine for him.

    JIM: Is there another guy?

    TED: I don't think so, you know, she's not the type. She's got this friend Margaret downstairs and, you know, and they [mimics chit-chatting nonsense], you know, women's lib, and I think they may've cooked this up. Who knows, you know what mean? It worked!

    Ted and Jim laugh.

    There's a lot to unpack here. First of all, we're pretty sure nobody ever knowingly marries someone who is the type to cheat. Regardless, Ted dismisses the idea of Joanna finding another man like it's nothing, and we're not sure if that's because he thinks he knows her so well, or because he thinks no woman would ever cheat on Ted Kramer.

    Next, Ted lays the blame for Joanna leaving on both Margaret and women's lib. You'll notice who he doesn't blame it on: himself.

    Finally, Ted talks to Jim about Joanna and Margaret like they're in first grade. He mimics the way they chat, like chipmunks, and refers to his wife leaving him as a scheme she and Margaret "cooked up" they were pulling a wacky, Lucy and Ethel-style prank and the women's movement is just girlfriend gossip. In short, Ted's showing Joanna very little respect here and taking zero responsibility for the implosion of his marriage.

    TED: You think you'll ever get married again?

    MARGARET: Nuh-uh.

    TED: I mean to anybody.

    MARGARET: Oh, no.

    TED: Why?

    MARGARET: I don't know. Maybe it's different if you don't have children, but even if Charley and I aren't living together, and even if we're sleeping with other people, and even if Charley were to get married again, I don't know: he's still my husband, and he's still the father of my children. That stuff about "'til death do you part," that's really true.

    Margaret's in her marriage for the long haul—even if that marriage is technically over. Her attitude about her ex-husband shows that there's a lot more than His and Hers towels when it comes to being married to someone, especially if you have kids.

    TED: Okay, look. We're gonna sit here and bat this back and forth like it was for eight years. It's like old times.

    JOANNA: Well, you can't deny me access to my baby.

    TED: Don't tell me what I can or cannot do. Don't talk to me that way.

    JOANNA: I anticipated this whole thing.

    When Joanna takes a stand and says Ted can't deny her access to Billy, Ted takes offense. He's this close to adding a foot-stomp and a "You're not the boss of me!" to the end of his protest. He sounds like a petulant teenager, like he thinks he deserves respect solely by virtue of his existence. Joanna, meanwhile, says she anticipated Ted's reaction. Nobody knows Ted better than Joanna: not because they were married, but because she paid attention throughout their marriage.

    BILLY: Dad, are you ever gonna get remarried?

    TED: I don't know. I hadn't thought about it.

    BILLY: Are you ever gonna remarry to Phyllis?

    TED: No. We're just good friends.

    BILLY: Oh. Are you and Mom ever gonna get remarried?

    TED: No, Mommy and me will never be remarried.

    BILLY: I bet if she saw this [Ted's new office] she'd remarry you.

    If only it were that simple, Billy.

    JOANNA: I was not a failure.

    SHAUNESSY: Oh? What do you call it then, a success? The marriage ended in divorce.

    JOANNA: I consider it less my failure than his.

    SHAUNESSY: Congratulations, Mrs. Kramer, you've just rewritten matrimonial law. You were both divorced.

    Shaunessy's right. They were both divorced, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they were equally to blame for the demise of the marriage.

    SHAUNESSY Your honor, I would like to ask what this model of stability and respectability has ever succeeded at. Were you a failure at the one more important personal relationship in your life?

    JOANNA: It did not succeed.

    SHAUNESSY: Not "it," Mrs. Kramer, you. Were you a failure at the one most important relationship in your life? Were you?!

    Ted shakes his head at Joanna and mouths "No." Joanna smiles weakly and mouths "Yes."

    ATKINS: Is that a "yes," Mrs. Kramer?

    Joanna nods.

    SHAUNESSY: No further questions.

    Shaunessy's trying to get Joanna to take more responsibility for the end of their marriage here. Even though it would help his case, Ted's not having it. He now understands that most of the blame for their marriage falling apart is his. That doesn't mean he thinks Joanna should be awarded custody of Billy, but it does mean he's evolved.

    TED: There's a lot of things I didn't understand. There's a lot of things I'd do different if I could, just like there's a lot of things you wish you could change, but we can't. Some things, once they're done, can't be undone.

    By the end of the film, Ted sees that he was a lame husband. He also realizes that, in marriage, you can't really get a "do over." In other words, Ted's grown. A lot.

  • Family

    TED: What about Billy?

    JOANNA: I'm not taking him with me. I'm no good for him. I'm terrible with him. I have no patience. He's better off without me.

    TED: Joanna, please.

    JOANNA: And I don't love you anymore.

    While Joanna feels unfit to be Billy's mom, she simply doesn't want to be Ted's wife anymore. Ouch.

    TED: Hey, I see the Knicks finally won a game. What do you know?

    BILLY: I don't care.

    TED: What do you mean?

    BILLY: I like Boston.

    TED: Boston? Why do you like Boston?

    BILLY: Because Mommy's from Boston.

    After his traditional family structure breaks down, Billy chooses sides, even when it comes to the small stuff, like NBA hoops. The Celtics were terrible that season, BTW; they had the worst record of any Celtics team between 1950 and 1996. But that doesn't matter to Billy; he just wants Ted to know he's #TeamMommy.

    DOCTOR: Now, this'll take about 15 minutes, so will you just step over here?

    TED: No, if you're going to do something to him, I want to be in there with him.

    DOCTOR: There's no reason for you to be in there.

    TED: Yeah, there is. He's my son. If you're gonna do something to him, I'm going to be with him.

    Nothing says "My kid is my priority" like watching him get his face stitched up rather than running out of the room shrieking.

    TED: What's that say?

    BILLY: It says "Kramer."

    TED: Kramer. Who's that?

    BILLY: That's us.

    Aw. They're a family. Families don't need to have a mom, a dad, 2.5 kids, and a dog named Spike. (Hopefully that goes without saying, but, well, it's our job to say it.)

    JOANNA: I know I left my son. I know that that's a terrible thing to do. Believe me, I have to live with that every day of my life. But in order to leave him, I had to believe that it was the only thing I could do, and that it was the best thing for him. I was incapable of functioning in that home, and I didn't know what the alternative was going to be, so I thought it was not best that I take him with me. However, I have since gotten some help, and I have worked very, very hard to become a whole human being, and I don't think I should be punished for that, and I don't think my little boy should be punished. Billy's only seven years-old. He needs me. I'm not saying he doesn't need his father, but I really believe he needs me more. I was his mommy for five-and-a-half years, and Ted took over that role for 18 months, but I don't know how anybody can possibly believe I have less of a stake in mothering that little boy than Mr. Kramer does. I'm his mother. I'm his mother.

    Joanna's speech cuts right to the heart of the film. What roles do men and women play as parents? If you're the mom in a family, is that the only role you can or should play? Is the mom automatically the most important parent just because she's the mom? Ultimately, the court seems to think so; Ted disagrees (obvi).

    MARGARET: Joanna, things are not the same now. Ted is not the same man. You don't know how hard he's tried. They're beautiful together, just beautiful…If you could see them together, Joanna—I mean, maybe you wouldn't be here now.

    Margaret's woke. She's seen Ted be a father and a mother to Billy. She knows that the two of them are a complete family unit because she's experienced Ted Kramer 2.0 and the new Kramer family dynamic.

    TED: My wife, my ex-wife, says that she loves Billy, and I believe she does, but I don't think that's the issue here. If I understand it correctly, what means the most here is what's best for our son, what's best for Billy.

    Kramer vs. Kramer suggests that parenting changes you. Ted starts the film not knowing where his family keeps the bowls or what grade his own son is in. By the end, he has one focus: doing what's best for his family, which in this case, is his kid.

    TED: You know, I've had a lot of time to think about what is it that makes somebody a good parent. You know, it has to do with constancy; it has to do with patience. It has to do with listening to him. It has to do with pretending to listen to him when you can't even listen anymore. It has to do with love, like she was saying, and I don't know where it's written that says that a woman has a corner on that market, that a man has any less of those emotions than a woman does.

    Now it's Ted's turn to give a speech that sums up the main ideas and questions of the film.

    TED: Billy has a home with me. I've made it the best I could. It's not perfect. I'm not a perfect parent. Sometimes, I don't have enough patience—I forget that he's a little kid—but I'm there. I get up in the morning, and then we eat breakfast, and he talks to me, and then we go to school. And then at night, we have dinner together, and we talk then, and I read to him. And we built a life together, and we love each other. If you destroy that, it may be irreparable. Joanna, don't do that, please. Don't do it twice to him.

    Here's Ted with the film's message about parenting: You have to show up. Every day. Doesn't matter if you're sick or tired or bored; you show up because, ultimately, it's not about you.

    TED: Well, the problem is that your mommy and I both want you to live with us, see? So that's why we decided to go see this man who, I told you, is the judge, and we let him decide because he's very wise and experienced about these things. See, we talked to him for a few days, and after that, we asked him what he thought. Know what he said? He agreed with Mommy, and he thought it'd be a terrific idea if you move in with her and live there from now on. And I'm really lucky because I get to have dinner with you once a week. And two times a month, we spend the weekends together.

    After the court's ruling, the structure of the Kramer family, and everybody's roles within it, are set to change once again. We don't know about you, but we think that's a lot to ask from a little kid.

    JOANNA: I woke up this morning. I kept thinking about Billy, and I was thinking about him waking up in his room with his little clouds over him that I painted, and I thought I should've painted clouds downtown because…

    She trails off, sniffling.

    JOANNA: And then he would think that he was waking up at home.

    She sighs.

    JOANNA: I came here to take my son home, and I realize he already is home.

    The court may've sided with Joanna, but ultimately Joanna sides with Ted. Or, really, she sides with Billy, in that she recognizes that what's best for her kid is to stay with his dad. They've formed a tight two-man family in her absence. We can see that Joanna's therapy has given her some self-confidence; her self-worth won't be threatened by not being the primary caregiver.

  • Duty

    TED: Well, I'm sorry that I was late, but I was busy making a living, all right?

    Ted thinks his duty to his job trumps his duty to everything else, including his wife, kid, and home life. (Yup; Ted's wrong.)

    TED: Well, obviously my wife and you have had numerous conversations about my shortcomings which I have not been privy to, and I would love to sit here and talk to you, but somebody has to bring home the bacon, and I have a major presentation in the morning, and I just gotta get my work done, so please, allow me to—

    MARGARET: Ted, you don't seem to realize we have a serious problem.

    TED: Wrong, Margaret. Me! I've got the problem.

    Even when his wife has walked out—and left their kid behind—Ted's still focused on his job and Ted, probably in that order.

    JIM: I gotta count on you for 110%, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I gotta have that, Ted. I mean, I can't be concerned about you worrying about a kid with a runny nose.

    TED: First of all, you can count on me 25 hours a day, and you can count on me eight days a week. Because I'm not a loser, Jim. You know that. And I've never let anything at home, you know, come into the office.

    There's a lot of juicy stuff in this exchange. First, Jim makes it clear that there's a lot expected from Ted at work. He's under a lot of pressure, and Jim expects everything else to take a backseat to the ad agency.

    Second, Ted admits that he never lets his home life intrude on his work life—although h

    Finally, the fact that Ted thinks someone who doesn't live at the office is a "loser" speaks volumes about Ted's attitude toward work, duty, and success. If you're not eating lunch at your desk and working past dinner, you're not trying.

    TED: God damn it, Billy. I knew this was gonna happen. I knew this was gonna happen. Who told you not to drink this stuff here, and you're supposed to have it all at the dining room table, huh?

    BILLY: Sorry.

    TED: Yeah, you're sorry. I told you to keep that juice in the dining room. You don't take anything out here anymore.

    BILLY: Sorry.

    TED: Who took you to the park and gave you everything you wanted, huh?

    BILLY: You.

    TED: Yeah. Who bought you an ice cream?

    BILLY: You.

    TED: Yeah. And who promised Daddy that when we got home, you would let him work and not bother him, huh?

    Ted thinks that Billy owes him some good behavior because Ted provides for him. He thinks it's like a business contract—albeit a verbal one: "I take you to the park and get you some ice cream, and you follow the rules and be the first kid to never spill anything." Ted should've gotten it in writing.

    TED: And then what happened?

    BILLY: Well, I don't want to be late for school. I'll see you later.

    TED: Wait a minute. Let me give you your homework. Give me a kiss. (to another kid) Hi, Tommy.

    Gone are the days of Ted hurriedly dumping Billy in front of his school and hoping that woman he left his kid with is a teacher. Ted even knows the names of other kids.

    JIM: Teddy, look, I know you may be a little short of cash right now. No big hurry about paying this back.

    TED: Shame on you.

    Throughout the film, especially during the first act, Ted makes a big deal about being a provider. That's his role. He's good at it. That's why Jim's offer of cash is so insulting; he's suggesting that Ted's no longer able to provide for Billy, which, by extension, means Ted's no longer a man. Ouch.

    TED: No. This is a one-day-only offer, gentlemen. You saw my book; you know I can handle the work. I'm willing to take a salary cut; the only thing is, you're gonna have to let me know today, not tomorrow, not next week, not at the end of the holidays. If you really want me, you make a decision right now.

    Ted's got a lot on the line here, hence his aggressiveness. He wants a new job so he can provide for his kid, and he needs a new job because, without one, the court's going to rule him unfit to take care of his kid before he even has a chance to speak.

    TED: Did you have to be so rough on her?

    SHAUNESSY: Do you want the kid or don't you?

    Shaunessy has an obligation to his client, Ted. Namely, he needs to do anything to win. He also has an obligation to act a certain way in the court room; when you think about it, being a lawyer is a form of performance. You think that's why there are so many movies with heart-wrenching courtroom scenes? A Few Good MenA Time to KillLegally Blonde. We could go on and on.

    TED: On that day, I had to go home because my child was sick. He had a fever.

    GRESSEN: Mr. Kramer, did you or did you not miss a deadline? Yes or no?

    TED: My son was sick.

    ATKINS: Mr. Kramer, answer the question.
    TED: I'm trying to answer the question. It's not yes or no. I'm sitting there in my office—

    GRESSEN: Mr. Kramer, yes or no?

    TED: He had a 104 temperature! He's lying there sweating; I go home to be with him!

    ATKINS: Mr. Kramer, I must urge you to stop or else I'll have to hold you in contempt.

    TED: I missed the deadline.

    Gressen's line of questioning here is kind of weird. He's trying to get Ted to say that taking care of Billy when he was sick made him shirk his responsibilities at work and miss a deadline. We don't know about you, but that makes him sound like a good dad, not a bad one. If his kid's sick (especially with an 104º temperature!), sure seems like his duty is to his kid, not some project for work. Joanna's attorney is accusing Ted of failing at the traditional division of labor—Ted's job is to provide.

    SHAUNESSY: This time it'll be Billy that pays. I'll have to put him on the stand.

    TED: You can't do that. No, I don't want to do that.
    Ted fights back tears.

    TED: Thanks very much for your time. I'm gonna take a walk.

    By the end of the film, Ted's primary duty is to Billy, not to some client or his new bosses at the ad agency. It's his job not just to provide a roof over Billy's head and plenty of Salisbury steak, but to protect him, and that's why he refuses to put his kid on the witness stand.

  • Abandonment

    TED: I just gotta call the office before they go. Joey, you're gonna be real proud of me. I got good news.

    JOANNA: Ted.

    TED: Yeah, one second. Let me just do this.

    Ted dials the phone.

    TED: You know Jack Edwards over in accounting? He committed suicide. (into the phone) Yeah, hi. Ted Kramer. Listen, I gotta get those photos from the retoucher by tomorrow morning, okay?

    JOANNA: I'm leaving you.

    TED: Honey, please. I can't hear. (into the phone) What? Okay. You, too. Thanks a lot. See you tomorrow.
    Ted hangs up. You guys eat?

    JOANNA: Ted, I'm leaving you.

    You don't have to physically leave someone to abandon them; a person can feel emotionally discarded, too. Joanna's like the invisible woman—minus the rad force field powers, and with an overstuffed suitcase full of her finest husband-leavin' clothes instead.

    TED: Do me a favor; just tell me the truth, okay? Did you set my wife up to this?

    MARGARET: No, I did not put Joanna up to this.

    TED: Give her a little pep talk?

    MARGARET: No, I did not give her any pep talk. Joanna and I talk a great deal, yes, and Joanna's a very, very unhappy woman, and you may not want to hear this, but it took a lot of courage for her to walk out of here.

    TED: Mm hmm. How much courage does it take to walk out on your kid?

    Hold on to your butts: We've got double the abandonment in this exchange. First, Margaret not-so-subtly points out that Joanna's been checked out of their marriage for a looong time; Ted just didn't notice. Ted then not-at-all-subtly points out that Joanna just straight-up abandoned her kid. Point, Ted?

    BILLY: I think you forgot the milk.

    TED: I didn't. Uh, milk comes last. You've always got to put the milk in last. When you're having a good time, you forget the most important thing, right? I just wanted to see if you were paying attention; it's been a long time since I made this.

    On the surface level, we've got Ted acknowledging that, during his marriage, he probably made breakfast about as often as Billy agreed to go to bed early. He never permanently walked out on his family, but he was never very engaged.

    BILLY: Daddy, it's burning! It's burning!

    TED: What?

    BILLY: It's burning!

    TED: Oh, Jesus.
    Ted grabs the hot pan handle, then drops the pan on the floor.
    Damn it!
    Ted holds his burned hand.

    TED: God damn her!

    Something tells us the biggest source of Ted's pain isn't that hot pan handle.

    TED: Miss, can you help me? (to Billy) What grade are you in?

    BILLY: First.

    TED: This is Billy Kramer. He's in first grade. Take care of him for me. I gotta get a taxi; I'm a little late.
    Ted runs off.

    Just in case you didn't believe us when we said it's possible to abandon someone and still see them every day, meet Ted. Ted doesn't know WHAT GRADE HIS SON IS IN. He's also cool with literally shoving that son at a friendly-looking lady who's, hopefully, employed by his son's school, and literally running away to catch a taxi.

    TED: I just didn't look at the writing on the wall, so, you know, she's kinda—I think what she did last night was a way of making me stop, look, and listen, and say, "Hey, you know, I'm just as important as your work."

    Good call, Ted.

    BILLY: Daddy, are you going away?

    TED: No, I'm staying right here with you. You're not gonna get rid of me that easy.

    BILLY: That's why Mommy left, isn't it? 'Cause I was bad?

    TED: Is that what you think?
    Billy shakes his head "yes."

    TED: No. No, that's not it, Billy. Your mom loves you very much. The reason she left doesn't have anything to do with you. I don't know whether this is going to make any sense, but I'll try to explain it to you, okay? I think the reason why Mommy left was because, for a long time now, I kept trying to make her be a certain kind of person, Billy, a certain kind of wife that I thought she was supposed to be, and she just wasn't like that. She was—she just wasn't like that. And now that I think about it, I think that she tried for so long to make me happy, and when she couldn't, she tried to talk to me about it, see? But I wasn't listening because I was too busy; I was too wrapped up just thinking about myself, and I thought that any time I was happy, that meant that she was happy, but I think underneath she was very sad. Mommy stayed here longer than she wanted to, I think, because she loves you so much, and the reason why Mommy couldn't stay anymore was because she couldn't stand me, Billy. She didn't leave because of you. She left because of me.

    This is one of the rare glimpses we get at this whole maelstrom of family drama from Billy's perspective. Little kids often blame themselves for their parents' divorce, or alcoholism, or anger, or whatever. Ted uses this speech to make it clear to Billy that Joanna didn't abandon Billy, she abandoned Ted. Ted lays the blame pretty squarely on himself.

    JOANNA: During the last five years of our marriage, I was becoming more and more unhappy, more and more troubled, and I really needed somebody to help me, but when I turned to Ted, he just wasn't there for me, so we became more and more isolated from one another, more and more separate. He was very involved in his career, and because of his attitude towards my fears and his inability to deal with my feelings, I had come to have almost no self-esteem. I was scared, and I was very unhappy, and in my mind, I had no other choice but to leave. At the time I left, I felt that there was something terribly wrong with me, and that my son would be better off without me. And it was only after I got to California that I realized, after getting into therapy, that I wasn't such a terrible person, and just because I needed some kind of creative or emotional outlet other than my child, that didn't make me unfit to be a mother.

    Hmm. What do you think: Was Billy really better off without her?

    BILLY: You're not gonna kiss me goodnight anymore, are you, Dad?

    TED: No, I won't be able to do that, but, you know, I get to visit. It's gonna be okay. Really.

    BILLY: (crying) If I don't like it, can I come home?

    Billy's been put through the wringer thanks to his parents. Mom leaves. Dad's a butt. Dad gets his act together. Mom comes back. Dad sends him to live with Mom against his will. Where are his bed or toys going to be? Who's going to read him bedtime stories? We feel your pain, Billy. Those are important things. Let's go out for all the ice cream, okay?