Jul 04, 2024, 06:24AM

A New Father-Daughter Relationship

Reva flies from one stressful life to another as she heads to assist her ailing father.

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Reva reclined in her window airplane seat, with an empty chair between her and a guy in his 20s who hadn’t looked up from his laptop for hours. The late morning flight was headed to Los Angeles. Reva couldn’t get a direct flight to Santa Barbara this time. She felt a bizarre combination of emotions, getting away from the pressures of her solo, middle-aged life as an overworked school administrator while embarking on the new, unknown pressures of living with Jules and the impending rollercoaster ride of his cognitive decline. Reva watched the little airplane icon on the screen as they floated above Ohio, a state she only thought about during the presidential elections. Reva had paused an episode of the show Six Feet Under on her tablet. She’d become obsessed with the show when it was released in 2001.

At the time, Neve was a newborn who suckled at Reva’s new milk-producing breasts. Reva recalled watching Neve suckling and realizing she was now a food source. Reva was figuring out how to be a mother. Karl’s work took him in and out, reporting from Serbia, then Iraq and Afghanistan. Grandpa Jules had stepped in and supported her and the girls. A lifeline. When Neve was born, Reva’s body sensed the need for stability and her protective instincts took over with both of her girls. The three of them became a unit. Eventually, Neve had her own independent revolution, choosing a boyfriend and leaving the house more often as a teenager.

Six Feet Under was a rare television drama that struck Reva as emotionally honest. It was about how relationships were messy, confusing, paralyzing and still worth it. How family was complicated and often fracturing. How the attempt at repairing was almost more important than the actual success of the repair. How we lived with pain, but learned to maintain joy and humor despite the chaos.

Reva related to two female characters on the show. She was drawn toward the enigmatic and impulsive Brenda, who could be lovely, seductive, deceitful and hilarious. She was independent to an extreme. Like so many who chose self over connections, she was also self-destructive. Reva rarely chose self-destruction, but her own desire for independence was overshadowed by sharing a life and children with a husband who traveled so often and came back as if he himself had been fighting in the wars he reported on.

In the show, Reva also related to the young artist Claire. The youngest child in the family, Claire was a floundering and uncertain teenager, coping with her father’s sudden absence while trying to navigate high school. With Reva, it was her mother Lisa’s absence.

As they grew up, Reva worried about how the divorce was impacting both girls. Reva learned how to consciously tilt her thinking away from the absences and toward the many present people she cared about. But they never seemed to stay. People always moved or stopped reaching out or became jaded. Life seemed to wear away at people, like her favorite t-shirts, that had been washed too many times until holes appeared at the neck and under the arms.

Reva chose to watch the show again because she thought of it as a kind of guide on how to embrace mortality without fear. To allow for laughter and tears, to confront the bigger questions instead of avoiding them. To remember that death was not removed from life, but the natural consequence of having been born.

As the plane icon crossed over into Indiana, Reva closed her eyes and her mind wandered to the idea that her life wouldn’t exactly be hers, for the next year. Then she began to think one’s life is never only theirs. Growing up, her life had been Jules and Lisa’s life as well. While Lisa never instinctively knew how to give her undivided attention to her daughter, Jules usually had. That bond felt unbreakable, but it had gathered dust and lingering resentments over the decades.

First, Reva had fallen in love in college. Jules had been happy for her, but always cautious about how deeply she fell, wanting to protect her from the sting of loss. Then, Reva moved to New York City. Only a two-hour Amtrak ride, but they didn’t see each other all that often during Reva’s 20s. She’d taught high school English, made bohemian friends in Brooklyn and then met the suave journalist with the black leather jacket. Karl.

Next, Reva and Karl moved back to Philly and bought a house, choosing to be near Jules again as Reva started her own family. Jules re-entered her life as Grandpa Jules as she raised the girls. Then the pain of marital strife. Separation. Then divorce. Then Reva found herself raising teenage girls—another species of child entirely. Finally, Jules met Violet, found himself in love again, which had threatened Reva subconsciously, even though she wanted to appreciate this new phase of her dad’s life. Finally, Jules and Violet moved out west together, as Reva’s life was becoming her own again. Tragedy struck. Jules found himself alone and Reva found herself alone, with the entire country in between them.

After all of this time, they’d now have a chance to rekindle their bond, if Reva could find the patience to accept her dad’s new reality. The final phase of their daughter-father relationship. Reva often fixated on the worst case scenarios, but with Tina’s help, she might be able to find perspective. He was still the old Jules. Sweet and sarcastic. Internal yet nurturing. She missed his eyes twinkling at her. His gentle hugs. His voices and accents.

Reva wondered if he’d still be able to remember everyone’s names at the end.


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