The thing about grief is that it’s a sneaky little fucker. Just when you think you’ve turned a corner, you bite into a life-changing Reuben sandwich and promptly burst into tears because your dad is dead and you can’t tell him about it.
You know. For example.
When my father died a little over a year ago, he had the gall — the chutzpah — to take all of his stories with him. And my dad was a storyteller. It was something that we shared, along with our sense of humor. So, it’s no surprise that I relied on other people’s stories to get me through that miserable first year. And one show kept me afloat more than any other: Schitt’s Creek.
Schitt’s Creek is the story of the Roses, a fractured family that learns to love each other when they are forced to actually spend time together. When my own family was suddenly no longer whole, it was a gift to be able to watch the Rose family become just that.
Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) and Michael Herman (my dad) are different in so many ways. But the DAD of it all transcended those differences and so often, I found myself thinking about my own father while watching Johnny. They have the same exasperated sigh. It is one of contempt, exhaustion, and — somehow — love. They share a penchant for the phrase, “I don’t like your tone!” And they both refuse to let their adult children drive the car without a valid license on their person. [INSERT EXASPERATED SIGH HERE.]
But it’s not just that Johnny reminds me of my dad. At the heart of this brilliant show is the father/son duo of Eugene and Daniel Levy. And while it was watching Johnny and David Rose on screen that made me fall in love with them, it is Eugene and Dan’s off-screen dynamic that continues to fill my broken heart.
I love that Eugene and Dan joined forces to tell stories. Witty and clever and kind stories. Stories that lead with their heart. In doing so, they’ve also told the story of a real-life father and son who share a love of storytelling and a sense of humor. And that is the story that fuels me.
Watching the love and humor that Dan shares with his own Jewish father brings me so much fucking joy. And joy hasn’t been so easy to come by lately. So being able to witness their relationship — one of unabashed love and support and mutual respect — has helped. As I struggle to remember the times before the ICU, before hospice, before our story ended, watching Dan and Eugene together triggers the good memories. The hard to reach memories. The memories I am terrified that I will eventually forget.
In September 2018, my sister and I spent an evening in the Levys’ company (alongside several hundred strangers) at a “Schitt’s Creek: Up Close & Personal” in LA. As we sat and watched the cast share stories and answer fan questions, we had a chance to see Dan and Eugene’s dynamic for ourselves. Watching them tag team a story was a dream. Waiting to see who would actually have the final word? Heaven. But my favorite part was how excited they got for each other. Eugene’s face when the audience reacted to something Dan said. Dan, watching Eugene’s patented shtick with the same mix of horror and admiration that I had watching my own father tell a story. It was, simply, the best.
Almost two years to the day later, Schitt’s Creek (rightfully) swept the 2020 Emmys. The hug that they shared when Dan won leveled me to my core. It was the purest of moments — no time to decide how to react. They just did. And what we witnessed was a Jewish father’s pride, a one-person kvell-a-thon, as sheer joy emanated from every inch of Eugene’s body. It was effusive and lovely and a reminder of why it is so easy to root for them both.
My dad had a sort of internal Google Alert whenever something Jewish happened in pop culture. He would find an article in the paper, clip it, and mail it to me with a little note. Seeing his handwriting on a letter or package felt like a cross-country hug. And in the days following the Emmys, I couldn’t help but miss the mail that would never come. The envelope with a perfectly placed stamp. The pile of articles. The paper clipped Post-It that would have had the word “Schitt’s” in quotations. I would have loved that. I would have saved that.
It’s a very odd thing to look at a photo and know it is the last one you will ever have of you and your father. So, when I see Dan and Eugene Levy on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, my heart soars for them. That’s one more photo of them together. That is time well spent. This whole journey — which, to quote Alexis Rose, I love for them — is an incredible thing to share.
For the record, I think Eugene and Dan would have enjoyed my dad. I think my dad would have made them laugh. Sitting down together, I wonder what stories my dad would have told them. I wonder what they would have ordered. Me, I’d have a Reuben. And I would tell my dad all about it.