Catherine, daughter of Ivan Reitman, on Father’s Day without him

My father died on Super Bowl Sunday. The night before, he’d told me – in his characteristically sincere but “has places to be” style – that he was proud of me. He then went to sleep and never woke up again. Today, four months later, we celebrate Father’s Day.

I always thought the purpose of Father’s Day was to give dads a good meal. A fun gift. A few hours of praise and priority, before the wave of ordinary life takes us back to our routine. But outside of a few hours of smiling, there must be a deeper meaning to why we celebrate the men who brought us into this world. I spent the last seven years of my career writing about the sacrifices and journeys of working mothers. Maybe it’s time for me to take a moment to explore a man who shared that burden. I owe it to my extraordinary father.

Last year, around this time, I would have walked into brunch, hugged my dad, clapped, and devoured whatever meal we were serving. All the while worrying about whatever obstacle I had on the horizon that week. I would now happily burn down my career to have a day with him. Hell, I’d sit on a crocodile’s mouth for five minutes with the guy. If I could be with him this Father’s Day, I would express my gratitude for him. I would absorb every moment. Ask a million questions I was too narcissistic to ask before. I would dance with him. Laugh with him. Hug him until he says, “That’s enough,” laughing, though clearly fed up. I wouldn’t criticize his bad diet, or waste time bothering him to drink more water. After all, he didn’t die of dehydration. I would order Chinese food and two Diet Cokes and spend the afternoon floating happily in his company. So again if he was still here… I would probably carry on the way I always did. Treating this holiday as just another item on my to-do list. (Cue Joni Mitchell from “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Until It’s Gone.”)

Ivan, Catherine and Jason Reitman at the premiere of “Workin’ Moms”.
Courtesy of Catherine Reitman

The real irony is that my father didn’t particularly care about this holiday. What he valued were the moments of truth. Connection. This is best exemplified by his dinner routine: he greets his guests, warm but reserved. He wants to be moved. Hungry for the only person who can impress him with an anecdote of true authenticity. He really eats. No conversation trumps the meal itself. If he’s the host, he gives an opening speech. Something to put guests at ease. They can sit back with the knowledge that they are in good hands. And in that speech, he explores the truth of the room. If the moment calls for celebration or sympathy, he recognizes the thesis of the night – even if it makes people temporarily uncomfortable. And with that, the room discovers that they are somewhere important – experiencing something with meaning. He radiated pride when he could direct a room into serious waters. I saw people stop, pull themselves together and see my father’s true magic. His power.

This set of special abilities of his can be attributed to a few things: he could simply have been born with the ability to put his finger on the pulse at any time. A superpower he was blessed with. Or maybe it’s a by-product of being the son of two Holocaust survivors. After seeing these atrocities, his parents raised him with a deep understanding that every moment of life is a gift. Don’t waste it. Or perhaps it was learned over the decades of storytelling he’s mastered. His keen sense of getting to the truth of each scene. Regardless of his origin, my father not only provided him, but also demanded him from you in order to make a connection.

Image loaded with laziness

Courtesy of Catherine Reitman

That was a lesson that took me several years to learn. In Father’s Days past, I’d stumbled across the celebratory meal—buzzing from whatever life was serving me, and I knew I had to explore the truth of the meal if it was to have any impact on my father. And the easiest trick to enjoy this moment? Looking into his eyes. My father didn’t have standard eyeballs. He had sympathy nukes on his face. The man could take the emotion out of the blind man with those eyes. I looked at these things and saw myself opening up. I know he had that effect on my brothers too. I would watch his eyes land on theirs and they would instantly slow down, crash and start vibrating at different frequencies. Nothing made my father prouder than when my brothers and I gave speeches. His chest would inflate like a cartoon Mountie, absorbing every word.

That’s why I’m reading this aloud right now. In the hope that wherever my father is lucky enough to be my new home, he can hear me. While I can’t look into his eyes, I can see them… feel them. And at the risk of making the reader temporarily uncomfortable, acknowledge this holiday’s thesis: Dad, I love you. Thank you for not only giving me the ticket to life, but also for showing me why life is valuable. I will not avoid the truth of each moment. I will go in. And in doing so, I will be that much closer to you. Happy Fathers Day.

Catherine Reitman is a writer, showrunner, actress, producer, and director best known as the creator and star of “Workin’ Moms,” available globally on Netflix.

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