After Dad: Ralph Cohen
Memories are precious and each one of us creates our own. Families are tied together by experiences, moments they share and the love they possess for each other. This is a story told from five different perspectives and five different voices are heard each expressing his/her feelings, views and love for the man they called Dad or husband. A father that dies suddenly from a heart attack leaving his three children and wife with a great void. Frank Kovacek is the catalyst that drives the storyline as we first meet Jenny, his youngest daughter who views her father as someone she can count on to save her from danger, invincible and a superhero in her own mind. Added in the harsh reality that Frank and his wife Ruth are on a rocky path and at the end of the chapter it becomes apparent that something within their family structure has changed. In the next chapter we meet the oldest child, Margot, who loves her father, enjoys going on the many impromptu-fishing jaunts and his playful and comedic side comes through. One thing is for sure he loves his children but often lives within his own dream world leaving others to fix whatever he has broken.
Each character presents their point of views, their emotions evoked by the circumstances they share as we hear Margot, Jenny, Ruth their mother, Frank and Toby the youngest struggle with their loss. Each chapter told in the first person yet, Toby’s in the third a chapter titled Edgar focuses on the assistant funeral director, his initial feelings are heard about Frank, the funeral, the family and his viewpoint as he and his wife differ in many ways and within this chapter appear to drift apart. Children react differently to the death of a parent and both Jenny and Toby go through various stages as Jenny shares three chapters of pranks, Toby finding it the hardest to deal with his death and Margot’s aspirations fall by the wayside. Each of the children tries to find his/her way but Jenny’s feelings hide deep within her, Toby becomes recalcitrant, dangerous and finds his way into criminal activities. How can they overcome their grief as author Ralph Cohen takes us on each one of their journeys? Taking place during a volatile period, the 60’s in Southern California, a tightly knit family finds itself becoming frayed.
How do you deal with the death of a parent when you refuse to believe that he is gone? The fears, the fright, the feeling of being alone and the knowledge that he is physically no longer there is hard for Jenny to grasp. How do you say goodbye when you barely said hello? Jenny’s view of the world changes and her actions speak of a young girl going through the motions of life but feeling numb. Margot felt like the light in her life was gone, her body could no longer move and a deep hole was left within her. But, the youngest felt it the most even more than Ruth. Toby became a shell of who he was and lived in a world he created was not alive just there as if the world was his stage and he was creating his own scenes from his strange and distorted point of view. Ruth had to find a way to cope with his death, deal with her children and face the realities of being alone. Could she rise to the occasion and help her children or would she cower? Frank was unique and as we get to know him through the children you realize he was fun, filled with humor and often loved to see the world through rose-colored glasses. Thinking that he was immune to most unfortunate things never realizing the deep holes he left in all of his family upon his death. The author sets a somber tone, a feeling of loss, fear, emptiness and allows each character to come to life on his or own terms and way.
Toby seemed to be the one that took it the hardest as you see him in school daydreaming in class, bullied by his classmates and never telling anyone his true feelings. Remembering fishing with his father, naming the fish he wanted and thinking about happy times as Ricky threatens him for money and things start to fall apart for him. Even listening to the funeral director speaking to the family as they exited to the limo was heartbreaking and sad. They did not seem to act like a unit
Frank, their father was a positive force his children’s lives and things started to fall apart for each one of them after his sudden death. Jenny at times could not believe he was gone and often imagined having talks with him within her own dreams. As the book progresses we see that Toby’s flight is rocky and not normal.
Jenny tries to cope with his death, wants to succeed uses her creativity and own thoughts to deal with the world. Their father was an architect yet at times acted like a child in order to ward off being afraid of his own failures and the fact that he lost his job and his family needed money to survive. Margot as she ages wants to have a secure life but often the choices you make do not mirror what you want. Guided by her father’s unique ways and spirit she just might succeed in her own way.
Jenny could not handle his death refusing to go to the funeral and screaming, ranting and yelling within herself because she could not deal with the loss of her father. Ruth, their mother loved her children but makes is abundantly clear that they admired each other, she loved his imagination and enjoyed her marriage. Sometimes people move on after losing a spouse but not Ruth. She remained faithful to Frank for a while. Each character is uniquely represented and their voices are heard throughout expressing their fears, frustrations, and feelings about losing their father. The dialogue is crisp and the voice or words of each character comes through. Margot seems affected in different ways and often tries to find creative outlets that mirror her father’s. Ruth is a silent warrior you might say as he outwardly tries to hold it together but alone she cries for Frank and yet finds another to comfort her. Jenny makes some bad choices and even though boys have not been her forte her choices are not the right ones. All too often some young girls need to feel comforted and wanted and the wrong boys fit that bill with the right words. While Jenny’s pranks and her relationships falter Margot marries. Toby is mad, angry and takes a path that his father would not be proud of, as he becomes a petty thief.
Listen to Jenny has she suffers through high school and deals with her emotions while Margot’s choices are questionable and within herself she states that your life is what you make of it how true. With their father gone and his memory quite vivid, each child changes and a parent’s love is not gone but a mother and daughter drift apart. Each family member is heard, their final outcomes tragic you might say as Frank Kovacek’s death and the aftermath you are reading about will teach parents and children the pitfalls of not paying close attention to each other before it’s too late.
Margot’s child, her marriage to Art, telling her family about him and the end result so sad. The fears that are related within her as she and Art begin to have problems and her child is born but she still feels alone and empty inside. Margot never seems content with life as it is or with her blessings. Added to that his mother realizes that she is ill and wants Art to move on and not give up his whole life for her. But, her decision is made within herself she grabs the pills but something changes and she remembers her father the ending of Chapter 14 will make you smile and bring tears to your eyes at the same time. The final chapter 15 reminds readers of Toby, his struggles with life as he it taken away to Juvenile camp where the author relates so hard and cold facts. The ending of chapter will leave you understanding what happens to young boys when incarcerated and allowed to bully, rape and hurt their fellow inmates. The ending will surprise you as the author concludes with Ruth as the final chapter one of remembrances, regrets and one that reminds readers that Ruth still needs Frank. Told in so many voices and each character well defined this is one story that Frank himself would be proud of. After Dad: there will always be an empty space that no one can fill. Just ask Jenny, Margot, Toby and Ruth!
Fran Lewis: Just Reviews/mj Magazine