Just knowing your father is out there dating is bad enough. Having to hear what he’s up to on those dates is considerably worse. When Bob Morris’s dad decided to get back in the game, Bob descended past those two stages and reached the lowest level: helping his father date.
For Morris, a former columnist for the New York Times‘s style section, the mere idea was surreal. “I just couldn’t believe it was happening,” he said, on the phone from his weekend home in upstate New York. “At a certain point-not when he handed me the personals pages and asked me to call some women for him, but maybe around New Year’s when neither of us had dates and were talking to each other like teenagers-I picked up a pen and started taking notes.”
According to the statistics, Bob’s dad, Joe, was only one of many widowers who quickly and enthusiastically re-enter the dating world. “He’d been married to my mom for 50 years,” Morris recounted. “He was a very romantic man who loved holding hands and singing into somebody’s ear; he wasn’t going to stop just because he was 80 years old.” There were, of course, practical considerations as well as romantic ones. “When a spouse dies, women mourn and men replace. Women often have taken care of a sickly husband and don’t want to get back in the position of being a caregiver. They keep each other company, whereas men are often not just looking for love again, they’re looking for lunch.”
Nevertheless, the vigor with which the elder Morris took to dating came as a surprise, given his laid-back lifestyle. “He was a happy snowbird, meaning that he lived in New York in the summer and went down to Florida in the winter. He had his bridge games. He had a pretty good social life, which is why I was so shocked that he made it a goal to find somebody to date. At first he was a careless dater; a bad college boy, in a way.”
While helping his father in his quest, Morris discovered the surprisingly well-populated world of senior dating. “In the last 10 years, it’s gotten turbocharged,” he observed. “Most seniors have cell phones, and a lot of them have access to Internet dating, which of course makes for the worst behavior: flightiness, dishonesty. They have personals ads, they use Viagra, there’s less of a stigma about Botox, and, most importantly, the number of people living into their nineties is twice what it was 10 years ago. Eighty is the new 60, 40 is the new 30: Everybody’s living longer, and this youthfulness has seeped into the aging dating community. They refuse to get old.”
Getting past his initial uneasiness with the enterprise, Morris found in his father’s search for a girlfriend a chance to renew the old father-son bond. “I didn’t want my father ending up with just anybody, so of course it was all about me,” he recalled, laughing. “If he ended up with somebody annoying or who had ridiculously long fingernails or had a really thick accent from a borough I didn’t like, it would have cooled the opportunity for our love to grow in his last years. That meant something to me, because when my mother was out of the picture, there was this buddy relationship between us; it was really cool. I was there for the phone calls about how bad the date went last night.”
It at first seemed to Morris that he and his dad couldn’t have made less compatible friends, but their shared struggle developed into a funny, resonant story. “He was a very open, sloppy, careless, affable person, and I have always been consumed with dignity,” Morris explained. “We’re both very strong-minded, and we both insist that we’re right. I, in my foolishness, never understood that, in a family, being right is not the most important thing. Being loving, open, and understanding is. The book is the story of starting to see that. I was lucky that my father gave me this fun, positive tale to tell, and there’s a hopefulness to it. We read so much about singles and their desperate dating situations, and here’s an 80-year-old doing it with his son, who’s also in pretty bad shape that way. We’re so consumed with children in this culture; nothing seems to be good enough for the children of Boomers, but where’s the interest in their parents? There’s as much delight in a senior as in a child.”
Bob Morris will appear at Borders in downtown Santa Barbara to discuss and read from Assisted Loving on Thursday, June 5, at 7 p.m. For more information, call 899-3668 or visit assistedloving.com.