'The only way to live life is in love," was Joe Morris's philosophy. So at the age of 80, four months after the death of his wife Ethel, the resident of Great Neck, N.Y., was eager to dive back into the dating scene - and wrangle his gay son Bob into the hunt. The result is the book Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad.
After some anguish over "pimping" his father out, the younger Morris trolled the personals, vetted the prospects and played chauffeur while his dad necked in the back seat. Cardio, Botox, Viagra, divorce and online dating have greatly changed the senior romantic scene, Mr. Morris writes, and spawned a few curiosities such as the "casserole widows" who roll up days after a funeral, and the overbearing wives who leave their husbands an acceptable list of girlfriends should they die before their spouses. Mr. Morris, a former New York Times columnist, read at the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival this week in Vancouver.
How did it feel to give your
father dating advice?
It was the most ridiculous thing in the world. Obviously my mother wasn't dead for four months when I had to start with that. I thought he knew nothing, but he knew how to be happy.
I was a columnist at The New York Times [writing the long-running Age of Dissonance column] wagging my finger every other week about something or other.
So of course I was thrilled to tell him, "You really need to understand dry cleaning. You need to understand that you have to listen to somebody who you've just met. Move the food and the toothbrush off the front seat of your car."
Fifty years of my father being the same guy, obsessed with bridge and telling long stories and giving advice you really didn't want to hear, and now [we're]suddenly having to talk about women that he did or didn't like, and I'm giving him advice on those matters. I thought I had him pegged, and suddenly he became a child or a teenager in my eyes, and suddenly my mother's out of the picture. That was an entirely new relationship.
You write that 80 per cent of widowers remarry. Your dad was more active in his dating than most twentysomethings. Where does the misconception that "older people don't" come from?
The demographics have changed. People are living into their 90s, and so 80 is not the end.
The prevailing cliché is "casserole widows" and "brisket brigades" - women who are so desperate to get a man (the demographics are not in the women's favour) that they are at the door right [after ]he funeral with a hot dish to eat. They're called barracudas in the Palm Beach [Fla.]area. Still, many of them are very satisfied and independent and happy to be on their own when their husbands die.
Great Neck and Palm Beach are very affluent areas, and what you see are old people definitely holding court and having the run of the place. You see a lot of them speed walking with iPods. This didn't exist when I was younger - it was nursing-home time. Their vitality is part of a culture in general: If 40 is the new 30, then 80 is the new 60.
The best parts of your book involve the notion of personality quirks and character flaws solidifying in old age and how that made for "hilariously bizarre" dates, such as the time your father wrote off one woman completely after she complained about the air conditioning blasting in his car.
In his case, he was always very independent and strong-willed. He always did things his way, and my mother let him get away with it.
What was the best lesson you learned from him?
Well, definitely the thing I learned was that if you can stop looking for perfection, you may have a chance of finding it. Also the idea that love is a decision. Whenever I set people up on dates now, I immediately say, "If you do this you gotta see each other three times." I'm not going to accept no just from one date. And never use the words "chemistry" or "there's no magic." I don't want to hear it.
Do we squirm because we don't always see our parents as human?
Absolutely. We're the most knowing generation: We think we know everything.
A 30-year-old woman has a baby and her mother wants to help. How often do you see that young mother snapping at her mother with, "You don't know what you're talking about. She has to have organic milk." We're such a knowing generation, and I wrote this book to get over that and try to chronicle in words what had happened between us.
Mr. Morris is now hoping to write about his father's last year - Joe Morris died in June, 2006. The working title is Death is for the Living.