It wasn’t unexpected but it was a bit uncomfortable.
“I’d like to start dating again,” my father casually states in our weekly phone catch-up. My mother passed away almost three years ago in a memory facility and I know my father is lonely. Still, I have to catch my breath before I respond. At 88, my father is still incredibly active – driving and attending sporting and theater events. With that said, he’s lived alone now for eight years so he is a bit set in his ways and very stubborn about his independence. He has no interest in going into a retirement facility or moving to a warmer climate. He also steadfastly refuses to have any caretakers come on a regular basis. Luckily, he’s had relatively few health scares. But, he still has a heart condition and likes to adapt medical advice to what he thinks is best – not necessarily what is best for him. Any woman pursuing a long-term relationship with him would have to be very patient.
“I’m supportive of this,” I say after a beat. “Umm, do you have anyone in mind?”
I am thinking of a childhood friend of my father who lives in another state and recently lost her husband. My father and this woman reconnected several years ago and have been emailing and occasionally talking on the phone. She’s geographically undesirable but seems like a lovely choice.
“No, no, not Eleanor,” my father says when I mention her name. “She’s way too old.”
“But, she’s your age,” I say (she’s actually one year younger).
“I don’t want to date anyone in her 80s — that’s much too old,” my father responds.
“But you’re in your 80s…”
“But I don’t feel like I’m in my 80s,” my father explains. Despite this disturbingly predictable exchange, I bite my tongue.
“So, who DO you have in mind?”
I am totally shocked when my father names a neighbor who is approximately 40 years younger than him.
“No, Dad, no— you can’t date her,” I exclaim. “She’s younger than me!”
“Are you sure?”
I’m not sure if this is a compliment to me or a horrible insult to the neighbor. The truth is the neighbor offered to check on my father for me at various times after he’d suffered a fall. I can see her garage door from my father’s house so we’d given her a key and told her to text us any time she saw anything amiss. And while she is single, her kindness and willingness to check up on him is in no way a reflection of any interest in my father.
But he’s having a hard time processing this.
“She made me dinner.”
“She was just being nice. Dad, I assure you — no woman in her 40s is interested in dating a 90-year-old man!”
“Okay, okay,” I say. “But I’d be very suspicious of anyone who was interested in you with that type of age gap. It’s not normal and they probably wouldn’t have your best interests at heart.”
My mind goes back to a Sex and the City episode where Samantha meets “Ed,” who is past 70. Ed treats her like a queen with old-fashioned wooing and lavish gifts. It’s only when Samantha catches a glimpse of his bare bottom that she flees the scene, expensive gifts and all. But I really don’t want to think of my father in the context of a “Sex and the City” episode.
I know he’s not a dirty old man — just clueless about what is age-appropriate.
I take a deep breath. “How about a nice woman in her 70s — like Nancy?” Nancy is a former friend of my mother’s and married but she’s very active like my father. She’s a retired teacher but spends a lot of time traveling with her family.
“70 is too old,” my father says stubbornly and then in the same breath, “Is Nancy really in her 70s?”
“Yes,” I say. “Don’t you think she’s your type, regardless of how old she is? She’s got a real zest for life — like you.”
My father doesn’t immediately respond but then he starts talking about a service called “Lunchbreaks” that he recently saw in a magazine. It’s a matchmaker service where the firm sets you up with various lunch dates.
“I don’t really want to do Facebook and Thunder,” my father adds.
“Well, Facebook isn’t really a matchmaking service but it is a great way to reconnect. And, I think you mean ‘Tinder’ but no, that’s not for you.”
We talk strategy. Facebook is kind of a passive-aggressive approach where my father doesn’t have to do much but set up his profile and let the women find him. To paraphrase The Hunger Games, the odds are ever in his favor. We say no to Match and eHarmony. “It’s Just Lunch,” the lunchtime dating service, doesn’t cover the more rural area where my father lives. Finally, we identify a “Singles Over 50” web site where you submit online questionnaires but the owners do the matching after a telephone or face-to-face interview. When I call to check them out, they seem overjoyed to have a male candidate – even one in his 80s. We work on photos. My father emails me one from the 1970s that he apparently ripped out of a frame and scanned. “Let’s use this one.”
“Umm, Dad – I think they want a more recent photo. You’ve got sideburns in this one. Your date might not recognize you,” I say carefully. We finally agree on one from a recent awards banquet. It’s not great but at least it’s within the last ten years.
Next, we work on the profile questions.
“This seems like a lot of work just to go to dinner,” he grumbles.
As the Singles Service sends over profiles of prospective women, my father scrutinizes each and every one of them, reading off random details to me.
“She has a cat!” (Good.)
“She doesn’t like to travel” (Bad.)
“She plays the organ” (Not sure.)
While he’s still determining if he will call the “cat lady,” he joins a Grief Group and discovers he is very popular. Women fight to sit next to him at lunch and to be his partner during a bowling outing. One of these women ends up asking HIM out to lunch. As a widow in her late 60s, she is age-appropriate and appears to check other boxes.
The night before his first date I wish him well while he ponders restaurant choices.
“God, I hope I don’t have to meet her parents,” he says.
This author has chosen to publish her work anonymously.