Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, filling in for Terry Gross.

Maybe you know what it's like to lose an elderly parent and feel a sense of responsibility for your surviving parent. That's kind of what Bob Morris' book is about, although much of the book and the premise itself is pretty funny.

After Morris' mother died, his father decided at the age of 80 that he wanted to start dating again. He asked Bob to go through personal ads written by older women and select a few that looked promising. Bob agreed, thinking if my father's happy, then I don't have to worry about his being lonely, and I can have some peace and be left alone to my life.

Bob was in his mid-40s at the time and writing a column in New York Times Sunday Style section. But he, too, was looking for a partner using gay dating sites on the Internet.

The story of his search for a pair of soul mates is told in his book "Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad." It comes out in paperback next week. Terry spoke to Bob Morris last May, when the book was first published.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Bob Morris, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. BOB MORRIS (Author, "Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad"): Thank you.

GROSS: I really like the opening of your book. It starts at your mother's grave, about a week after her death. You're there with your father, and he's just sung a tender version of Irving Berlin's song "Always." And then he makes you an offer. I'd like you read from that part of the opening of your book, after he makes - when he makes you that offer.

Mr. MORRIS: I have to tell you something important, Dad says. What's that? Well, there's a plot for you here, Bobby. I bought it for you years ago on my way to my Tuesday tennis game. So now you know you can be buried here with your mother and me when your time comes.

I nod. I'm touched at the sweetness of his gesture, but then I'm ashamed to find myself thinking the last thing I want is to be buried on the south shore of Long Island for all eternity - unless it's the Hamptons, of course. But what kind of son would say that?

Well, it's a very nice offer, Dad, I tell him. But what about Jeff, my brother? He'll want to be buried here with you and mom, too, won't he? Will there be room for all of us?

Well, your brother has a family of his own, Bobby, and they live in Westchester, he says, and they really love it there. But you, since you're alone and probably won't have a family of your own, I thought you'd want to be buried here with us.

Well, it's a nice offer, and I know I should probably just thank him for the hospitality then let him give me one of his father-son bear hugs he hopes will bond us. I mean, he's talking about wanting me at his side forever in the hereafter, and I'm thinking of telling him I have other plans? Sure, my life has always been a little too busy to include him comfortably. But my death?

There's every reason why I should just agree to his loving and lovely proposal, but I can't do it. I can't just say thanks and hug him back.

GROSS: And that's Bob Morris, reading from the beginning of his memoir about his father, "Assisted Loving." Why couldn't you, Bob? Why couldn't you accept being buried there?

Mr. MORRIS: I just didn't like the scene. There's a lot of traffic noise, and I'm a very light sleeper, which I explained to him. And it was flat. I just, I have a very heightened sense of what I like, and I think that was the core conflict with my dad and me our whole lives.

GROSS: Wait a minute. Isn't it also really about wanting to spend eternity on your own terms and not necessarily on your parents'?

Mr. MORRIS: I think so, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I mean, it's like you really want to be accommodating, but when you're talking about eternity, I mean, I don't even know if you want to be buried.

Mr. MORRIS: Right next to your parents. Yeah, but consider this, Terry, and this really is the arc of the book. Consider how great it would be to be able to just let it go and say yes. You know, for every request that annoys you, whether it's, you know, for you to tell them the last name of the person you're dating when you really don't want to, or whether, you know - my father used to push pills on me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: Every time I sneezed, he would pull out these prescription pills, and I, you know, I kept saying no. But you know, what's the difference? If I was sneezing from allergies, maybe he knew something I didn't know. I mean, maybe he did. He had 40 years on me. So, you know, on his terms instead of mine I think was kind of the goal I set for myself in the year that my mom died.

GROSS: Well, you know, your father outlived your mother, and he had a hard time being single. And you took on more responsibility for him than you ever had before. He was dividing his time between an assisted-living facility on Long Island and his home in Palm Beach. What was the most difficult parts for him of being a single man, being a widower after your mother died?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, it turns out that this is totally common, demographically, by the way, that there's a standard phrase that when a spouse dies, men replace and women mourn.

So what he wanted was romance. He wanted to hold somebody's hand at the movies. He wanted to have a meal with somebody, probably some early-bird special for $11.95. What else? He wanted to dance with somebody. He loved singing to people. And I think in a strange way, I became that person in that year he was alone. I mean, he was full of life, and he wanted to move on.

GROSS: And he was around 80 then, right?

Mr. MORRIS: He was 80. Yup.

GROSS: And you describe him living like a bachelor, like describe how his home environment changed after your mother died.

Mr. MORRIS: Well, he was finally - he was free to leave the mess that he wanted to leave his whole life. I went to visit him on Long Island, and the kitchen, and couldn't believe there were almost things growing out of dishes. And there was piles of paper on the floor, like a garden of papers on the floor and underwear and everything else. And it didn't bother him at all.

This was his natural state. He had reverted to his natural state, which is not to say that he was terrifically neat at all around my mother. In fact, he wasn't. But now he could finally do it guilt-free.

GROSS: It's really hard to negotiate the change in relationship when you're the adult child and not a child-child, and I think where that becomes particularly clear sometimes is after one of your parents died, and you naturally get much closer to your surviving parent than you'd been before because you - they need your help in a way they didn't before, and they need your companionship in a way they didn't before. But were you already like an adult-adult in your father's eyes? Or were you still, like, negotiating, trying to convince him that you weren't just like his son anymore, you were an adult, too?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, here's the thing. I mean, being single and also being a writer who worked at home, these were two things that really, in his eyes, made me much more available and not completely the solid citizen that my brother with his family and business to run and country house was.

So I think that in his eyes, I was simply a fabulous source of entertainment. And, you know, to my credit, I think I was. I made sure that if we didn't have anything to talk about that we would have sing-a-longs. I played the ukulele. I would sit at the piano in the lobby of his assisted-living building and play songs for everybody. And it seemed to me that even though we could be bored with each other, that songs filled in the gap beautifully for us.

So I don't know. I think I became more of a friend in that last year when he didn't have my mom around.

GROSS: Now you mentioned how you would sing for him and do sing-a-longs if things got dull. You quote a lyric that you wrote for his birthday one year. Would you sing it for us?

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, yeah. Sure. He used to write parodies all the time. So this is definitely in his keeping tradition.

Mr. MORRIS: (Singing) Pop a Viagra pill. Medicare pays the bill. Hello 80. Doggie bags in the fridge. Early birds late for bridge. Hello 80. Can't complain life doesn't need improvement. I just had a perfect bowel movement. Replace a hip, find a wife, lots to do late in life. Eighty, hello.

GROSS: That's great. Did he like it?

Mr. MORRIS: That was very dad. Well, I think he actually nixed it. You know, he was a very controlling person. That was the source of a lot of our fighting.

GROSS: So it was only three months after your mother's death that your father decided he wanted to meet somebody. And he enlisted you to help him navigate through, you know, Internet dating. But let's start with how did you feel about your father wanting to meet somebody new only three months after your mother died? And I should mention your mother had been, you know, very sick and, you know, for a long time. And in that sense, I suppose he was prepared for and expecting her death because she…

Mr. MORRIS: Yes. I mean, I think so. And, you know, how it happened was that I was visiting him one night, and he actually ripped out a page from a free weekly newspaper with ads circled of these women that he thought looked good for him. And to his credit, they were all within his age range.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: So, you know, I looked them over. And he said would you call these women on my behalf? I really don't know how to do this sort of thing. And I was appalled. And so my feelings about that, three months after my mother, were complete confusion, especially as a single person. I just couldn't imagine why he wouldn't want some time and some space to himself and to reflect on the 50-year marriage he had with my mother. So I was very put off by it. But secretly, in the depths of my heart, I also wanted his happiness, you know, because I didn't want him to be lonely

So it was a combination. It was confusion, appalled that he would want to replace my mother so quickly and also secretly thinking - I thought, from almost a clinical perspective, if he was out of my hair, then I wouldn't be so intruded upon by him. This might do us both a lot of good.

GROSS: So what was your job in helping to find your father dates?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, I was definitely a sounding board. You know, in New York, when you go to a party, afterwards you have a post-mortem, which means you just talk about how it was. And so after every date, he would certainly call me. And I actually did solicit a few, which is why I thought I was, for a while, pimping for my father.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: I did solicit a few women. You know, I published a column in the Times about him, and some senior lady tracked me down and tried to force herself upon him, you know, trying to get his phone number out of me. But I didn't like the sound of her voice, and I wasn't very cooperative, but, you know, she found him, anyway.

I would be a very intense little screener. So, you know, if I thought somebody sounded good, I would push. If it sounded like it was a - could be a problem, you know, maybe with problematic children who liked to shoot guns - there was one whose son was a gun hobbyist, and you know, another one who came from a family of - just medically really unwell. And I thought well, this isn't very - this won't work for me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: You know, if he's going to create a new relationship with a woman and he's at the end of his life, I want to have a good time with her and him. So what if he - and, you know, and I couldn't trust his taste. You know, he would go out with almost anybody. He was a very open fellow. So I got invested in his dating.

GROSS: How did you present yourself on the telephone, like as if you were, like, the personnel director doing the screening interview for a job applicant?

Mr. MORRIS: No, no, no. Here's how it would go. I mean, he would give me a couple of names from a personals page, and I would call and get their voice mail. And then I would hear that this accent that I didn't approve of. You know, hello, this is Blanche. You know, leave a message and a kugel, goodbye - or whatever. And I would hang up, and I thought no good - not for our family.

You know, I mean where my snobbism comes from, I have no idea -certainly not from him. But so I would do that. And then a couple of women did call me, and I would try to steer them away.

One said, you know, I look great for my age, and I really know how to please a man. And I thought, Jesus, do I want to hear this from a 75-year-old pushy broad from the Upper East Side? You know, so I said, look, I don't think it's going to work, and that was the one who tracked him down. And he ended up dating her. He took her around in Florida for a while. He was a kid who couldn't be controlled, my dad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What were the personal ads like of your father's generation?

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, I think some of them are quoted in the book, but they all - a lot of the women were looking for a man who was financially secure and a nice, attractive widow, loves to cook, loves to sing, looking for romance. You must be a gentleman. Pretty basic stuff - lots of code words, I think, in there to indicate that sex wasn't necessarily on the table. But…

GROSS: How could you tell from - what was the code?

Mr. MORRIS: Oh you know, looking for - hand-holding is fine.

DAVIES: Bob Morris' book, "Assisted Loving," comes out in paperback next week. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's interview recorded last May with Bob Morris. His book, "Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad," comes out in paperback next week.

GROSS: Your father finally did meet somebody who he had a real relationship with.

Mr. MORRIS: Uh-huh. Yeah.

GROSS: And what was it like for you when you saw him as part of a different couple with, you know, a woman who wasn't your mother?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, it took my breath away. I can still remember meeting her for the first time, and we met down by the Hudson River. There's a park there overlooking the Statue of Liberty, and we met in an Italian restaurant. And I was so nervous.

I walked in, and there they were, sitting together, looking as happy as if they'd been together forever. And, you know, I was concerned about what she was wearing and the tone of her voice. And I think at some point she tried to get a free refill of her espresso, which I found kind of embarrassing. But pretty soon, I could see that they were just so comfortable.

They were holding hands under the table, and I think there was a little - he sang to her a little bit, and she just loved it. She was basking in all the things I loved about my dad. And so when I left them, I felt so alone but so content because it was really the first time I had left him with a new woman, and I knew that he was going to be okay.

GROSS: When you were younger, could you ever imagine him doing that, like having a relationship with a woman and not marrying her and…

Mr. MORRIS: I could only imagine him having a relationship with a tennis racket. He just - that was it. That's what he was married to. He was a very faithful man, and while a good-looking guy and an attractive guy, there was this true devotion to my mother. My mother had been quite beautiful, and they fit just so well.

I mean, I look at these photographs now. You know, they say that when your parents die, like something - well, something that I did was that I took out all the photographs of them when they were well and young, and those are the ones I live with today. That's how I want to remember them. And they were a beautiful couple.

GROSS: Did your parents bicker a lot?

Mr. MORRIS: They weren't bickering a lot, but what happened was that all of us needed to let my father have his way and that I would say that he was often right maybe 80 percent of the time, but he wasn't one to be crossed. And so the tricky thing in watching my parents was to watch my mother subjugate herself so thoroughly in his presence.

But, you know, he had a tough life. He didn't have parents himself. You know, he lost both his parents by the time he was 10. And, you know, in getting older, I started to want to just give him more of the benefit of the doubt.

So, you know, if he got cross with my mother, well, so did I. You know, I would tend to be critical and nag and then instantly realize that I shouldn't have said what I said. Have you ever done that? I mean, it's very hard. To keep control of yourself and treat your parents with the respect that they deserve - and I had deserving parents. You know, I never had - there was no abuse of any sort. I mean, I often think that's probably why I never wrote a memoir until now because they just didn't - I abused them.

I made them put me through an Ivy League school. I mean, what more abuse could you have financially than that? You know, I just didn't have any real complaint. So why did it take me till 45 to know that and just to kind of applaud them and let them know how happy I was with them? There was - always seemed to be something that I would criticize.

GROSS: Well, had they tried to make you an extension of them in some way? Did they object to ways that you were different from them?

Mr. MORRIS: Not at all. I mean, I was a very lucky - you know, I called my father the world's most Democratic Republican. He was just open. When I was coming - when I was in college and I realized that I was gay, he came up to my room, and he very gently opened up that conversation.

Can you imagine? I mean, this was in the '70s. It wasn't easy. It's something that could have stuck badly with me for years. And he just opened it up. I mean, what better exchange could you ask for?

So, no. Of course, I mean, they had their issues with me, but they were very proud of me. They - these were parents that made it easy for a kid to feel successful.

GROSS: Oh, boy. There's a scene a love, and you're with your father at the bank.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And your father has obviously shown your New York Times clips to, like, every employee at the bank.

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And now you're there in person, and he's making this big fuss and expecting everybody to fuss over you, and you're, like, horribly embarrassed by the whole thing.

Mr. MORRIS: Terrible. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah. He would drag me around to any of his banks, whether they were in Palm Beach or Long Island, and, you know, he would say, oh, this is my son Bobby, and this is Debbie. She's the manager, and she's a huge fan of your columns, Bobby. And I'm thinking to myself she probably doesn't even know they exist except that you are my biggest clipping service.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: And so he would send them around all over the country. You know, I knew that I - yeah, he was promoting me. I think he thought of himself as my manager. I can't tell you the amount of conversations we had where he was trying to press ideas on me to write about. And, you know, it was only in the later years that I just said that's a good idea. I'm going to do that.

DAVIES: Bob Morris will be back in the second half of the show. His book, "Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad," comes out in paperback next week. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.

We're listening to Terry's interview with Bob Morris recorded last May. His book, which comes out in paperback next week is called "Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad." It's about how his relationship with his father changed after his mother died and his dad decided, at the age of 80, to start dating again. He enlisted Bob to go through personal ads to search for women his father might like. At the time, Bob was a columnist for the New York Times Sunday Style section and he was single, looking for a partner on gay dating sites.

GROSS: So while your father was dating and you were helping him find appropriate dates, you were also looking for someone yourself and you were using personals and Internet dating services and stuff.

Mr. MORRIS: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: So what was the difference between the kind of ads you were responding to and the kind of ads he was responding to?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: Well okay, here's the truth of it. I mean, yes, I was, I didn't have time to go to bars anymore or parties to find people and so Internet dating has become very useful. But one of the things about it is that it's visually driven. So I was on a Web site called Nerve.com, which is kind of writers and New York-based, a good crowd, and but, you know, everybody was posting photos. And so what it allows is for you to be the most superficial person in the world. You just say oh, I like redheads. Let's look into that. Let's get excited about this and try to start an exchange with somebody basically who wasn't anything like me because, as I say, I'm not my type.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: You know, so eventually, now my dad, I think that he was up anything. It didn't matter. See, he was open. He would try anything. I asked him about that you know, why aren't you a little more picky? And he said that everybody deserves a chance. So he was much more, much more open about that. And for me, I would go on these dates and they would always end in disappointment. Either somebody wouldn't follow through or I would think oh, that guy has love handles. I don't like that, you know. Even though I have them myself. So it was a lot of card and discard for me. And for him it was actually, he did the thing that you're supposed to do on dates, which is you know give somebody more than one try. So he would go for - I'll tell you, Bridge player, probably a necessity. Like to have a, you know, liked slim, I would guess.

But what I loved about him was that he once was totally crazy about a woman who was 86 years old. He was 81. She was older than she was and he was crazy about her. And the thing that bugged me about it is that she had two other boyfriends at the same time. So she was three-timing him, although very open about it, and he was very accepting about it. And he would jump when she would call and just be delighted, and then kind of wait quietly and hoped that she would call again. And I thought this is an alternative universe, these seniors in Palm Beach. You know, how is that acceptable in my book that somebody would jerk him around like that? But he didn't feel that way. I mean he said to me look, she makes me happy and I'll take what I can get for now.

GROSS: You met your partner through - was it personals or Internet service? I can't...

Mr. MORRIS: Yes. On Nerve.com.

GROSS: Yes. Okay.

Mr. MORRIS: On the Internet. Yes.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORRIS: Yes.

GROSS: So tell us the story about you met.

Mr. MORRIS: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And this is during the same period that you're writing about with your father.

Mr. MORRIS: Yes, very much so. And I'll you something. We had our first date and when we finally saw each other, knew each other's names, we actually knew each other through the writing world. But I took him for drinks and again, because he kind of looks like me, immediately, you know, I'm not my type, so he wasn't my type. But what I fixated on was that he has a - he has a mother who was single who lives in Great Neck around the around the corner from my dad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: And I, she drove, which was a real plus you know, that she would be that active. He had an active lively mother around the corner from my father and I started to nag him that I wanted her name to set them up. So that's what happened on my first date.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What a way to set...

Mr. MORRIS: How do you like that? And then we...

GROSS: Did you set them up? Did they get together at all?

Mr. MORRIS: No. Because she is a strident Socialist from the Bronx.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: He's a Republican from Long Island and I wasn't going to have it. But I did try to set him up in his building with other women all the time.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORRIS: But what happened with me and my partner, Ira, is that it was a process of learning, learning how wonderful he is. It was not instant. And I know that people go on dates all the time and they dismiss somebody after one date or maybe they sleep together once and that's it. They make a decision. And this to me - I was just finally old enough and so encouraged by how my dad was vital and really in love with the idea of love that I gave it an extra amount of care and time this time. And I would express my hesitancies with my dad about Ira because, of course, he was all over it, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: He wanted to know all about this. And, you know, I would say, oh, you know, I don't know. He's this or he's that. And he would say stop - my father would say - stop looking for perfection, Bobby. It's the only way you're going to find it. And I kind of did. And then I realized that love is actually you know, I read some place about how love, falling in love, the idea of falling in love, it doesn't really require much energy does it? I mean you're just falling. But making it work, that's a real decision that you have to make. And so for the first time in my life, as my dad was looking for love too, I finally found it. I mean it was incredible. It was a twin love story, really.

GROSS: When you were still doing the Internet service. The, you know, the Internet dating, before you met your partner, you were using, as I guess most people do for this, you were using an Internet name, an alias.

Mr. MORRIS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And you say in your book that you know that was important to you because you didn't want people to know who you were.

Mr. MORRIS: No.

GROSS: You know who were reading the...

Mr. MORRIS: No.

GROSS: ...the personals, and you like to keep your dating life and the rest of your life separate and...

Mr. MORRIS: Well very much so, but I have to tell you one thing. When -yes, I had a secret name and so did Ira you know, and these days we have caller ID on the phone. So as soon as I made that very first call after we'd been emailing to say hello, which is the next step after you think you like each other after email for a day or two. So I called him and the first words out of his mouth were, not that Bob Morris.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: Because he knew me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: I guess he had read me in the paper and didn't like what I was writing and you know...

GROSS: Oh he didn't like it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: I was busted. I was, and I was busted. And then, then there's a real problem because if you go on the first date and you behave as abhorrently as we always do on first dates. Meaning, you just dismiss it and walk away from it, suddenly now there was a little something deeper because we were within each other's social spheres so I had to behave myself. Although he can't, he tells the story that he can't stand the fact that I was drinking vanilla martinis.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: He thought that was the grossest thing he'd ever seen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's just so creepy though isn't it to have people judge you by your photograph.

Mr. MORRIS: Mm. Yes. Look, I was 45 years old. I had a paunch. I was entitled to looking 45. And the fact is I couldn't really - I wasn't so good at competing. I found the perfect, perfect soul-mate who totally, you know, not only is terribly attractive to me and he is attracted to me, but he - we also share so much. You know we have so much in common...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORRIS: ...and we can sing together. I mean the fact, the fact that I found out Ira never considered himself a singer, but imagine when we were sitting in the car driving some place and I started to sing something and he could keep a harmony perfectly. I was in such shock because it was just like my father. I couldn't believe it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: I was marrying a part of my father there.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORRIS: And it took my whole life to see that that is actually a worthy person.

DAVIES: Bob Morris's book, "Assisted Loving" comes out in paperback next week. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Bob Morris. His book, "Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad," comes out in paperback next week.

GROSS: Did you get to know your father in a way that you never got to know your mother because your father outlived your mother? And you know, as a single man, you took on responsibility to help him and to keep him company.

Mr. MORRIS: Yes.

GROSS: And it's just...

Mr. MORRIS: Absolutely.

GROSS: Yes. Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, absolutely.

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. MORRIS: I mean when they, when, first of all, you know my mother was sick for a long time and my dad was not the ideal husband in that he wanted to keep playing Bridge and he didn't really - wasn't very good at organizing the pills for her and he needed a break. And I respected that so much and I made myself - I put myself in the role of allowing him to talk to me. So I was his confidant about all these stresses he was feeling with this terribly downhill situation with my mom. So even when she was alive, he and I would take drives and I would make sure to invite him out for dinner alone so he could vent.

And then when she was gone, you know, the air was clear for us to start again because we - you know, she couldn't stand the way we would argue. And it made it very hard, but suddenly when she was gone his, the stress of his life was relieved. You know, he didn't have to feel so terrible about a woman he loved who was so sick. And so, we had a little buddy movie that started to happen between us. You know, we would take drives together and I would always fight with him because he never wanted to get out of the car and go for a walk - but fine. You know, we would go to beautiful places on the North Shore of Long Island and he would be overjoyed to just spend the day with me and pop his, you know, Frank Sinatra CD's into the CD player in the car and drive. And then I would hang around with him when he was surrounded by all these women at his assisted living place in Great Neck, you know? And I would find myself saying to him, hey what do you think of that one dad?

I mean one day I was sitting with him in his favorite park on Long Island Sound and this woman, who I thought was very attractive, this senior lady was walking past us and we were sitting there on the bench minding our business. And you know I could see his eyebrow go up when this nice lady in a nice cashmere twin set walking past. And I couldn't get it in me to stop her to chat her up so that she could say hello to my dad. But for him, it was no problem. He was just like, hello there. How are you? Nice day. And she stopped and they had a chat and I thought wow, I really could learn something from him. If I was at a party and I saw somebody cute who was on his own, you know, it would be wonderful to just be able to step up and say hello. So I actually learned a few things when I was finally open to it and I, we weren't worried about my mom so much.

GROSS: Did you and your father fight a lot? And if so, did what you fought about when he was an older man, after your mother died and you were trying to help him, were those fights different from the fights you'd have when you were younger?

Mr. MORRIS: Yes. When I was younger he, my father would say something that made me roll my eyes. And so he felt judged for being foolish by his oh-so-wise son and he would not like the negativity. Or if he decided that we were going to exit a movie theater one way and I wanted to go another, I mean literally, that ended up with me jumping out of a car on Federal Highway in Florida because it escalated to such a fight. Fight over little things, where to turn to get to the airport, being late for a train that he was driving me to. These were all the huge conflicts that we had.

In the last year we didn't fight as much, but I would tell him to please stop flirting with that waitress. She is busy. You see this restaurant is full. What makes you think that she wants to hear from you? But ultimately, I remember one day when we were starting to go at it and I was - I could see he was getting very disturbed by my being critical and I do remember that suddenly I threw my arms around him and hugged him. And I said hey, let's not do this anymore. And that was a big moment for me. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was a big moment in the parking lot of his bank.

GROSS: Did he expect to get his way and was it hard for you to assert your own point of view?

Mr. MORRIS: I mean I think that, I think it was, that was exactly true for both of us. We both wanted our own way.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORRIS: And so it was really - I think that it did become a process for me of stepping up and being the more mature of the two of us and allowing it. I remember one Father's Day, my family was in shock because he kind of turned into King Lear and kind of wanted to do, he said - he was trying to control a theater project I was doing. He said, don't do that one, you should do this one. You know, here, I'll write you a check just to show you how supportive I am. And I said, but dad, you know, I've got these awful Broadway producers and this is going to happen. And he just - he looked at me and he said, look, I'm your biggest fan. You should know that.

But you also should know that I'm going to be the biggest supporter that you are ever going to have your whole life. Meaning, you're not going to amount to much, Bob Morris, you know, so you should really take it where you get it. And my - you know, my brother and Ira, and my brother's wife just were in shock. You know, he basically put the curse on me. And I became a very big boy. And, you know, went to his car to say goodbye to him and gave him a hug and said, let's - we'll talk. And it was - I don't know. It was - it was cool to be able to do that. It's cool…

GROSS: As opposed to be - getting angry and…

Mr. MORRIS: Getting angry and trying to defend myself.

GROSS: Um-hmm, um-hmm.

Mr. MORRIS: You know, give the guy a break, you know. He's 80 years old and if he makes some - says some foolish things that are perhaps to others unforgivable, it was great to be able to just forgive him.

GROSS: The book ends with your father still alive and in a relationship with a woman named Doreen(ph) but…

Mr. MORRIS: Which has been changed to protect the…

GROSS: To - okay, that's not her real name. But your father has died.

Mr. MORRIS: Correct.

GROSS: How did you father die?

Mr. MORRIS: He had a congestive heart failure situation where he was just getting weaker and weaker. And he had decided that he didn't like being compromised that way and so he just kind of checked out for the last year and got very quiet and sullen and depressed. And, you know, that was the year when I was working overtime to sing to him and keep him happy and let him know that it was fine that he was - that he was miserable. I understood, you know, and in fact I encouraged him to vent and let it all hang out.

GROSS: Were you with him when he died?

Mr. MORRIS: Yes. I was a very lucky man in that way with both my parents. My brother and I were at their bedsides. Now with my father, who had sung with me his whole life. Finally, he was tired and he was so happy to be drifting out. You know, he had been waiting for this for a year. And my brother asked me to sing to him and I said, I don't know, Jeff. I feel like he is tired. And my brother said, no, no, no. You really should sing. And I said to my dad, who was drifting off into a morphine kind of ether, you know, do you want me to sing? And dad said, no. No singing.

But I sang to him anyway at my brother's request and was very angry about it because I figured, you know, this moment should have been controlled by my dad. But it was also at that moment that I realized how much I loved my brother and that - you know, death is for living. If you think about it, you know, we need it. And my brother needed to see me sing to my dad again and my dad was fine with it.

GROSS: What did you sing to him?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, let's see. Probably something very simple like "You Are My Sunshine" or the kind of songs that we all sang to my mom…

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORRIS: …when she was dying.

GROSS: One more question. When we started the interview, you did a reading about how your father, after your mother died, told you that he bought a plot for you next to them so that you could be next to them for eternity. So, what are your plans now? Are you going to be very next to your parents?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: Those are definitely my plans and the funniest thing was that my dad said to Ira once he knew that we were a couple that he had gotten a plot for him too, so that we could all be buried together for a nice visit at the end. And Ira had always planed on being cremated and having his ashes thrown into the Great South Bay, which was his favorite body of water. But apparently he's agreed to it. So, no, there will be four of us there together.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: Not fighting and not worrying about how noisy the traffic is from the nearby highway because we'll be dead.

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Bob, it's great to talking with you. Thank you very much.

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, thank you.

DAVIES: Bob Morris is the author of "Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad." Terry spoke with him last year. His book comes out in paperback next week. And we have this update, last June Bob and his partner Ira were married in California. They are one of 18,000 same-sex couples who were married before the passage of proposition 8, which banned subsequent same-sex marriages. Bob Morris writes in salon.com about what it's like to be one of the same-sex couples whose marriage is still legal in the state. There's a link to his Salon article at our Web site, freshair.npr.org. Coming up, Up, our film critic David Edelstein reviews the new movie from Pixar Animation Studios, as well as the new Sam Raimi horror film "Drag Me to Hell." This is FRESH AIR.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.