Dad was an ambitious young architecture student with an unwavering focus on a lifetime of success. His strong work ethic combined with his raw good looks put him in high demand with the Sigma Kappa sorority sisters. As he approached the completion of his degree at University of Nebraska, Charlie’s fraternity pin went to the leggy and lovely Beverly, a woman who was starry-eyed for my father from the moment they met. They married immediately following his time of service in the Korean War.
The Parents were an inseparable unit for 58 years, boasting of their three well-educated daughters and an architecture business that they built from ground zero. Their love affair ended when cancer took my mom’s life at the age of eighty.
Imagine my surprise when less than a week after Mom’s funeral my eighty-plus year-old Dad said, “There is a potluck on the apartment floor. I’m going to check out all the babes.”
Sweet Jesus…”Check out all the babes?”
Inwardly a mental dialogue raged. I knew the saying, “Women grieve and men replace,” but Mom was hardly cold in the grave. My hostility caught me off guard, and I tried to have a reality check: Dad was just going down the hall to some awkward snackfest with cheap paper plates paired with even cheaper Chardonnay. Yet the idea of Dad eating nacho dip with anyone but Mom was unimaginable.
Even the slightest objections had no bearing on Dad. He was on the move, purchasing new clothes and frequently asking, “Do you think this looks sporty?” It was clear he was re-inventing himself in a new life without Mom. “Come by any time” Charlie changed to, “You aren’t stopping by unannounced, are you?”
The season of the sneaky senior socialite was short-lived. Dad had successfully battled leukemia for over two decades, but nine months after mom’s death he came out of remission. Having exhausted every known chemo, he entered Hospice and died four months later. Babes in Apartment-land were no longer my concern.
It would be after Dad’s passing that I learned the full scope of his quest for companionship. As I packed up his final possessions, a woman poked her head in the open apartment door wanting to express her sympathy. I knew her. Months prior The Parents invited her over for our regularly scheduled Saturday night early bird dinner. Pretty Woman from the apartment floor arrived promptly at five p.m. with more than one wine bottle in hand. She was lovely, with an infectious laugh that draws others in. My dad was no exception. As Mom cooked in the kitchen, Dad launched into becoming the consummate host, jumping to refill her glass whenever it had the slightest hint of empty. I felt like I was in some alter universe. Mom never drank, and Dad was the one scotch a night kind of guy. Most evenings The Parents were glued to reruns of American Pickers, with little exchange of language. As alcohol and conversation freely flowed, I thought, “Where is my Dad and what have you done with his body?”
Based on that uncomfortable evening, to hear Pretty Woman gushing in gratitude at what a special friend Dad had been came as no surprise. What did stun me was the scope of their relationship. She elaborated. Dad had taken her to many of her doctor appointments, at times sitting an entire morning. If ever there was a moment I thought my head might explode, it was then. “You got to be kidding me!” rattled in my brain. Retired Dad was missing-in-action for the majority of Mom’s appointments. I couldn’t let ailing mom go alone, but it came at a price. My excessive time away from work jeopardized many aspects of a career that I began rebuilding at age 55. In the last days of Mom’s life when she was in a coma, Dad paid rare visits to the Hospice facility, and my daily routine began with his crack of dawn call, “When are you going up?” Imagine my rage when I learned that Dad had no problem parking himself at some healthcare facility with Pretty Woman.
Five years time have helped me come to an understanding of Dad’s decisions. My thought process really softened this year as I entered the ranks of Single in My Sixties. Dating showed me four things Dad must have longed for:
- Companionship: Adult children who say, “How could my surviving parent even think about being with someone else?” He/She has us!” Close friendships with the opposite sex provide something your children cannot. Mom and Dad were together almost six decades. Her absence must have created a gaping hole that I did not fill.
- To Be Perceived as Young and Vibrant: I had the same magic feeling dating at age 60 that I did at age 16. We don’t age in our mind. I viewed my dad as the distinguished 85-year-old father. He saw himself as that dashing young architect that could check out all the babes.
- Validation: Even in happy marriages, validation can wane. “You did an amazing job,” conversations can change to “Did you forget to take out the trash?” Without Mom, I know there were moments Dad felt like an old shoe. Pretty Woman ignited a spark in dad that was life-giving.
- Love: It is the cry of the human heart to be loved. I agree with the saying, “No one is too old for love, because love doesn’t come from the mind, which knows your age, but from your heart, which knows no age.”
Many have legitimate fears about parents dating and suitors dividing both family relationships and fortunes. But if I had it to do over, I would have acknowledged Dad’s social needs as much as his medical. I would have told him more often “You look sporty!” and eased up on the “Don’t forget your walker” conversations. Most of all, I would have given a high five to those apartment mixers and raised a glass of cheap Chardonnay with a heartfelt, “Cheers to Love, Charlie.”
- Moving forward didn’t mean Dad loved Mom less. He had the right to discover a new future without her….and new clothes, too!
- Many of my female friends have no interest in dating. The whispers around the Mahjong table speak of men who want you to be ‘their nurse or their purse.’
- The opposite can also be true also: women who take advantage of lonely men for their finances.
On A Lighter Note:
- Face it, Baby Boomers. We don’t want to regard our parents as sexual beings. National speaker Vanessa Nkwocha writes, “Motherhood is an interesting beast. One can only achieve status by sexual activity, but heaven forbid you ever want to look or feel sexy post conception!”
- I’m currently in a happy relationship with my Boston Terrier, affectionately called The Little Monster. You can find him on Instagram @thelittlemonster.rocks He’s a little celebrity!