Bob Morris is a sardonic, fashion-conscious freelance journalist, with a rent-controlled apartment in the West Village, a steady gig for the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times, and dreams of literary fame. His father, Joe, by contrast, is a “poorly dressed, irascible, but sweet and well-meaning suburban Republican” of whom Bob is intermittently ashamed.
On the surface, the two men don’t seem to share much, apart from their adoration of Bob’s late mother and a penchant for satirical song writing. Yet each, in his way, is starved for love. Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad recounts their parallel romantic quests. But the real love story in this funny, touching, fast-paced memoir is between an 80-year-old father and his middle-aged gay son.
The book begins—and ends—in a cemetery, where the two visit the grave of Bob’s mother. She died after a ten-year struggle with a rare blood disease that left her increasingly debilitated. Once she was gone, there was relief, grief, and plenty of guilt to go around. Fun-loving and self-involved, Joe periodically abandoned his ailing wife to play bridge and tennis, snatching pleasure where he could. Bob, too, retreated emotionally, deserting her near the end for a Scotch-tasting jaunt in Scotland.
Now, Bob’s irritation with his father—with his rancid car, messy apartments, constant cell phone conversations, and bad taste in everything—is palpable. But underneath it stirs his own dissatisfaction with a less than dazzling career and his perennially single life. For Bob dating is “nothing but a sport of procure, dodge, and discard.” The only comfort is, “the worse the date is, the better the story value for later,” a sentiment that rings sadly true.
But while Bob halfheartedly endures a series of bad Internet hookups, his father, splitting his time between Great Neck, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, sails more or less serenely into what Bob calls his “year of dating dangerously.”
With Bob we watch the widows hurtle by: Edie, indisputably pleasant, but involved with two other men; Gracie, a good bridge partner with an icy manner; Florence, with a lavish apartment and designer clothes, but not much appreciation for Joe. Bob finds himself living vicariously through his father’s adventures, screening prospects, and even meeting some of the women. (The titular double dating turns out to be mostly metaphorical.)
Meanwhile, Bob encounters the man who may be his match, a literary agent whose conversation charms but whose neediness repels. That’s when Joe has an unexpected lesson or two to impart. “Love is a decision…” he says. “Stop looking for perfection, Bobby. That’s the only way you’ll find it.”
Will Bob manage to relax his guard and let love in? Will Joe find a new true love? Will father and son transcend their differences? You probably know the answers, but it won’t diminish your pleasure in this smartly written coming-of-age story in which the father recovers his youthful buoyancy and the son, finally, grows up.
Julia M. Klein, a contributing editor at Columbia Journalism Review, is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia. Read her review of Designated Daughter: The Bonus Years with Mom.