My 70-year-old dad is on Tinder – and it’s helping us grieve my mum

·6-min read
 He compares most of the women to my mother, who was beautiful, hilarious and a tough act to follow (Getty Images)
He compares most of the women to my mother, who was beautiful, hilarious and a tough act to follow (Getty Images)

Until recently, if you had asked me about the prospect of my dad remarrying, my response would have verged on the murderous. I never saw him as a guy who dated, let alone a guy who dated online. But then my mom died in the fall of 2018, and there he was, alone. Alone, and eventually, on Tinder.

My parents were school sweethearts who married at the age of 19, in 1970. Their relationship set a high standard for me and my sisters. My dad was always seen as a one-woman man, devoted to my mom. I placed him, and their love, on a pedestal. So when my youngest sister, Kathryn, called me in a panic last fall to tell me that our 70-year-old father had confessed that he was on Tinder, that pedestal came crashing down.

It’s not fair to expect a parent to live a monastic life after losing a partner, but as someone who had braved the online dating trenches of Los Angeles in the past, I knew that my father was in over his head. He was in Houston, not Los Angeles, and he was a grown man who could take care of himself, but I had heard stories about older people getting “catfished” or scammed, and my dad hadn’t been on a date since about 1969, with my mom. He was now a sweet grandfather who didn’t even know what catfishing was, and he had chosen the Tinder app because he thought “that was what everyone used.” He was a prime target.

I was not prepared for any of this. I thought it might happen one day, since my dad is young at heart and social. Still, when Kathryn broke the news about his confession, I blurted, “If dad meets someone on Tinder, I hope mum marries Paul Newman in heaven!”

She always loved Paul Newman.

If my response seems irrational, our middle sister, Amy, made a solemn pledge early on to never accept anyone our dad might date, no matter how wonderful she might be. What prompted the pledge was that several months after our mum died, a family friend had approached us about setting our dad up with a woman. We said absolutely not, telling this well-intentioned but ill-timed friend that he was nowhere near ready. We never even brought the conversation up with our father.

I’m not sure he would have taken that step so early anyway. At the time, I don’t think we were ready to find out. As Ajita Robinson, a grief and trauma expert and author of “The Gift of Grief: A Practical Guide on Navigating Grief and Loss,” tells me, “A parent starting to date again can trigger regrieving among children and other members of the family. Oftentimes, children, even adult children, fear that the deceased parent is being replaced in the family system.”

He missed our mum, and navigating this brave new world of virtual dating was at least entertaining

Two years went by after Amy’s pledge. My sisters and I had our spouses and children to keep us busy and help us handle our grief, but our dad was alone, watching old John Wayne movies with his 16-year-old cat, and going to a shocking amount of his grandchildren’s ball games to pass the time.

I’m convinced that my paternal grandfather lived a healthy, robust 95 years because, after my grandmother died, he eventually remarried. He had a companion, someone he loved and who made him not just laugh but giggle like a kid. I’d heard the statistics about loneliness and longevity, pointing to the fact that having a companion later in life can possibly help people, and men specifically, live longer.

I didn’t want to hear about my father microwaving takeout alone every night and declining because he had no one to go to a movie with. I had already lost a mother. I needed my dad to stick around for as long as possible, and if going on dates and maybe even finding love could improve those chances, I needed to support him. Dating might not magically add years to his life, but it was at least worth a try.

I slowly started accepting the idea of him dating, first by forcing him to get off Tinder since he was 70 (my unwavering support has limits). He told me that scrolling through dating apps was a way to fill the time. Because of the pandemic, he didn’t have dinners with friends or his in-person grief group. He missed our mum, and navigating this brave new world of virtual dating was at least entertaining. He didn’t know if he would fall in love or get married again, but he wouldn’t mind having someone to go to dinner with occasionally.

Despite my fears about him getting catfished by a bikini-clad bot, I wanted him to be happy. So one Friday night, when he came to visit for the weekend, I asked him to show me his profile.

I imagined my dad standing at the dry cleaners, having his photo taken and feeling ashamed of the reason. It made my heart ache

After a quick glance, I explained that he needed more than one photo so people would know he had family and friends, and that he wasn’t a solitary serial killer. He said he had been scared to put up photos showing his daughters or grandchildren because “What if someone kidnaps one of you?” I assured him that the chances of his grandchildren being held for ransom because of a cute photo on a dating app were low, although I had no statistics to back up that claim.

Then he tells me the saddest thing of all.

He assumed that my sisters and I would get angry if he had asked us to take a profile picture for him, so he asked the guy who owned his nearby dry cleaners to do it.

“I didn’t tell him it was for my dating profile,” he says.

I imagined my dad standing at the dry cleaners, having his photo taken and feeling ashamed of the reason. It made my heart ache. Of all the ridiculous places to take a photograph for a dating app, you can’t get much worse than your local dry cleaners.

Over the next few months, as pandemic restrictions eased and vaccines were rolled out, my dad started meeting a few people for drinks or dinner. Now when he comes to visit, we scroll through apps together, and he tells me about his dates. I explain what ghosting is and that it’s something he should definitely not do. He compares most of the women to my mum, who was beautiful and hilarious and a tough act to follow. Each time we engage in this new ritual together, a ritual neither of us asked for, we laugh, we get sad and we scroll some more. My mom is on our minds throughout it all.

Chances are he won’t find someone exactly like her. Maybe he’ll find someone kind, though. Someone who can tolerate his marathon binges of John Wayne movies or his eternal lateness. She won’t be our mum, and she won’t be perfect, but I hope that maybe, possibly, she’ll be someone I’d like to meet.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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