The call came one night a few months ago: "How do I attach a photo to an e-mail?" my dad asked. I began to explain what's needed, but soon advised him to wait until I or one of his other children visited his New York apartment to show him how it works.
"Why not send the print?" I asked, as he's done often in the past. "It's for someone on JDate. I need to send it by e-mail." (For those who might have been out of the country or living in a hole somewhere, JDate is an online dating service for Jewish singles of all ages.)
Who knew that my 87-year-old dad's lack of computer expertise would affect his love life? Welcome to my world!
My mom died from cancer about four years ago, after 46 years of marriage. I'm pretty sure no one will ever replace her in his eyes or his heart. However, he misses the companionship, warmth and caring of a partner, and has been on the search since a few months after the funeral.
Many of us are learning the classic role reversal of how your parents cared for you as a child and, as they age, you, the child, now cares for the parents. Extending that "circle of life" to include listening to your father's dating escapades, however, is a different reality altogether.
Being out of practice, Dad required some work on his technique. His longing for a committed relationship and not an occasional theater companion was often blurted out too early in the chase, scaring off some prospects.
It was one thing when he went on a few blind dates or called some old acquaintances -- now also single -- to see what would develop. Finding out that he was actually on JDate was a whole different dimension.
But why not? It's the way to meet people in the 21st century. And, frankly, Dad sounds like he's getting more action than a 45-year-old friend of mine.
Naturally, after hearing the JDate situation, I immediately searched online to find my father's profile. (Married for 18 years, I was happy to see I didn't need an account to search some of the JDate listings.) It was easy to spot Dad's posting after narrowing the field to 80- to 90-year-old men. His bio does him reasonable justice, but no photo. Phew, I think.
Keep in mind, at that time, Dad had probably been on six or seven dates already, courtesy of JDate, and this was the first time he's had to send a photo. If he can't master the technology, will she meet him -- sight unseen?
More importantly, do I aid and abet this effort?
I consider sending him a digital photo I have of him via e-mail, despite the fact that it will be no easy feat to provide instructions on how to save the file and reattach it to his own e-mail. Am I up for that challenge to help my father score?
As a teen and young adult, I kept my dating life to myself until I was pretty serious with someone. However, that's not happening in my current role reversal. I talk to Dad almost every day since Mom died; he lives alone in New York, and I want to check in. So, I hear about his daily activities, which, lately, have often included dates -- the good, the bad and the kvetchy.
In the beginning, my brothers and I couldn't keep the different women straight. Is it Joan or Yetta who lives in Woodmere or Great Neck, N.Y.? We worry that he's driving and schlepping too far; that he's too much of the gentleman, always paying and depleting his monthly fixed income. Early on, he would plan two dates, including a theater outing, after a half-hour phone conversation.
Now, don't get me wrong -- I wouldn't trade this new reality for an older man sitting alone in his apartment, day after day, faithfully following his Mets or Giants or reading his New York Times from front page to last. I'm thankful my father is an active people person who still wants to go out and find someone for the future.
"Dad, I'll e-mail you a photo from our visit to Maryland. Call me when you're at the computer, and I'll tell you what to do."
Susan Henick lives in Wyndmoor with her husband and two daughters. She works in human resources for a Center City nonprofit.