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 Mom 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 mom 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 if 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,” told me, “A parent starting to date again can trigger re-grieving 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.”
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 Tee-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.