No sooner had Bob Morris' long-married octogenarian dad, Joe, become a widower and tackled the dating game -- a romp Morris chronicled in the moving and hilarious "Assisted Loving" -- than Joe got frail and sick. Morris, a frequent New York Times contributor and Long Island native, had to slow down his jet-setting lifestyle to care for a newly morose dad. Morris chronicles that final year in "Bobby Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents" (Twelve, $25). (He'll be reading June 26 at Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society and June 28 at BookHampton.) It's a moving tale of a childless son slowly saying goodbye to a loving, eccentric parent. It's also sweetly funny, especially when the duo takes one final trip to Joe's beloved Palm Beach, hopping between hotels in a giant white Continental and singing duets at parties. Morris -- who lives in Manhattan and Bellport with his husband, Ira Silverberg, a publishing exec -- talked to Newsday about the book.
How was writing this book different from the earlier one?
While the first book was a kind of jaunty lark about our parallel dating lives, the new book was about losing parents, which happens to everyone, so why write that? I thought it would be depressing. I still don't know how to talk about this book at parties. But taking something so raw and hard and giving it a beautiful shape in a book was very liberating for me. I hope it'll inspire other middle-age folks to feel braver and better about what's ahead with their parents. Especially when you don't have kids of your own, the passing of parents is a very primal and primary occurrence. I was lucky enough to be there when the people who gave me my first breath took their last.
Was your dad really as adorable as he comes off in this book, so proud of you, flirtatious with women and eccentric?
He was a very upbeat man who would sing at the drop of a hat, wasn't afraid of emotion, and was so proud of me it was embarrassing. He had terrible taste. He loved to eat at salad bars and stay at motels by the airport. But yes, he was adorable, which I hadn't always allowed myself to recognize, so it was great to finally see this beautiful dad in the last year of his life.
You say in the book that you weren't as good a son as your brother. At one point you leave your dad in the car for a long time while you shop for lamps, when you're supposed to be buying him slippers. Do you feel that you redeemed yourself in his final year?
I'm not sure that my father thought I did! [Laughs.] At the end he was telling me to knock off all my writing projects and spend all my time with him. I never did that. I maintained enough boundaries that I wasn't a martyr. But I think I did good enough, which is a theme of the book, to be not a perfect parent or child, but a good-enough one.
Your family is from West Islip. Are you a Long Islander at heart still?
I'm part of that postwar suburban generation. I set my sights on Manhattan because I didn't want to be part of that very predictable, safe world. But now I spend half my week in Bellport, the very town where I learned to swim as a child. Almost every weekend I'm at my favorite restaurant, The Bellport, eating swordfish with a pecorino crust. When I think of Long Island childhoods, I think of hitchhiking to Robert Moses State Park or Gilgo Beach. And of course the Good Humor ice-cream truck.
What will you write about now that your father is gone?
I'm halfway done a book about conflicts in marriage. Ira and I have been together 11 years, legally married since 2008. We should probably have a real wedding but I don't know if I have the energy to put that kind of thing together.
And to end on a sentimental note, you write about how you and your dad loved to play instruments and sing together at family functions. What's your favorite duet with him?
"Til There was You." That was his favorite. And I am not a very emotive guy, but I once sang it to Ira.