Writer Bob Morris is promising to provide “more of an entertainment than a book reading” when he speaks at a symposium Friday evening, Nov. 5, at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston.
During his presentation, based on his 2008 book, Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad, he said he will “tell a lot of jokes, play the ukulele, sing song parodies, and basically talk about the issues of parents and kids struggling to get along and what it’s like to watch your father chasing tail when he’s 80 years old.”
“It is a very entertaining half hour,” he said, “and the singing and joking are totally in keeping with who he was.”
Morris, who writes a column for The New York Observer and occasional pieces in The New York Times Magazine and the newspaper’s “Styles” section, among other publications, also works as an editor at Travel + Leisure magazine. He speaks to a lot to Jewish organizations. “There is a lot of Yiddishkeit in the book and a lot of Yiddishkeit in the presentation, kind of like the Catskills,” he told NJ Jewish News in a phone interview.
Morris grew up in “a traditional Jewish home” in Bay Shore, Long Island, where, he said, he was valedictorian of his Hebrew school class. His father, Joseph, worked as a small-town attorney. His mother, Ethel, was a librarian.
“My dad was a real character, and as soon as I was an adolescent I was finding fault with him,” Morris said. “It was typical of my generation of kids whose parents worked so hard to put them through college — and this is the thanks they get.”
Joe Morris was “a very quirky guy with lots of sloppy habits,” said his son. “He would talk to any stranger at the drop of a hat, and these things drove me out of my mind. When I reached my 40s I said, ‘How much longer is this going to go on and what will I do with him and all this ridiculous anger?’”
He was able to answer the question was when his mother passed away. “When one parent dies, the whole dynamic changes between the surviving parent and the kid. So here was this character who always drove me nuts, and suddenly he was into this whole new game. He fell in love immediately after 50 years of marriage and then wanted my help. I didn’t intentionally do anything to change how we dealt with each other, but by his being so forceful and so romantic, it did change us.” Assisted Loving is the story of that transformation.
“It is sort of a double love story, or maybe a triple one. In the years that he was looking for love he kind of forced me into opening myself up as well, not to him but to love. We both ended up with somebody at the end of it, but the book is really a father-and-son love story.”
Morris said his tale has universal overtones. “It is a very common thing — senior adults who are living longer. It’s not a great thing for seniors to have children upset that their parents are dating again and are into Botox or Viagra or whatever. It’s a new world. Seniors are living into their 90s and using cell phones and the Internet for dating. It’s a culture where Sex and the City taught everybody to talk about sex.”
Whether he is writing about Diet Coke, traveling in India, or celebrity-spotting in the Hamptons, a definite cynicism pervades much of Morris’ work. But as he contemplated his father, who died in 2006, the writer said, “I may be cynical, but the apple didn’t fall as far from the tree as I’d like to imagine. There is as much of my dad in me as there is anything else, and every year I become more and more like him. I’m a slob now, I sing parodies all the time, I talk to strangers, and I tell jokes.”