Dear Family Advisor

My dad wants to double-date with me!

Last updated: May 12, 2008

Mom died about a year ago, and in the last couple of months, my 80-year-old dad has gotten more and more flirtatious with women, everywhere we go. It's kind of funny, but it's also embarrassing. Last week we were at his optician's, and he asked out a woman right in front of me. He'd known her for years, and she said, "Yes." And then he said, "Let's double-date with my son and his wife."

I was floored! I mumbled "OK," but since then, I've realized he only asked me along because he no longer drives. I'm not sure I feel comfortable with this, and I feel used. I'm OK with Dad wanting to date, but I'm not sure I want to be a part of it.

Also, I mentioned it to my sister and she's really upset. She says it's too soon, and she's mad at me for agreeing. What do I do now?

Sounds like it might be time for the old son-to-father talk. Whether you like it or not, you're now involved in this new phase of your dad's life and you're going to have to continue to be, if only from a distance.

It's the ultimate payback for what we put our parents through when we started dating and discovered sex, isn't it? Now we find ourselves worrying about their safety, hoping they won't get their hearts broken, and wishing they'd find someone who truly cares for them. And we can only hope our parents don't turn out to be as difficult as many of us were!

Before you do anything, consider whether your dad is physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy enough to date. Is he cognitively healthy enough not to be taken advantage of? He may not be acting like the dad you always knew, but that's different from being unsafe.

Then set up healthy father-son guidelines and boundaries now, as it will save you many headaches later. It sounds as if you don't wish to be directly involved, and that's probably best. Relationships don't always work out, and it may be uncomfortable for you to see your dad with someone -- or several other women -- other than your mom. You can tell him that, while still letting him know that you think it's OK for him to date. Keeping a distance may also be useful if you need to intervene at some future date.

Because your dad can't drive, you can help him plan for alternative transportation. Suggest a taxi or offer to drop him off at a convenient restaurant or movie theater. This may feel a little like you're dropping your 15-year-old off at the movies. And Dad may balk at it, but if he wants to date badly enough, he'll deal with it. Reassure him that older women aren't necessarily "turned off" when a man doesn't drive -- many are grateful for the male company and attention.

Is your dad's suggestion that you double-date a way of using you? Maybe, though I doubt it's intentional. To him, it may not feel that different than relying on you to take him to the eye doctor or grocery store. And he may just want you there in the beginning until he regains his confidence. It's a big transition for both of you: He's figuring out who he is now, and you're learning how to have a relationship with him without your mom.

You probably need to give Dad a few pointers on senior dating, and maybe suggest that he tone it down a bit if you think he's coming on to every woman he meets. Like everyone else, seniors can contract sexually transmitted diseases, and someone who's been in a stable, monogamous relationship might need an update on what's "going around." You also want to make sure that your dad isn't being taken advantage of financially. Even if you don't double-date, you should meet anyone he's seeing regularly. If she doesn't want to get to know his family, that's a good indication that she might have ulterior motives.

Your father is no doubt lonely and bored, but he should also know that dating isn't the only way to fix that. He could get involved with a senior group or club or do volunteer work where he would meet people close to his own age. He may or may not find a partner, but he can make new friends and have a good time.

Will this be awkward for both of you? Probably, at least at first. Your dad might be embarrassed by some of it, and he might even lash out at you, like a teenager -- but he may also appreciate your input.

In fact, this could end up being an enjoyable period for you. Your father is attempting to seize life and reach out to the world, and in some ways that's a gift for both of you at his age. Helping him deal with his new romantic life is a point of connection -- something you can talk about and share. Having honest and open discussions now will also make it easier to talk about other issues, such as his health and future.

Finally, your sister is clearly not as comfortable with all this because she's still grieving the loss of your mom. Everyone is on a different timetable -- and your father's is probably expedited because he feels he isn't getting any younger. You can try explaining this to your sister, but you may still just want to handle this area of care giving yourself. Don't feel that you need to report all the details to her.

Like you, your sister is protective of her dad and worried about his safety. At any age, it's nice to have someone to watch out for us, and love is risky business. But if he has a chance of finding a companion, isn't that worth a little unease to you?