The Magazine of the Usability Professionals' Association
By Bob Morris
(Harper, 2008) 288 pages
Reviewed by Joe Bugental
Not a technical text, nor a usability practices manual, Assisted Loving by Bob Morris is a subjective, even introspective, look at life with an aging parent. The subtitle says it all: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad. Four months after his mother died, Morrisís 80-year-old father enlists the writerís help in finding a girlfriendóthis task being added to his own search for true love as an openly gay man.
Morris milks the absurdity of his situation for all itís worth, asking, "Am I pimping for my father? I've never felt so close to him, so wrapped up in his life. And Iíve got my own love mess, too, making me spin. Love is a minefield, a war. And we're two buddies in this disaster movie. Or maybe itís a Comedy of Eros. How did it come to this?"
If usability professionals shrug, there is a technology angle, too. Both of these love-seeking gents are customers of online dating services, but Dad needs Bobby to vet the candidates before a first meeting. And at one such meeting: "The restaurant is noisy, everyone with a cell phone and BlackBerry at the ready so they donít have to commit fully to being where they are."
Morris is a skilled professional writer and a contributor to the New York Times, National Public Radio, and The New Yorker. His tone is engaging and, by turns, humorous and poignant.
If you, as a reader, have ever dealt with an older relative, especially a much older relative, youíll recognize many of the situations here with tears and laughter. The book is, finally, a consciousness-raiser for family members in general who are dealing with aging seniors. Morris doesn't shy away from some of the grizzly details, but he colors it all with warmth and a shared sense of humor.
By Bèrnard Douglas
Do not pick up Assisted Loving expecting tears fed by pastrami and rye. Assisted Loving is a son's honest account of life and relationships after a family member has died. This is a tender story about love and living, fed by truth and candor.
In the face of death and mortality, the two primary characters wrangle with ìthe oldî thing. For Joe, the surviving spouse, age loomed up like a horrible pathology of inertia awaiting him, which Ethel, his wife and love from youth, had protected him from. Bobby, without a mom, now suddenly looked at himself as an adult in a different way; anxious of becoming a single, bitter, old gay man living as the sole survivor of a family who loved him unconditionally.
Joe and Bobby are catapulted into a journey of transformation. For Joe, finding a new partner was about not wanting to give in to loneliness, as well as a prescription for not getting old. There are people who have lived long and there are old people. Joe wanted to live long, and Bobby was confronted with becoming old.
Beyond the familial humor, struggles to get Joe to tidy up his look and become marketable, Bobbyís wait for the love of his life in West Village bars, this book is about living; living through grief, not around it; living through impossible lossóthe partner of fifty years, a mother of a lifetime.
In my work, I assist people in their journey through grief. I say often, ìWe practice living in the presence of our loved oneís absence.î We never forget, but we can integrate loss into the fabric of our life experience.
Assisted Loving will get you to look at yourself and take inventory of your own motives, fears, and controls. The stories are not mere anecdotes-they are emblematic of universal truths. We who love struggle to stay in love, whether in the pursuit of intimacy and togetherness, or being in it and holding on to it for dear love.
J.O. (Joe) Bugental is a seasoned professional with more than twenty-five years as a user advocate for technology developers. As a consultant, his current focus is on usability research combined with marketing messages, the brand, and the whole customer experience.
Bèrnard Douglas is hospice bereavement coordinator and director of volunteers at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center in San Francisco, California. He has been concerned with issues of culture, compassion, and care for the patient and the family at end of life for at least fifteen years.
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This article was originally printed in User Experience Magazine, Volume #, Issue #, 200#.
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