The Silver Fox Handbook, Daddy Issues Edition

In colloquial terms, a “silver fox” is slang for a hot old dude. He usually has gray (or graying) hair, a winning smile and tons of much younger female admirers. George Clooney is a classic silver fox, although his case is interesting because the “silver” aspect kicked in way earlier than I would have naturally thought of him as old. Harrison Ford and Richard Gere are also prime examples of this breed of man, and hey, let’s throw Michael Douglas in the mix, as well.

But dashing and sophisticated as these grown-ass hotties may be, I’ve always held a special place in my heart for a different kind of old guy. The one whose smile is comforting and warm as opposed to just flirtatious. The one who might be picking you up in his sports car to whisk you away on a sexy date, but just as easily could be shuttling you and your friends back and forth from the mall. That’s right, I’m referring to the Men I’d Equally Like to Date and Have Be My Father. You know you know what I’m talking about. Here’s my list:

Alan Alda

Blame it on my friend Julia’s parents who introduced me to Manhattan Murder Mystery at a birthday party when I was seven. Blame it on the fact that M*A*S*H reruns seemed to be the only shows to appear on television post 10PM throughout my pre-DVR childhood. Blame it on the mysteriously suppressed memory that causes me to worship at the altar of kindly old smart guys who seem like they’re from New York. Whatever the reason, Alan Alda is the bee’s knees for me, and I’ve never been able to decide whether I’d prefer him as a potential love interest or adoptive father. Let’s examine his character in Manhattan Murder Mystery since that was my first exposure. Alda plays Ted, a friend of married couple Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, who gets tangled up in their efforts to figure out if their next-door neighbor murdered his wife. Ted is playful, mischievous, clever and romantic, with a drop of the cad to him. He’ll casually sleep with a young actress one scene, and tipsily confess his long-smoldering feelings for Diane the next. But he also loves games and adventure; as Woody says in the film, he’s a great guy to have on board for a scavenger hunt (something the kid in me deeply appreciates). Above all, he has a crinkly smile and a gravelly voice and seems like he’d be really good at taking care of me, in any capacity.

Ed Harris

Ed Harris is not just a silver fox, he’s a balding/probably-now-totally-bald silver fox, which is all the more impressive. Disturbingly enough, I’m pretty sure my attachment began with a summer of obsessively watching the 1996 thriller Eye for an Eye with my friend Kaitlin. We were seventh graders with morbid imaginations and way too much time on our hands, because the story of Sally Field avenging her daughter’s rape-murder was pretty much the most important thing in our lives. Ed Harris, of course, plays the supportive husband (stepfather to the deceased), and all of his attractive father-and-husband qualities shine brightly as his heart breaks and his patience is tested in the aftermath of this family tragedy. Of course, the same could be said about his role in Stepmom, where again he strikes the balance of doting father and attractive husband. What is it about this guy? Even in Truman Show I found him sexy, although he is playing a Godlike figure, so that could have something to do with it. I guess for me, he manages to exude power and confidence while also seeming capable of deep familial love. I’m honestly not sure whether I’d rather be his Julia Roberts or Jena Malone.

Jerry Orbach (R.I.P.)

There’s no question as to why Jerry Orbach makes it on to my list. I can tell you in two words: Dirty Dancing. Can anyone forget his brilliant performance as Baby Houseman’s gruff-but-loving father? He’s such a 1960s dad: rational but admiring of his daughter’s idealism, strict when necessary, willing to keep things from his wife that might “upset” her, moralistic, law-abiding, tough but tenderhearted. Yes, he’s a sexy no-nonsense doctor who can save lives in the middle of the night, but it’s the pain in his eyes when Baby’s disappointed him and the shyly roundabout way he apologizes to Johnny Castle at the end that make this character so multi-dimensionally attractive. Of course, when he voiced Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast, my love only deepened, not to mention his appealingly crusty, businesslike domination of the original Law and Order. Look, this guy can bark out a cutting remark or comfort you with his stiff-but-powerful embrace, and I’d be psyched to be the recipient of either.

The men listed above have been the sole members of this list since I was approximately thirteen. However, as the movie stars I crushed on as a child have grown into older men, there’s potential for new additions. While I’ll never want a Clooney or Gere to be my father, what about less-obviously-hunky actors like David Straithairn?

He saves Meryl Streep in The River Wild and steps into leading-man territory in Good Night and Good Luck, and he’s totally manly and fatherly, so why shouldn’t he be on the list? More recently, I’ve been thinking about how Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey also would fit right in with these guys.

Talk about a hot dad dripping with aristocratic power. Plus, he’s kind and generous and unarguably an involved and doting father. And finally, in the political world, it begins and ends with Joe Biden.

He pretty much invented the crinkly look I seek in all my silver foxes, and his smile is ridiculously disarming.

The great thing about silver foxes is that with each year that passes, more men become eligible for the list. In our disgustingly ageist society, it’s nice to lay a little love on the old guys (and while we’re at it, can we come up with a term for female silver foxes like Helen Mirren? Sure, “cougar” shares an animal-themed etymology but I know we can do better). To that end, I’ve never understood why male actors dye their hair when it begins to gray (cough, Alec Baldwin). Wouldn’t you rather let yourself silver with age and have a chance to be one of my father-lovers?

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