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Dan Gasby says he believes race plays a role in the backlash he received after revealing that he is in a relationship with another woman while caring for his ailing wife, model and restaurateur B. Smith, who has Alzheimer's disease.
Gasby, 64, who is African-American, revealed in December that he and Alex Lerner, 53, who is white, were in a romantic relationship, sparking an angry response from B. Smith fans. Gasby said he has even received death threats.
"The 800-pound gorilla in this situation is she's white,'' Gasby told Al Roker on TODAY Wednesday.
"In other words, if Alex were black, you don't think that..." Al said.
"Nah,'' Gasby said. "Not at all. I'm not supposed to be conscripted to somebody because of their race."
Gasby also responded to criticism about why he made his relationship with Lerner public rather than just keeping it private as he cares for his 69-year-old wife, who was diagnosed in 2013 with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
"Because that's what Barbara asked me to do, to talk about it,'' he said. "It spun out of control to 'I'm having an affair. This woman, because of who she is, is taking B's money. We're abusing B. B wouldn't want this.' These people have never even talked to B."
Gasby and his wife - whose full name is Barbara Smith - spent the time after her diagnosis spreading awareness of the disease and speaking about the challenges of living with it. B. Smith is a former fashion model who had a nationally-syndicated television show, "B. Smith With Style," owned multiple restaurants, and frequently appeared as a guest on TODAY.
Her initial diagnosis was a crushing blow for the couple, who are going on 27 years of marriage.
"It was like chewing glass,'' Gasby said. "She said to me one day, 'Dan, I feel broken, like there's something not right.' And then I started to notice things were becoming more repetitive. I had an inkling, but I wouldn't believe that it could be something as devastating, as catastrophic, as Alzheimer's."
Gasby said he fought depression and loneliness in the years following his wife's diagnosis until he met Lerner, who was caring for her dying father, who also had Alzheimer's disease.
"Taking care of someone like B, even having someone who is taking care of her periodically...the weight of every minute of the day is a blanket on you,'' he said. "And (Lerner) was funny. The most important thing, she was kind. And we became friends, and that friendship got closer and closer."
Lerner admitted she was hesitant to enter in a relationship with Gasby given the circumstances.
"But after a while, I understood, or it seemed to me, as if I had met a man who has a child,'' Lerner said on TODAY. "In a sense that B. is now very child-like. And his responsibilities are almost those of a single father. Like, really being there 24/7. Taking care of every and all of her needs."
Lerner has also developed a relationship with Smith as she helps care for her at Gasby and Smith's home in East Hampton, New York.
"We find ways to laugh together and find joy in taking walks or doing things together,'' Lerner said. "I would almost say that it's like sisters. It's a very sweet feeling."
Gasby's daughter, Dana, 32, who is from a previous relationship, spoke about her feelings toward her father's relationship with Lerner.
"Why shouldn't my dad have companionship? Why shouldn't he have someone to talk to?'' she said. "For the first few years, it was just me and him, and it's hard. I'm not his wife, I'm his daughter. I can't give him the support that a girlfriend, a friend, a companion can give.
"I am beyond happy for them. I'm more pissed at the people complaining about them. My life, my family, my stepmom isn't a trending topic. My stepmom is dying, plain and simple."
Gasby has no plans to move Smith to a facility, preferring to care for her at home with help from Lerner and his daughter. Gasby and Lerner have also started the "Thank You Dan and Alex" podcast to help educate others about Alzheimer's disease.
"I want people to know that we are in a very caring and loving relationship with B.,'' Lerner said. "Having met Dan, I knew that there would be no Dan without B. We make sure that she has the best care possible.
"It has opened a much larger conversation that we all need to have. You know, that is uncomfortable."
"I always joke, we're like a derivation of 'This Is Us' and 'Modern Family,''' Gasby said. "That's what we are."