Today, when I visited my dad (Hap) in his nursing home, I had a bit of an epiphany. For the longest time it was just torture to visit him in such a place, but now while it still makes me cry as I am leaving, it is a more bittersweet feeling and today I think I realized why. Now that he is more “gone,” when he does have a good day (as he did yesterday, a good day being one in which he is sitting upright, his eyes are open, he is speaking intelligibly) I cannot help but smile to see his laugh, his sparkling blue eyes, catch just a glimpse of the man who used to be in there. More specifically, as I delighted in a few of his actions and comments, I realized that the sweet half of the bittersweet is that I now get to see my dad as if he were a toddler. What he does and how I react to it reminds me of how it was to be with the kids as they were first experiencing the world. When a child hears some background conversation not meant for him at all, and then supplies a completely apt response, we as adults laugh and clap and his cleverness. So it is with Hap. When a child gets a particularly bulky forkful of food to his mouth successfully, if laboriously, and then his face clearly shows his triumph, we delight in his accomplishment. So it is with Hap. I could see things dawning on him, or see him coming back to things and slowly registering what they meant – “oh, that’s the spoon…I’m going to try THAT for the fruit instead of the fork.” In children, we watch in rapt appreciation, knowing that the world is opening up for them, that they will learn each of these things one at a time and become smarter, stronger, faster, lose their childlike wonder and amazement. For my dad, he will instead learn and re-learn, but then hang on to less… the world is instead closing up for him. But to see the man whom I only knew as omniscient, omnipotent, full of strength and wit and wisdom as if he were the child-Hap I never knew is still a beautiful opportunity to appreciate his frailty, the frailty which we all share as human beings. Before he was my dad, man of the house, ruler of our little kingdom, he was a tiny, helpless child, an athletic, stocky, stubborn, willful little boy-sponge soaking up all that life had to show him. And, lucky for all of us who knew him in adulthood, he really did soak it all in and celebrate it. So, I celebrate this time with him now, too. He has the attention span of an 18-month old, but that was cute on the kids and so it’s cute on him, too. He wears it well, because even though he spills food on his front and becomes frustrated like those children did, he also erupts into a chuckle when he thinks of something that he thinks is clever. Often he will say something nonsensical, although now it is interspersed with the familiar adult Hap-speak. His first comment to me yesterday was, “typical Florida real estate!” and then he went on to reasonably explain some transaction that he thought went wrong. In the next breath he mentioned the Carolinas, another favorite place of his, and then he pointed to the empty space in front of us and said, “didja see that guy? He almost kicked him in the nose!” and he smiled and shook his head. So, it looked like my smiling, joking daddy, but it was a child as well. That brings tears to my eyes, but they aren’t tears of agony anymore, they are tears of bittersweet joy. It’s bitter, yes, but it is so sweet to see him as this child. I snapped a photo of him with my iPhone and said, “I’m just gonna send this to mom…” he shook his head and chuckled, and said (in a typical Hap move, mocking in his tone, embodying his old philosophy of “old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill”) “wouldn’t it just be easier to take it down the hall and show her?” That comforted me, because it made me feel (right or wrong, I’ll take it) as if when we are not in the room with him, he still feels like we all still live together in this “home” and when we visit, it’s as if we just came into the room again. The television was on in the lunch room with the other residents, and “The Young and Restless” was playing. He thought soaps were ridiculous, of course. I said, referring to his next door neighbor of 45 years, “one of Eleanor’s stories is on.” He said, “I find them interesting.” If that’s not proof that he has lost his mind, I don’t know what is! Of course, I don’t believe he watches the soap, he barely glanced at it – and as I said, his attention span is no longer there for an entire storyline (even one that hasn’t changed in 25 years.) But what’s miraculous is that for a second, my real dad is there, choosing to be/speak/think positively about whatever subject is brought up. Later, in the hallway, his roommate Ed was trying to give us candy. Ed will take his dollar bills to the vending machine and buy gum and candy, walk around with it displayed on the table/seat of his walker, and try to share it. He’s very sweet. He leaves his money sitting there too, though, so it looks as if he is a walking candy counter. As he passed, and I declined his offer of chocolate, my dad reached toward him to get his attention, and out of the side of his mouth asked, “hey, do they sell cigarettes there?” My dad hasn’t smoked in 25 years, but he always said he missed it, and it is so very like his cocky, childish side to try and score smokes. How can that not be funny, sweet, and appreciated by me? Yeah, it sucks to see my brilliant dad this way. He is too young and strong and had way too much more to give to his grandchildren. No doubt about that. But now that I’ve realized how rare and beautiful this glimpse of Hap as a rambunctious child can be, I will drink in the bittersweet and be glad for every last minute of these visits, the worst best hour of my day.