My mom once told me that my dad wasn’t that good with my sister and I as babies; he was way better with us when we got older. Of course, I only remember the later years, so I’ve always felt really close to my dad. I understood what she meant when I had kids of my own though. Since Mazzy and Harlow were born, I’ve watched my dad struggle a bit trying to find common ground with them. He’s not really a baby talk or pretend play kind of guy, he’s not that cuddly and he’s never really been comfortable with them on their own.

For whatever reason, maybe because my dad struggles to engage with them, my kids are always at their absolute worst around him. They’re bored or hungry or acting out for the hell of it. And then I feel like a terrible parent (and worse, that he must think I am terrible parent) and it’s all a big downward spiral.

This is, until last weekend, when my sister and I took our kids to visit him in Rhode Island. We were on his turf for the first time in awhile, the kids are not babies anymore and I felt a real shift. Suddenly he could talk to them as real people and they sought out his company and it was great.

He taught Mazzy how to use an art program on the iPad and they started doing digital illustrations together. He recently joined Instagram and watched Harlow’s Baking Show for the first time, which gave him a whole new appreciation for just how funny she is. He realized he could spar with her a bit comedy wise.

I felt like they all bonded and laughed together in a real way for the first time.

For instance, Mazzy and Harlow were both giving him shit about his driving all weekend, which he found hilarious. At one point, he stopped short and then made a horrible turn, and Harlow yelled sarcastically, “Who thinks Poppy is a good driver??” Poppy raised his hand and then Mazzy said, “That was a test! You’re supposed to keep your hands on the wheel!” He laughed so hard.

It’s funny. I think until that moment, I forgot that a lot of my sense of humor comes from my dad. We used to laugh together all the time. But in recent years, most of our time together is spent with the kids, for short isolated blocks of time and there is always so much stress involved. He’ll usually visit in the evenings when Mazzy is doing her homework, right before I am trying to get everyone to go to bed. It was so different having a long relaxed weekend with him.

It was also fun to see him holding court at breakfast with four kids and a box of Lucky Charms, which was my sister’s idea. He asked what he should buy for breakfast, and my sister (the health but) said, “If you want to score points with the kids, get Lucky Charms.”

It worked. Poppy was a bonafide hit.

It’s interesting to see how relationships can still evolve within your own family. And just as certain things feel like they are slipping away, unexpected things strengthen. My dad is coming in strong for the big kid years.