A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed at bedtime and saw a photo of my 90-year-old Dad having a socially-distanced sandwich with his two best buddies, men he has known for more than 60 years.

The photo was taken in Maryland, but my father lives in Delaware. Evidently, he drove to see his buddies and get his hair cut as he has every few months since my mother died a couple of years ago. One of the men lost his wife this summer, so it is Dad’s turn to be supportive.

My father had not mentioned to me this outing to Maryland, although we had spoken the day before by phone. But there he was, caught on camera in another state. The photo was posted by the son of one of his buddies, a childhood friend of mine. The photo showed the men smiling and having fun, but to me it was proof that instead of hibernating in his house, safe from the virus as his daughter would prefer, my 90-year old father was crossing state lines. As the pandemic has dragged on, I have often thought about driving to Delaware and locking him in the house. But I know even that wouldn’t stop him from going out.

When I asked my father why he didn’t mention his trip to Maryland he claimed it had slipped his mind. Forgetting would be a valid excuse for most 90-year-olds, but not for my father. The man is a force of nature. He took care of my mother during a drawn-out illness at the end of her life, and he continues to care for himself by cooking meals from scratch three times a day. This past summer, he designed a perennial garden and dug holes for hundreds of plants. He keeps the house fixed up, looks after his little dog Shortie, and chats with the neighbors — thankfully over the fence.

He also plays bridge once a week with three ladies, something he continued to do during the pandemic until recently. He assures me they always played in a very safe space.

Once again, I am torn between being grateful he has company (my sister lives two hours away in Virginia and there are long weeks between her visits) and being terrified of what the virus would do to him. It is a tricky balance but one I am learning to tilt more toward grateful, especially after watching so many of my friends and colleagues endure losses this year.

In fact, since my mother died, something wonderful, though bittersweet, has blossomed among my father, my sister and me. The three of us have formed a new and tighter bond; we have become friends. I have talked on the phone with my father more in the last year than I have my entire life. And I have watched my father craft a new life for himself, finding purpose and joy wherever he can, whether it’s helping my sister plan for retirement or helping me plan my garden. And he is a gift to his friends, in so many ways.

And now he is a small-time Instagram star, and not just for crossing state lines to help a buddy with his grieving. I have posted photos of him cooking or, more specifically, of him displaying the delicious results of his cooking. In one he is holding mini-meatloaves, in another there are popovers.

The many comments surprise me at first. “I’ll have what he’s having!” was my favorite.

Sometimes I take for granted that my father is so fit for a 90-year-old. He claims gardening, V-8 juice, and luck are his secrets. He is the last of six brothers, though he wasn’t the youngest. But the photos and comments help remind me to take nothing for granted, and to be grateful for the present rather than terrified of the future.

Because of the pandemic, my partner and I canceled our plans to be in Delaware this Christmas with my Dad and sister. Instead we Zoomed on Christmas Eve, like so many others did. It was my Dad’s first Zoom and he gasped when he saw himself on camera.

“I look 180 years old!” he said.

“Don’t worry, no one looks good on Zoom,” we replied with a laugh.