Greg Bardsley



Don’t Call Me ‘Daddy’

Just like that, my oldest son decided I was no longer “Daddy.”

I would now be known as “Dad,” and I would be addressed in a slightly detached, very first-grade and decidedly un-baby way. Jack, you see, has “joined up with a group at school,” as he puts it, and he has learned quickly that you just don’t refer to your old man as “my Daddy” unless you want to be called a baby. In the world of first-graders, few things are more disastrous.

I acted like it was no big deal. “I understand,” I said, my back to him. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”

“That’s right,” he huffed. “I’m not a baby.”

I turned, knelt in front of him and whispered. “But I just want you to know … You can still call me Daddy at home, when no one’s listening.”

Jack shook his head. “No, Dad. You’re not my daddy anymore. You’re my dad.”

A pang hit me in the gut. I bit my lip and looked down. “I know, honey. But you know, if you’re just feeling bad one day, and maybe we’re hugging, and you want to call me Daddy when no one’s around, that’s perfectly fine with me. You know, when you’re feeling sad inside or something. I’m just saying.”

Jack considered this. “Maybe.”

Afterward, I found myself asking, What the hell happened? How did we get here so quickly? What happened to those blurry days, those new-parent days when the skies seemed darker, the streets emptier than they really were, when our world was so small and simple and reduced, when I could barely keep my eyes open and this little bald kid would look up at me with the biggest smile and belt out all these goo-goo’s and ga-ga’s, when he’d waddle toward me with this open mouth, his arms outstretched, when I was his Daddy and he didn’t care who the hell knew?

Well, first-grade happened.

It happened quick. I can tell you that at the beginning of first-grade, he was still referring to me as “my Daddy” and throwing out the “Hey, Daddy’s” dozens of times a day. And then one day, maybe three weeks ago, bam — the “Daddy’s” stopped. And damn it if the kid is not sticking to his word, consistently calling me “Dad” and nothing else.

“Hey, Dad, check this out.” … “Dad, did you know that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs?” … “Please, Dad. Just five more minutes?” … “Dad, Dylan won’t stop following me.”

But I still have Dylan.

“You can call me Daddy as much as you want, okay, kiddo?”

“Yep.” Our 3-year-old beams at me. “You’re my Daddy.”

“Yes, I am,” I announce to no one in particular.

Dylan might still call me Daddy, but there are signs (good healthy signs, I might add) that he, too, is ushering us out of the cute-and-innocent era.

Just this week, Dylan completed the long process of becoming completely potty-trained. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled. My wife is thrilled. We’ve been changing diapers for six years and four months, and oh, what these eyes have seen. I will not miss soggy diapers at the park, nor that tell-tale look on Dylan’s face at the restaurant when the food is getting served, that strained expression that told us we had a deuce drill in our immediate future.

So yes, I understand how much easier life will be, and I’m thrilled. And I understand that it’s a good thing when an individual no longer prefers to crap in his pants. But I also know that we’re bidding farewell to a time that will never return, and I guess I’m kind of a nostalgic guy sometimes. Because I have a son who’s already six, a son who seemed to be two not that long ago, I can see now how quickly all of this will happen, and how inflexible the passage of time will be. There ain’t no going back — the kids won’t let you.

I’m thrilled about the future. Each month just gets more exciting, and challenging. So I am looking forward. But I guess I’d still pay some big money for one last time, one last time to see my oldest son run across the playground when he sees his father — yelling, “Daddy … Daddy … Daddy.”

So dope

When you’re 40, you just don’t have the time anymore.

You don’t have time for phonies, snobs and career sharks. Conversations about someone’s endless pursuit of the latest luxury item not only prove exceptionally boring, but feel empty. The clock of mortality, after all, is ticking, and I’d rather not waste my time.

Last week, it was in this spirit that I stopped reading a recently released crime novel. Eighty pages into it, I found it to be poorly written with a boring story and unconvincing set of characters. In a word … Blah. The fact that others who are passionate about writing have enjoyed this book reminded me of just how subjective this whole business is. I kept telling myself, An editor bought this book. What did he see that I don’t?

Regardless, I’m 40. And I didn’t have the time.

dopepb3.jpgSo I moved on and picked up a sublime, tightly crafted slice of noir that my boss Terry had given me — “Dope,” by Sara Gran. “Dope” follows a recovered drug addict in 1950s New York City as she navigates through a world of fiends, whores, con men and crooked cops in her search for a missing Barnard coed. Between the great characters, the enveloping sense of place and time, the tight and graceful prose and a phenomenal series of plot twists, I was captured. I devoured the book in no time, and loved every page.

Time well spent for this 40-year-old.

Blowing a set from Sinjin Smith

I don’t kid myself; I know my athletic limitations. At my worst, I am indecisive and awkward. At my best, I can surprise myself with a rare moment of grace. But when it comes to my signature sport, I can be a bit confident.

Well, until eight days ago.

What happened was, I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I swear. You see, my sons and I were just playing around at an impromptu “volleyball clinic” hosted by retired pro-beach stud-machine Sinjin Smith. It was during an intermission of the AVP’s pro-beach tournament in San Francisco. Spectators were simply playing “king of the court” in which everyone gets a chance to knock the other team off the court with one play. Sinjin was simply there to shake hands, pose for photos and offer basic coaching tips. But when Jack (6), Dylan (3) and Daddy (40) stepped onto the sand, Sinjin could see we’d need help.

He joined us.

My heart was pounding. Nearly 20 years ago, when I played club at Chico and spent the rest of my free time on nearby sand and grass courts, no one was bigger than Sinjin Smith. Now here I was with the genuine article. I might as well been asked to run a route for Raiders legend Jim Plunkett.

I looked around. Nancy was pointing the camera at us. Dylan and Jack were getting into position. Sinjin waited to help.

Holy shit, I can’t screw this up.

My serve cleared the net, one of the 12-year-old girls on the other side spiked the ball back over the net, I dug it up with a nice pass to the middle, Sinjin stepped up and laid down a perfect bump-set right where I love it — right where I could cream it. I approached from the left side, thinking …

Those girls are 12. I can’t kill this ball.

Dylan is running around like a crazy boy. I can’t plow into him.

The classy thing to do is just “dink” it over the net.

Oh, shit. My timing is off — way off.

Greg up in the air. .. People cheering. … Sinjin, Jack and Dylan watching. … Nancy clicking the camera. … Greg landing in the sand without touching the ball. … Greg finally reaching out and dinking the ball straight into the net. … Awkward silence ensues. … Sinjin looks at Greg like he’s wearing a tutu.

“You started way too far back off the net,” he says.

“I know, I just-”

“You gotta be much closer.”

“I know. I blew it.” Greg tries to look cool. “C’mon boys. We gotta get off the court.”

Waiting on the side was Nancy, who shows us the photo of Daddy and the boys in action with Sinjin Smith. I squint at the tiny screen and realize that I am completely out of the picture. So is the ball. “Hey, what can I say?” Nancy says. “I was focused on the boys.”

Just as well.

My new love affair … with the chile relleno

All those years, and I never gave the chile relleno a real look. All those years, I was enamored with carnitas and huevos rancheros and tamales. All those years, I was missing out on the wonders of my brand new love — the cheesy, plump and complex chile relleno.

Suddenly, I can’t get enough of her.

In my family, Mexican food always has been serious business. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of things like my grandmother, Maria Cristina, making hand-made tortillas in our kitchen, my mom passing her guacamole secrets down to me, and my family driving into Oakland to buy hand-made tortillas from one restaurant on East 14th so we could have them at another restaurant around the corner. Back then, I found the chile relleno to be a too little exotic; the fact we were talking about a big pepper dipped in egg batter and smothered with a mysterious sauce didn’t help with my picky adolescent sensibilities. Decades went by, and I continued to look right through the chile relleno.

Then something strange happened: By pure chance this past spring, I bumped into her, grabbed a hold for a stolen moment and realized I didn’t want to let go. One thing led to another, and just like that, I have become addicted to her, lidding my eyes at the wonderful sequence of senses unfurling in my mouth — first the extreme softness of it all, then the mild tomato sauce with the Mexican kick, then the pronounced statement of the poblano chile pepper, and finally the creamy comfort of the melted queso Oaxaca cheese, the cheese that had been stuffed inside and was now arresting my brain in pure taste-bud pleasure.

So now here I am, completely enamored with the chile relleno, kind of blown away, thinking of this wonderful dish at unusual hours. As for why, maybe my sensibilities have matured. Maybe my physiology has changed in some mysterious way that advantages the chile relleno. Maybe I am simply in the right frame of mind — finally — to enjoy what the chile relleno has been offering all along. And that’s frightening — terrifying, in fact. What else have I been missing out on?

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