Weekend Escape: San Diego : Where the Boys Went : After a Sporting Two Days on Mission Bay, a Father and Son Conclude That Male Bonding Is Worth the Hard Work

Tom Bronzini is a Times assistant metro news editor. Jeff writes for the Diamond Bar High School newspaper, the Bull's Eye

As I stand on the tennis court, my teen-age son sends an easy shot over the net; the ball bounces to my forehand, waist high. Perfect.

Soaked with perspiration and somewhat winded, I swing. Oops.

We are in the middle of a father-son male-bonding weekend at the San Diego Hilton Beach and Tennis Resort on Mission Bay. The idea is to have a vigorous outing of fun and games--and along the way to renew ties forged in earlier years when life was simpler. But when the father is a couch potato in a not-so-finely-tuned, 49-year-old body, and the son is a 17-year-old varsity tennis player, the weekend shapes up as an Iron Man event with one of the iron guys rusted.

After checking out possibilities in the Auto Club tour book, I made reservations at the Hilton, a sprawling resort with 354 units, a heated pool, beach on the bay, sauna, whirlpools, dock, five lighted tennis courts, putting greens and exercise room, near the north end of Mission Bay. I had expected to hear prices quoted of $150 to $235 a night, and was tentatively planning to stay only one night. But when I learned that the hotel had a discount rate of $119, I booked a room for two nights to allow an early start on Saturday's games. (The resort now offers a $99 off-season rate, including continental breakfast, on a limited number of rooms.)

OK, so I was going to spend a weekend with my father. It could be worse. At least I was getting a safe distance away from anyone who might know me.

Seriously, being with my dad had always been fun. When I was younger, he always made time to go out with me and play around. But now, with my high school activities and his evening hours, Elvis sightings are probably more common than meetings with him. So, crazy as most of my friends thought I was, I was actually looking forward to our getaway.

Friday evening, after crawling through Orange County commuter traffic on Interstate 5, we arrive at Mission Bay, an expanse of green parkland and resorts a few minutes northwest of downtown San Diego. We check into a room in one of the hotel's single-story wings, near the tennis courts. The discount-priced room offers no view of the bay, but it has more than enough amenities for two rugged outdoorsmen: a small refrigerator; a cabinet stocked with liquors, wines, soft drinks and snacks; a coffee maker, and an ironing board and iron for guests with more formal plans.

We opt for outdoor seating amid the space heaters at the hotel's Garden Lanai restaurant, and both order fajitas. During dinner, we plan the weekend's events: 1 1/2 days of tennis, swimming, boating, football tossing, bicycling and paddle ball. This schedule bears no resemblance to my usual weekend recreation of watching football on television.

The sun has just burned away the Saturday morning low clouds as we hit our warm-up shots on the tennis court. Although Jeff and I are separated by about 80 feet from baseline to baseline, we are miles apart in our command of the game. He has been taking lessons for four years and competes on the Diamond Bar High School varsity tennis team. My experience is limited to a one-semester tennis class in college.

We agree on some ground rules to make the match more enjoyable. Jeff will return most balls to my forehand instead of pounding them into the corners. The emphasis will be on consistency and control, with the first player to make a mistake losing the point. To spare the senior player total embarrassment, calling out the score will not be tolerated.

The match proceeds according to form: At the first rest break, I'm down 3 games to 0, and happy to be sitting. Minutes later, it's 5 to 0.

The high point for me in the early going is serving an ace. I hit a soft serve that barely clears the net and bounces so low that it catches Jeff off-guard; it takes a second bounce before he can return it. In the second set, I perspire heavily and grow more erratic as I tire, hitting shots long, wide and into the net. Jeff looks like he has expended the energy of a morning walk.

I go up, 40-30, in the final game but wind up losing an entertaining match, 6-0, 6-0.

With dad's ground rules, I'm sure we tricked some people on the surrounding courts into believing that this was actually a competitive match. Well, maybe.

There was the time when I won my service game by lofting four floater serves to his forehand, upon which he sent four floating returns into the back fence. There were also the two balls that were so gracefully shanked over the side fence.

A swim in the hotel's heated pool comes as a refreshing break. The pool is warm enough for a comfortable swim on cool, breezy mornings and evenings, as well as sunny days like this one in late September. It is large, with a shallow leg for children, and is mostly populated by couples lounging at poolside and parents in the water with their children.

After a fast-food lunch at nearby Mission Beach, it's on to the next event: two hours of paddling a two-man kayak on the backwaters of Mission Bay. It is a new experience for both of us, but we get brief instructions from the attendant, and maneuvering the shallow-draft, pencil-thin boat turns out to be easy. It doesn't take much effort to keep the boat moving at a steady clip. We paddle almost nonstop in our first hour, keeping a lookout for catamarans and sailboards that glide by from all directions.

By the time we come ashore and return the kayak, it is late afternoon. We find an inviting stretch of grass along the bayside hotel grounds, where we toss around a football and play paddle ball, a game with two wooden paddles and a hard rubber ball slightly bigger than a golf ball. It is here where my couch-potato habits catch up with me. Tossing the football works most of the stiffness out of my elbow, but I quickly run out of steam while running pass patterns. We take a rest.

Switching to paddle ball is no help: Certain swinging motions send a throb of pain through my elbow. We take a rest.

During our breaks, we have plenty of time to talk about school, sports and Jeff's plans for the future.

We reach our room as the sun is setting and I head straight to the bed for a quick nap while Jeff hits the showers. Later that night, we abandon plans to work out in the weight room.

Going into the kayaking, I had fears of dad wearing out, and finding ourselves stranded in the middle of Mission Bay, paddling frantically as a wave runner bore down on us. The paddling proved to be a piece of cake, however.

The navigation, on the other hand, was not so easy . At one point, we were paddling steadily when dad blurted out, "Turn right! Turn right! Hobie Cat straight ahead!" The Hobie Cat actually was traveling away from us. At this point, I took over duties of captain.

By late afternoon, dad was showing clear signs of exhaustion. He took frequent breaks between paddle ball and football, and he looked sluggish. Male bonding is hard work.

The next morning, we drive to the Pacific Beach area for a quick fast-food breakfast before our main Sunday morning event, a bike ride along the bay. I rent a beach cruiser for Jeff and a mountain bike with more low gears for myself. Starting at the bike rental area near the boat docks, we follow the curving sidewalk south along expanses of manicured grass dotted with palm trees. We take our time and enjoy the scenery. We make a circuit of Fiesta Island, an area open to the public and reserved mainly for camping and fishing. With bike rentals at $7 to $8 apiece, the ride is an entertainment bargain. After one more dip in the pool, we're ready to check out of the Hilton.

I re-entered the world of teen-age life greeted by remarks such as "How's life in the Cleaver family?" I answered with a vague "fine" and then recounted the events of the weekend. For just a moment, I think they were jealous.

Budget for Two Gas from Diamond Bar: $11.00 Hilton resort, two nights: $259.42 Tennis court fee: $10.00 Meals: $121.40 Kayak, bike rentals: $55.00 FINAL TAB: $456.82

San Diego Hilton Beach and Tennis Resort, 1775 E. Mission Bay Drive, San Diego 92109; tel. (619) 276-4010 or (800) 445-8667.

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