"HELLO BART. This is Bob. Bob Riede.”

It’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday, and I’m not really sure which planet I’m on. Last night was supposed to be dedicated to rest and packing; instead it included one too many shots of Jack Daniel’s, followed by a regrettable coda of “fourth meal” chalupas. Now I’m still in bed, and it feels like a couple of circus midgets are clubbing each other with trash-can lids inside my head. As my alarm-clock radio blasts “Two Tickets to Paradise,” Bob’s voice gives me an update about road conditions through the cell phone. Bob—Bob Riede—has just cleared the Santiam Pass on his way to Sisters, which makes me officially late for our date. “Where are you?” he asks.

This is how Bob Riede rolls: Really. Effing. Early. I should’ve left Portland an hour ago. This is not the impression I’d hoped to make when we laid out plans for Bobapalooza ’08.

I’ve known Bob Riede for the better part of two years. We share a common interest in his lovely daughter Marli, though the nature of my interest is, of course, quite different than his. If I don’t screw things up (always a distinct possibility), she and I might one day get hitched. But, despite the fact that Bob and I have shared countless meals together, toasted a few birthdays, and even played some mean games of beer pong, we’ve never officially “clicked.” There have always been buffers. Women, dogs, Dixie cups of Bud Light—anything to distract us from the uneasy abyss that sometimes exists between a father and the man who is sleeping with his little girl. Thus the incessant formality whenever Bob calls me on the phone: This is Bob. Bob Riede.

This weekend, though, would change everything—in theory, at least. Bob had asked if I could help him tear out the old deck attached to the family’s cabin in Sisters. It would be just the two of us on 10 acres of pine-covered high desert, dismantling a few hundred square feet of wood and concrete with crowbars and burning muscle. It was manly, unifying labor. And, obviously, it was a setup. It reeked of a man-date concocted by Marli and her mom, Carol; an attempt to stick two mildly antisocial men in a situation about 5,000 miles outside of their comfort zones.

“You guys are totally gonna bond,” Marli told me before I left, her eyes bulging at the implied magnitude of the event.

This was more than just a men’s retreat, however. It was a Jedi-level entrance exam that would test not only my abilities as a potential suitor, but my willingness to bust my hump under duress. To a man like Bob, who clearly valued action over words, putting my back into this cabin he’d built with his own hands would prove that I was worthy of his respect. And maybe of a first-name relationship.

Accomplishing this, though, would mean overcoming a meet-the-parents history steeped in humiliation. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that my ex-wife’s father, a deacon in a local church in Asheville, North Carolina, was horrified at the tsunami of filth that poured from my mouth after failing his crash course in Grease Monkey 101. Nor did my epileptic fish-gutting skills impress my ex-girlfriend’s father during a fishing trip in the Boundary Waters. Asking a poor wretch like me to overcome a knack for colossal social gaffes—once, I accidentally pulled my pants down in front of my entire senior class while impersonating Marky Mark during a high school pep rally—was asking a lot.