A week ago we were in the Bay Area visiting my dad -- who continues to improve after a rocky stint that landed him at the Stanford Medical Center -- along with two of our children who live in the East Bay.

Friday was the Fourth of July and there is nothing better than gathering with family on a family holiday and celebrating family values.

Dad had no choice but to see us because he was ensconced at the Forum in Cupertino and not going anywhere unless he made a break for it in the wheelchair in which he temporarily finds himself. That headline might read: "Older man found scooting along southbound 280 in order to escape members of his family."

Most parents of 20- and 30-somethings would like to think they are sufficiently cool, sufficiently interesting and sufficiently respectful of their children's lives that they are considered a relatively hot commodity when it comes to visits.

"Yes, you can't believe my parents," we imagine them saying to their friends. "They are lively, not clingy, and are up for anything."

Prior to the visit, we spoke to Thomas and sketched out possible Fourth of July scenarios. We could have a picnic at his place that might include deviled eggs, freshly picked corn and pork ribs, which I would have bought from Wood-Dale Market. This is happy food for a happy occasion with a happy family.

Thomas was cordial and careful not to shut any doors but there was a matter of a new girlfriend whose birthday fell on July Fourth. Hard to abandon a new girlfriend on her birthday and, although he was sure we would like her and she us, he intimated that it might be early to introduce the birthday girl to his parents.

The compliment was couched in the news that our youngest would be spending July Fourth on a farm in Sonoma with friends and the birthday girl.

Herbie, the next available son, was similarly in demand and otherwise occupied with an old friend with whom he had unfinished but important business.

It was the classic one-two punch, gracefully delivered with hardly a sting of reproach. We were being put on the shelf in the nicest possible way. When did we become shelf material? Inventory that had gone beyond its expiration date?

My funny lines are still funny and that's why I use them all the time. I can talk soccer with Thomas and music with Herbie. We can stay out late -- 9 o'clock is not a stretch. Heck, if it's going off, we're good until 10.

Sue is still vintage Mom. No surprises there. She'll love you to the end of time and then one day longer.

We have a credit card, I don't comb my hair over and neither of us have had any work yet, but if that would net us a visit with the kids next July Fourth, we're open to a free consultation with Dr. Shah.

We support the farm-to-table movement even though we're not sure how it differs from the old farm-to-table one.

We're cool, we can chill and we don't mind if you ever get married.

We spent July Fourth in Mill Valley with my brother, Courtney, his wife, Jennifer, and their daughter, Elizabeth, and some of her friends. They were down to one child because their 19-year-old twin boys put them on the shelf for a trip with their friends. Fancy that.

Contact Californian columnist Herb Benham at 395-7279 or hbenham@ bakersfield.com. His work appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays; the views expressed are his own.