I wrote Jack a letter for Christmas (I do that every year). And I shared the following advice for when he heads to college:
1) Don’t put off your work.
2) Don’t get fat.
3) Don’t get into debt
4) Don’t smoke
I’ve got a deal with both boys (credit to Devin Moberg) where on the day they graduate college, if they haven’t ever smoked a cigarette, I will hand them a check for $1000.
OK…but because it was a big list of “don’t” — I ended with:
But more important is what you SHOULD do. And the answer is…everything. Go explore. Go try things. Go make mistakes. Say yes to the world. Say yes to weird offers. Say yes to pretty girls. In fact, those things I don’t want you to do are really there because they’ll limit your ability to do the million other things that are out there. Go have adventures. LOTS of them. Life is short – go live the crap out of it!
So that’s what I had. Gimme your college advice for the boy.
He told Jack first. We were all on a hike, they were up ahead of Shani and me, and he told Jack he was gay. Jack didn’t seem to think it was a big deal.
Then he told Shani. She was in the living room. He came up, sat on the ottoman, told her, and then went back down to the basement. It was a quick drop and gone.
I was last. And that was strange to me because he and I were really close. Almost every weekend the two of us would spend the day going on hikes. We talked for hours in the car and on the trail. And I felt like things were super open between us. In fact, we’d actually had a conversation about his sexuality a few months earlier. The two of us drove up to Vestal to see the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 with my buddies from high school, and on the drive home, I asked him.
“So, if you don’t want to answer this it’s totally fine. And I don’t care about the answer either. But…have you ever considered if you were gay?”
“No,” he said definitively. “Because I have a crush on a girl.”
And we talked all about it from there. We laughed about the fact that he had so many stereotypically gay characteristics (loved Taylor Swift, favorite color was pink, into musicals, all his friends were girls), but he wasn’t gay. He even told me that his friends had joked that if they were all characters in a sitcom, he’d be the gay friend.
But he wasn’t gay. I even felt a little relief over it, although I didn’t recognize it at the time.
But here we were a few months later, on a hike in Northern New Jersey, and he says…
“I have to tell you something. It’s not a big deal. Well, it kind of is, but not really…”
I knew right away what it was, and my heart gripped.
He said it. I stopped. I hugged him. Then I said all the right things. I told him I accepted him completely, and he said he already knew that. I told him he could always decide to change, and that was fine with me.
Then we spent the rest of the hike talking about it. I asked him how he’d figured it out, who else knew, and more. Apparently, it was my asking him on the car ride a few months that really got him thinking. And as he thought about it, it became clear pretty quickly. Most of his friends knew. Jack knew; Shani knew.
He told me that he’d told the kids on his dive team. Sam, who was 17 and gay, had first danced with joy, and then gave Alex some good advice.
“It took me a year to tell my parents, and I spent that whole year really depressed. So I’d recommend you tell your parents right away.”
So Alex did. And we had a terrific conversation about it.
I was trying to learn a bit more about how he realized he was gay. So I asked…
“So, when I watch Avengers movies, I see Scarlett Johanssen and I think…yeah, she looks good. Does that happen to you with Captain America?”
And he said…
“Yes. But Thor, not Cap.”
(There are a number of quotes that stand out from Alex’s coming out, and this is the first.)
In other words, it couldn’t have gone better, right? Acceptance. Open dialogue. Still buddies.
Except it wasn’t quite right. Because it wasn’t sitting well with me. I had this nagging dread at the very top of my stomach. I was sad. Which didn’t make sense. I mean, I could not be more pro-gay. I’m all for this. Total support, right?
But then what was this sense of dread? I was ashamed to feel it.
I talked about it at length with Shani, and at some point, I wondered why he told me last. Was he nervous about my reaction?
And here comes quote number two…
“He wants to be you. And by being gay it means he can’t be.”
The second she said that, I started to cry. Kinda hard. It sunk like a stone passing through my chest and into my stomach. That quote still stops me in my tracks when I think about it.
I grappled with how I was feeling for a good week, at least. Guilt, sadness, distraction. Then I called the Chief. He was in the car with his two daughters. I got two words out of my mouth…and I was absolutely bawling. I can only imagine how freaked out his girls must have been hearing this wailing man over the car speakers.
But my man had the medicine. He let me blubber it out, then said…
“You’ve been looking forward to things you wanted to share with him before he was even born. You’ve pictured those moments in your head. But now you’re not gonna get those moments the way you imagined. And you’re mourning the fact that you’re losing that. Which is OK. You’re gonna get different moments and experience different things together. But it’s OK to mourn what you’ve lost.”
That was the answer. And that made it so I could breathe again. It meant I didn’t have to grapple with that dread anymore or feel ashamed that it was there. In fact, it wasn’t dread at all. It was mourning and that was something I could embrace and give myself over to. I was basically all good from thereafter.
There was a terrific talk with Jack shortly thereafter. He and I went for a long walk and discussed the subject at length. He actually felt like he hadn’t handled it well when Alex told him, and I was able to assure him that he’d handled it just fine. He also told me…
“If a kid picks on Alex for being gay, I think it means I have to fight that kid.”
I told him he that was right.
Then there was telling our larger network. Alex wrote his grandparents a letter and they called him right away to tell him they loved him no matter what. I told my friends. I told my dad. And every one of those conversations had a similar pattern. I’d tell them, and then they’d say “I knew it!” like it was some kind of prophetic insight they’d had. But everyone was totally great about it.
So now it’s two years later and I finally feel like I can share the story. It’s no longer about Alex coming out. He’s done coming out. Alex is gay. It’s 100% public.
I can also say that he’s had basically zero problems, for which I’m deeply grateful. The kids in school know and embrace it. He doesn’t seem to have been picked on at all – although I suspect some of the alpha-boys in school may have thrown a little shade his way. Alex loves to point out that their entire identity is success in sports, and that it would never occur to any of them that the gay kid was actually the most successful athlete in the entire school. “They think it’s a big deal if they make the varsity soccer team and I literally won Nationals last summer.”
I’m also happy to report that we’re as close as ever. We’ve had a cribbage battle going on this year and we’re tied at 72 games a-piece. We did a trip to Shenendoah National Park this August, where we camped in a local farmer’s field, went on killer hikes, and got luscious shakes every night made from local peaches. We still hike all the time and chatter away in the car and on the trail. We get meatball subs from Wawa afterwards or find a Dairy Queen and get Blizzards. We jabber on about Marvel movies or trips to national parks.
He’s my friend.
And I guess I’ll end with some photos. No big conclusion or takeaway, really.
This is us camped out in the farmer’s field near Shenandoah National Park.
This is Alex driving around the field.
Here we are at the top of Buffalo Mountain in Colorado, which was about the best hike we’ve ever done. At one point were hiking among mountain goats.
Here’s Alex trying champagne after Biden was declared winner.
Here’s him with his brother and mom on the Konza Prairie in Manhattan, KS. Note the rainbow.
There is a debate about what priority the COVID vaccine should be given. The official NuckolBall position is:
Vulnerable population (especially grandparents who are kidney donors/kidney donor recipients)
Major league baseball players and staff
Last year Jack Season was cancelled, so we had an extended Alex Season. We went all in on camping and had a great year for that. But this year it is pure Jack Season. It’s the final year I have with my boy, and we are planning as much baseball time as we can swing (and still afford college).
Here are the trips that are currently under consideration:
The Bronx Boo-Fest — When the cheating, worthless Astros come to the Bronx, Jack and I will be there to boo them murderously. We’re going to bang trash cans, hurl insults, and generally make their lives as miserable as possible. These lowlives deserved to be booed for the remainder of their careers and we intend to do our part.
The Lakes Loop — This involves driving to Cleveland, hooking up with Avi and Solomon Cover, and making an epic baseball loop. The loop will include Chicago (White Sox), Milwaukee (Brewers), and maybe…maybe….Minneapolis for the Twins. We’ve got multiple drivers to make this doable.
The Dallas Dash — We normally see Shani’s parents 3-4 times a year, but COVID has created a miserable dry spell. So the instant everyone is safe and vaccinated, we are getting on the road, getting down to Arkansas, getting everyone in the car, and getting our butts to Dallas to check out the new Rangers Ballpark.
The Aunt Joan Jaunt — It is ludicrous that we haven’t been to Fenway. Ridiculous. It’s 5 hours away and we actually go to Boston every year. Well that gets fixed this year. We’re making our annual Boston trip, and this time, Jack, me, and my Aunt Joan are going to see the Red Sox (hopefully lose).
The West Wildcard — The summer is tough to figure out. When will diving competitions come back? When does college start? Lots of variables at play, but we absolutely plan to pull off an epic family road trip. That could mean Phoenix, Seattle, San Diego, Oakland…who knows. But I suspect we’ll work in a park or two for sure.
Jack and I currently stand at 17 out of 30 ballparks visited. I think getting to 20 this season is a distinct possibility.
The boy has received his first college acceptance. Milkshake!
Here is the essay that Jack submitted. He worked really hard on it.
Discuss an accomplishment, event, realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others?
In 2017, the Yankees made the playoffs for the first time in 4 years.
I had grown up a Yankees fan from day one, but ever since I had been old enough to truly follow them, they had been just average. The team was old and, in all honesty, kind of boring. I found myself paying more attention to the league than the team. Then 2017 happened, and that season was different. New York became fun to watch again and I became entranced by every pitch. Instead of watching with my brain, I watched them with my stomach. What was once a hobby was now a religion. My mood fluctuated with the team, pitch by pitch, game by game. My life began revolving around the Yankees. I felt baseball in my soul.
That October, the Yankees made the playoffs and were set to play in a one-game, winner-take-all series against the Minnesota Twins. Although they were young, the Yankees were a much better team and were favored to blow the Twins out of the water. But instead, they immediately went down 3-0 in the first inning. I was stunned to the point that I was shaking. I got up from my couch, went into my room, and cried.
I don’t cry much, and I don’t know why. It may be because I don’t watch enough sad movies or don’t get into nearly enough sad situations. I guess it’s just not how I handle loss or sorrow. But there I was, head in hands, sobbing over a baseball game. At that moment I realized how ridiculous this was. I was a freshman, in the middle of one of the most important academic years of my life, and I was in my room crying over a baseball game. I was being emotionally moved by the actions of men I didn’t know, in a game whose result I had no control over. There are so many hobbies I could’ve chosen that would be so much more productive than this. My brother loves to cook, and his love for that hobby is productive. My mom is an adamant anti-gun violence activist, and spends relatively all of her free time working to help a cause she believes in, an activity that is decidedly productive. But, to an outsider, baseball is inno way productive. My enjoyment of the sport doesn’t benefit anyone but myself. The amount of effort I put into something so seemingly unproductive is ridiculous, almost childish.
It was a matter of seconds before I realized I was wrong. Baseball isn’t ridiculous, it isn’t childish, and it isn’t by any means unproductive. Baseball is my life. Baseball has been the basis of my friendship with two of my oldest friends. Without baseball, I can’t imagine that I ever would’ve made those friends. We grew up playing wiffle ball together in backyards and arguing over whose team was going to win on any given night. It is also central to my relationship with my dad, who is one of the most important people in my life. Some of my fondest memories are playing catch with my dad in parking lots across the country, and going to every stadium we could. Baseball is the background music to every one of my summers. It is everything. Without baseball, I’m not the person I am today. So, I don’t find this ridiculous or childish. I find it vital.
By the way the Yankees came back to beat the Twins. Then two weeks later they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Astros.
The tension has been building. We’ve felt a disturbance in the force for quite some time.
We’re pretty strict about COVID.
Actually – strike that. We’re pretty sensible when it comes to COVID. We follow the scientifically-based guidelines laid out by the state of NJ and the CDC. So we’re not strict – we just seem strict because the town we live in is full of morons.
Actually – let me elaborate. Every weekend in my town there are high school parties in basements that parents (moronic ones) allow. And – shocker – these parties led to a COVID outbreak that shut down the school and ended the soccer season. So we’re not strict, we’re smart. But to Jack, we seem strict. Our rules used to be no being inside houses with friends and masks on/windows open in a car.
But with this latest, moron-induced surge, where a bunch of Jack’s friends got COVID, we tightened things up.
So 2 weeks ago, Jack wants to go to a friend’s house to hang out outside.
What kids? How many? Masks? OK.
And off he goes. But then evidence starts to trickle in that there was a large gathering happening. And there are clues that Jack may have attended. Which means Shani interrogates me, and then I interrogate Jack. After a series of texts he calls me and assures me that he’s only with the kids he mentioned and that they’re not at the big gathering.
Fine. But Shani’s not buying it. I sort of am, but I’m prone to believing Jack so I can avoid the conflict. He comes home and all seems well.
Fast forward two days later. I’m in my bedroom presenting to a client. Shani bursts in holding her phone out like it’s a cross and I’m a vampire.
Evidence. She’s got an Instagram post of the big outdoor party and there is the side of Jack’s head.
She rushes out and heads down to the basement to bludgeon Jack.
My meeting ends, Shani and I talk. We discuss our actions. We call Jack up, expecting a big talk about trust and lying and parenting and all that. It’s gonna be ugly.
Enter Jack. He sits.
“What’s my punishment?”
“No X-box until Saturday for lying. No seeing friends until COVID is 20 per 100,000. So figure a month at least.”
“OK,” Jack says. Then he gets up, nods, and returns to the basement.
So that’s that, right? But it’s not. Not at all. Tension is higher than ever. Shani sleeps poorly. We have long talks about…I don’t even know what. Jack stays in the basement more than ever. There is a silent murk sitting over everything. The disturbance in the force is ever present.
Until a few days later, Shani went for a walk with a good friend and they talked about the whole thing. She got a little perspective.
So I’m at the dining room, presenting to a client, and Shani rushes in.
I wave her off, finish my meeting, and then she and I have a quick talk. She’s ready to discuss it again with Jack. New approach. We call Jack upstairs. Shani starts.
“I want to reset. I’m really scared of COVID and I’m hard on you. But I’ve been thinking about how hard this is on you and how much you’re missing out on and it just…breaks my heart.”
Then she’s crying. Which sets off a chain reaction.
Jack goes for her and wraps her up.
The DOG goes for her and jumps into her lap.
All this love and hugging makes me start crying.
So we rescind the lockdown. Jack apologizes for lying. We have an open, flowing, authentic conversation about COVID and drinking and pushing boundaries and being safe, and the whole thing clears the air beautifully.
Imagine if you took breakfast, lunch, and dinner and you just mashed them altogether in a big bowl. Eggs with a PBJ and roast chicken. Yogurt and broccoli. And that’s your one meal for the day?
None of it would taste good. You would look forward to it not at all.
That’s how life is feeling to me as we slide into a new semi-lockdown.
Everything is bleeding together. Every day I have meetings, I watch Netflix, I make overnight oats, I practice guitar, I go for a walk, Jack comes by and I say “Hey! Jack Nuckols!”, I throw the yarn ball, and the dogs goes and gets it, and then I throw it again.
None of it feel distinct. Very little of it brings me joy.
Making dinner with Shani used to bring me great joy. Now, I silently dread it for some reason and stay on the computer a little longer than I need.
Eating dinner as a family used to be a source of joy. “I hate this pandemic, but I do love how we’re eating together every night.” But now I can’t even seem to remember most dinners. I know we have them, but I can’t seem to bring up any memory of them whatsoever.
Lockdown feels different this time. Or rather, it doesn’t feel like anything at all.
This past March it was new and special. A family adventure. And we had the summer to look forward to; I spent hours planning camping trips to do on weekends.
But now it feels like the exact opposite of an adventure. Thanksgiving and Christmas, which I normally look forward to mightily, look to be shells of themselves. Same daily routine with different music in the background. Staccato zoom calls over the meal.
Maybe I’ll just take my entire Thanksgiving meal and put it all in a big bowl. The stuffing, the sweet potatoes, the apple pie — choke it down as a single unremarkable non-event.
So…NuckolBall has been pretty sporadic and infrequent over the past few years. A far cry from when I used to write posts all the time.
Well, there are three reasons for my lack of posting.
1. I’ve been taking care of this horrible orange stain on my rug.
Getting rid of the orange stain has been very time-consuming for me. Especially this past year. I’ve spent hours and hours scrubbing away. And when I wasn’t scrubbing, I was researching strategies to remove the statin. And when I wasn’t researching, I was trying to recruit people to help get the stain out. Getting that stain out has been a hell of a lot of work. Phew!
2. Alex is gay.
Wow. Big revelation there if you didn’t know.
Alex came out about 3 years ago, and in all sincerity, working through that journey has been by far the most interesting thing I’ve done as a father in the past few years. I didn’t feel like I should make that public. But it made it hard to write about what was going on in an authentic way.
3. There’s been a lack of conflict
Gone are the days when Jack was struggling mightily to get that big hit. He hasn’t played baseball in a couple years — so that natural tension is gone.
In all honesty, things have been pretty smooth sailing. Which didn’t make for good blogging.
HOWEVER…things have changed.
1. The orange stain is removed.
As of a few weeks ago, it’s gone. I got pretty drunk the night it became official. And there still a little clean up work left, but that serious problem is dealt with.
2. I’m clear to talk about Alex
More on that later. Lots of good stuff to share.
3. Tension is back
Oh yes. Drama has returned to our family. As a 17-year old, Jack has become a smoldering presence in our basement. He’s ready to be done dealing with me and Shani’s rules — and every day he finds a bunch of subtle or not subtle ways to let us know.
It is the tension of impending separation. And it is interesting indeed.
We are heading into Jack’s Final Home Season and I’m going to try and ramp up the writing for it.
So if you’re filled with outrage and despair about the RNC spewing blatant lies last night, and it fills you with fear that they might actually win. Let me show you this:
This is an image of Moms Demand Action. At the same time as the RNC liefest, over 230 “moms” were taking action making calls to voters in Texas. And look at the bottom row. There is literally a mom making calls with a sleeping baby on her shoulder.
And that’s just Texas. They were making calls in every single state and they will be every night until the election, working in partnership with other community organizations. And that’s just scratching the surface of what “Moms” are doing.
My wife has been part of Moms Demand Action for about 5 years, and I’ve seen first hand how organized, compassionate, and dedicated they are. They are nothing short of incredible. Hell, they’re moms, of course they are.
Are you happy with the fact that the NRA is nearly bankrupt? That’s Moms. Are you happy that 90% of the bad bills proposed in state legislatures across the country have been voted down over the past 4 years? That’s Moms. Are you happy that thousands of common sense gun laws have been passed at the local and state level over the past year along? That’s Moms.
Their theme this year is “Watch Us Work.” And I watch them work and get a lump in my throat. They’re not watching in despair, they’re working. Hard. And they’re succeeding. And they fill me with hope hope, precious hope.
The only issue I have with them is that I’m not content to just “watch them work.” And I’d encourage you to follow their example and get to work yourself.
In fact…I’m running a phone banking event next Wednesday, September 2nd from 7:00-8:30. If you want to spend some time calling likely voters in Pennsylvania for the Biden campaign, I’ve love to have you.
So imagine you’re on a cruise ship and there’s been major structural damage. The boat is taking on water and the engines are damaged.
So the crew gets together for a few hours to make an emergency plan and then the captain comes to the passengers.
“Folks, we’ve got a plan. We’re going to have to rotate the wait staff and even some passengers to take on extra tasks pumping out the water and maintaining the engine. It will take us a few extra days, but if we all work together we should be able to safely reach our destination.”
Now imagine one of the ladies from first class comes forward to speak for her group. This is her response.
“This is supposed to be a luxury ship. I don’t see why I should have to go without the omelette station for breakfast or the chocolate fountain at night! That’s ridiculous! And if the waiters are only spending half as much time waiting on me, then why are we still paying them full salary?”
Then she sits down and is congratulated by her friends.
I just started a new job, that as a perk provides access to free legal services. Wills and other simple stuff. It’s cool.
So…in the next few weeks, I will be having the following instructions for my funeral made legal and binding.
I will sign a baseball before my death. Everyone who attends my funeral will sign this baseball. It will be given to my son, Jack.
My remains are to be cremated. My son, Alex Nuckols, will select a hiking location where those ashes will be scattered. Alex, Jack, and their families will then take a hike/packing trip to scatter said ashes.
The song “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens was featured in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. It is to be played at my funeral.
Each person who attends my funeral will be given a box of Tropical Dots (my favorite candy). They are to pour the box into my coffin at the viewing, so I am buried in Dots. The people who really love me will remove the green ones from their box.
I am to be buried in a Captain American costume. And not one of those cheap ones either.