Language Lessons and Teen Boys

Jack’s big Christmas present was a trip to a Yankees/Red Sox game, and this Wednesday was the big day. We left at 2:00 and headed to New York City with plenty of time to do our thing. We parked in Washington Heights and rode the subway into the Bronx to get there. Jack has a passion for New York and I love to watch him navigate through the city. He plays it cool on the subway and follows my cues of how to handle yourself like a local.

We got into the stadium at 5:30 when the gates opened for the tail end of batting practice. Then we got food and wandered the stadium. Jack navigated the whole thing expertly and even got a few autographs (which is very tough at Yankees Stadium).


Then the game. We sat in the bleachers, which are legendary. As the Yankees took the field, a giant man with a shirt that said “SECTION 204” stood up and led the roll call, chanting each Yankee fielder’s name until we got a wave or hat tip of acknowledgment. Then Mr. 204 turned and bellowed to the entire section: “We don’t do the wave!”

Aaron Judge got his first hit since returning from the DC. We got to see the debut of Justus Sheffield, the Yank’s top pitching prospect. The game was awesome.

But I have to acknowledge the silence.

There’s a veil that’s descended between Jack and I. Maybe it’s between Jack and the whole world. There were reluctant pauses on the drive, during the subway ride, and while we were sitting in the stands. I find myself wanting to ask him about life and about himself, but there’s hesitation in the air. And often, instead of calling it out or pushing through it, we default to baseball (which is always safe and easy and endless.)

“I wanna see Sanchez get it in gear. He needs to.”

“He was the best catcher in the league two years ago. He has to turn it up.”

“That happens when we are deadly into the playoffs.”

I actually think the real point of sports is so men have something safe to talk about. I spend time with Jack and his friends and I listen to them interact. They don’t even really talk to each other. It’s a strange combination of inside jokes, dares, and what if statements about raising the stakes.

“What if we tried to cook four marshmallows on one stick?”

“What if we did a hot dog and marshmallow together?”

Everything is subtly competitive and none of it is actually about themselves. They share nothing.

I can remember being in 8th grade being on the school bus when my best friend, the Chief, told me he had a crush on Cathy Moss. I was flabbergasted. Then he admitted he’d had a crush on her since 4th grade. And I remember thinking: How did I not know this? This is my best friend. We’ve spent hours and hours together up late at sleepovers and at each other’s houses.

But somehow boys build a bubble around themselves. It’s like a membrane they form between themselves and the world. It’s part of becoming a man. And I can feel that bubble around Jack.

My Uncle Bob has brain cancer.

When Bob told me the news, I asked him what he needed from me. He told me he needed a hug. So we gathered in Boston about a month ago. Me, my brother, Marie, my Aunt Joan, Pablo.

We spent a weekend together that was unforgettable. It was filled with a magical, rich authenticity between all of us that was driven by the situation. We hugged and laughed and shared — and if there was any hint of a bubble, it was a bubble that we were all inside together.

So that Sunday night, after I got back home, Shani, Jack, Alex, and I had dinner on our back porch. I told them about the weekend.

“So first off, Bob is doing great. He’s having almost no side effects from his treatment. We won’t know for a few months if the treatment is actually working, but for now it’s going as well as it possibly can.

“But here’s what I wanted to say.

“Bob has cancer. My uncle has cancer. And I want you guys to know how happy you make me. Each of the three of you individually make me happy. And the four of us together as a family make me so, so happy. I love each of you so much. And I want you to know that.”

Shani teared up and took my hand. Alex got up and buried himself into my chest.

Jack said, “I love you, Dad.” He said it clearly, he said it happily, and he said it without any reluctance.

Start spreadin’ the news!

The Yankees won. In fact, they destroyed the loathsome Red Sox 10 – 1. Jack and I followed the crowd down the steps as everyone sang along to Frank Sinatra, voices echoing off the concrete. We piled into the crowded subway and then transferred to the A Train.

On the platform we looked at the subway map together. He asked me to point out where I’d lived, where Shani had lived, where we’d worked, and the hospital where he was born.

We got onto the Turnpike and put on the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy. We debated which Volume was better and he asked me about the origin of Captain Marvel. Then we fell into a tired silence. The final 30 minutes of the ride, I made him play YouTube videos over the car speakers of Dwight Schrute from The Office. I needed the laughter to help me stay alert.

When we got home, it took me a minute to get out of the car. As I headed for the door, Jack was there on the top step, his arms wide. Two Aaron Judge jerseys came together on my porch at 1:00 AM in a strong embrace.

“Thanks, Dad,” he said, “Thanks so much.”

Then we crept into the house and went to bed.


4 thoughts on “Language Lessons and Teen Boys

  1. Hi Mike, Am so sorry to hear about Uncle Bob! I’m glad you could have a group hug! Love, Doris

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. This is awesome and real Mike. Thanks for sharing. I am sorry about your uncle Bob , I hope his treatments work. Father and son relationships are complex but communication and time spent even in silence is the best time you can spend. You are there for your family and that will always make the difference.

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