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.


Jack, Shani, and the Green Folder that Ruined Christmas

I will first draw your attention to the change in title. For this episode, we are NuckolBRAWL. And for this NuckolBrawl tale, I bring you back to Christmas morning of 2016. The family is in the living room, around the tree, taking turns opening presents. Things are joyful and sweet. Shani has just unwrapped the scarf that Alex knit her.

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Suddenly, a realization strikes Jack Nuckols:

“Wait! I’ve got presents!”

On the last day of school before holiday break, Jack and his two friends had gone downtown to buy presents. Jack spent the afternoon and evening out with his pals getting gifts. They even went to dinner at the Chinese place when they were done. I thought it was such a nice idea. I was proud of him. The thought of it warmed my heart.

So back to Christmas morning…

“Wait! I’ve got presents!”

Jack grabbed his backpack and began rummaging around inside it.

“I didn’t wrap anything, but that’s OK, right? Hang on…this is for…”

He pulled out a small cellophane bag and peeked inside.

“Oh wait! That’s my egg roll. OK…here we go.”

He pulled out gifts for each of us:

  • For Alex, he bought a stuffed purple penguin. Alex snatched it a gave it a snuggle
  • For me, a bottle of hot sauce with a skull key chain
  • For Shani…

Oh no.

Oh dear God, no.

I stared in horror.

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You could feel the floor crumbling away beneath the entire room. It was like a sand castle slurped away by a wave.

Jack had given his mother a green folder as her holiday gift. It had cost him 99 cents at the most – his egg roll had cost him more. It was a gift of monumental thoughtlessness.

When it comes to things like this, I have an internal debate. Do you let it go and forego the drama to follow? Do you laugh it off and let Christmas go on.

Shani had no such debate. She retreated to our bedroom and a fog of gloom descended upon the world. Jack grew sullen and withdrawn.

And with that, Christmas was ruined.

But could it be salvaged?

Read on…

Could this man save Christmas?


I made the first attempt. I went up to our room and consoled Shani. I talked to Jack and told him how badly he’d hurt his mother’s feelings. I went back and forth like the moderator for disarmament talks between warring countries. I finally got Jack to go up to our room and talk to Shani.

Two minutes later he came storming back downstairs.

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Could these two save Christmas?


An hour later, Shani came back downstairs. She sat on the couch in a sad slump. I called up to Jack and asked him to come down for a second. I said that had to show him something. As soon as he was halfway down the steps…

“Dad and I are going for a walk.”


Alex and I grabbed our coats and shot out the door.

We lapped the block slowly. Fifteen minutes later, we came back and poked out heads in. Shani and Jack were sitting silently on opposite ends of the couch. Both were curled up like pillbugs.

“Let’s do another lap.”

“Good idea.”

We did two laps this time. The final result…

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Could the Mulvihills save Christmas?


That afternoon, the Mulvihills came over for happy hour. It’s a tradition our families share each year. We get together on Christmas for happy hour and then go out for Chinese food.

I figured that Shani couldn’t possibly keep up the gloom with friends over. She’d have to put on a good face for guests.

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Dead wrong.


Could the George Michael save Christmas?


After a semi-stilted happy hour, we headed to Philly for dinner. In past years we’d done Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean BBQ. This year we took it up a notch and rented a private karaoke room in Chinatown.

So picture the scene. 4 adults (one of them emitting a fog of gloom). 4 tweens (2 boys, 2 girls). It’s not a recipe for uninhibited fun.

We were doing some lame signing when suddenly our phones lit up with news alerts: George Michael had died.

Next thing we knew, the moms were belting out Careless Whisper, Father Figure, and more. This was a moment of unity. George Michael had gone so suddenly. Who has time to dwell on bad things? Live to the moment! Enjoy each other now!

But the tweens just looked at us with disdain and embarrassment. Before long we were struggling to keep the fun going.

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Then things went from bad to worse. I looked to see that “Hello” by Adele was next. My thought: worst possible song. It’s slow-paced and hard to sing. Plus it’s sad as hell. What could be a worse choice?

The first verse came out as a mumbled dirge. Then the music swelled into the chorus and suddenly…


Everyone was belting it out. All the kids. Both moms. My friend Geoff. People were smiling and laughing at each other. Everyone was letting it roar at full volume. I looked across the room and Shani and Jack were singing into the same microphone with all their might. More sushi arrived. We put the song on again and performed an encore. Our waitress brought a tray heavy with Sapporo beers and cans of Sprite.


Yes folks, the green folder was forgotten. Adele had saved Christmas.





The Sex Talk

Aaaaand…The Sex Talk.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I’m gonna make a little PSA. I wrote a book (that twice came astonishingly close getting published) where pedophilia is a key theme. I did a shitload of research about it, and here is a proven fact:

The more you talk about sex with your kids, the less likely they are to be the victims of a sexual predator.

Pedophiles play on shame and secrets. When you avoid talking about sex with your kids, you make it a dark, shameful, secret topic. And that’s part of what pedophiles use to groom, lure, and hide their actions.

Now…this isn’t a proven fact, but I think it’s also safe to say that having the Sex Talk is always awkward. There is not a natural time to comfortably slide right into the topic. You have to just go for it. That has been my experience.

The Sex Talk with Jack

The trigger? The NFL.

Every damn commercial break has a spot for Viagra, Cialis, or both. We would sit through 30 seconds of semi-awkward and pregnant silence every time we watched football. Finally, he asked…

“Dad? What is erectile dysfunction anyways?”

I gave him the obvious response:

“Erectile dysfunction is something your father HAS NEVER EVER EXPERIENCED!”

But that night we were both reading in my bed and I went for it.

“OK, remember when you asked about erectile dysfunction?”


“OK, here’s the deal…”

I gave him the whole story. I said penis. I said vagina. I said a whole lot of words like that. I plowed through the whole damn thing.

Here are some points that stand out:

  • I was talking theoretical. “A man and a woman...” But Jack was going to the personal and individual. His questions weren’t about “a man and a woman”, his questions were about me and Shani. It added an extra layer of awkward to the conversation.
  • About halfway through the conversation, he interrupted me to say…“So you’ve done this twice.” And I had to back up and explain it in a different way.
  • Jack then interrupted me again to say: “Wait a minute. So you do this, regularly?” The idea disturbed him deeply.

His concluding thought…

“Sounds gross.”


The Sex Talk with Alex

I did it last summer (Alex was 10). We went on an overnight backpacking trip, and on the drive to the trailhead I went for it.

“So we’re gonna have a talk about something, and it might be weird, but we’re still gonna do it even if it is weird and let’s do it. Right? That make sense? Let’s do this.”

“OK,” he said, not really knowing what the hell I was talking about.

Alex didn’t ask any questions, so I kept rambling on and on in a nervous babble stream. I explain sex. Pedophiles. Gay and straight. I must have gone for 25 minutes. Finally I stopped and let the silence set in.

“Well,” he said. “That was awkward.”

“How much of that did you already know?”

“Most of it.”

“Did Jack tell you?”



“I have my sources.”

And that was pretty much that.



Since then we’ve had more talks. All of them brought up by me. All of them awkward and forced.

“So…you’re going to be in the locker room with older boys. You know that…”

“I know, I know!”

“Not that you’re sexually active yet, but you know that when a girl says no…”

“Stop it! God!”

Actually, it’s gotten to the point, where this is the reaction I get whenever I bring up the subject. Which I see as a very good sign.







I just watched a kid lose a wrestling match. He came off the mat in tears, went over to his dad and said: “I suck!”

But the fact is, that kid doesn’t think he sucks. He thinks his dad thinks he sucks. That’s about 100 times worse and it makes me want to cry.

Mike Nuckols: Social Liability

It was Parent Social Night this weekend. It means that each grade (K-5) hosts a party at a host house. You go from house to house and hang out with each grade. It’s a bitch of a night to get a baby sitter.

I struggle with this and basically all social events in my town. It aggravates Shani, who is an excellent mingler and genuinely enjoys it. She calls me a “social liability”, and each time we head out, I promise her to try and engage. And I genuinely try each and every time.

I’ll start with this: I find the small talk maddening. Talking about nothing drives me out of my mind. I resent every minute of it. The idea of spending 15 minutes talking to someone and then walking away knowing nothing whatsoever about them is mindboggling to me.

We arrived at the first party and instantly my heart sank. The house had a beautiful wrap-around porch. To the right, all the ladies had gathered. Off to the left, the guys were clumped around the beer.

The guy-girl split baffles me. I guess when you’re married and the girl thing is locked up, there’s no longer a need to talk to women. I guess we’re all relieved we don’t have to do that anymore.

I wandered over to the guys. They were all talking about the house that Chip Kelly (Eagles head coach) had just moved into. As I introduced myself, instead of saying my name, I mumbled:


Then I stood and nodded along with the Chip Kelly discussion for the next 5 minutes.

After a while, I went and pretended to take a dump and played on my phone for 10 minutes. Then I wandered over towards Shani. She gave me the: “Don’t monopolize me” look. She was right. So I went to the food table and got into a conversation with a woman there. Her daughter and Alex are both divers. We talked about that. Then she said:

Nice woman: My daughter is in 6th grade and tonight is her first time at Rec Hall. [Note: Rec Hall is a junior high dance held at the school once a month.] I had 12 girls at my house beforehand.

Me: Oh yeah? Does your house smell like perfume?

Nice woman: No. Why?

Me: When they boys have a party before Rec Hall they create this horrible cloud of Axe body spray.

Nice woman: Really? Is that really an issue with boys? Body odor?

Me: Oh dear God, yes.

Nice woman: I know in health class they separate all the girls and boys for the puberty talk. I know what they talk about with the girls, but I wasn’t sure if they talked about body odor with boys.

Me: They should – my son smells terrible.

Ooooo-kay. So here I am. I’m in a conversation, right? I promised Shani I’d try and I was trying. And at this point I could stay on the surface – or – I could really go for it. So damn it – I went for it. If we’re gonna have a conversation, then I’m gonna have a real conversation. I went for it.

Me: The body odor is bad, but I’m not looking forward to what comes next?

Nice woman: Oh? What do you mean?

Me: Masturbating.

Nice woman: Oh. Ohh. Uh. Oh.

Me: Yeah, it’s funny. I was talking about that with some friends from high school. I was saying how terrified I used to be of getting busted by my mom. Then I realized…busting me was the last thing on earth she wanted to happen.

Nice woman: Oh. Yeah. Oh.

Me: [Pretending I’m my mom and stomping as I walk.] I’m coming [STOMP] up the [STOMP] stairs now!

Shani was in absolute hysterics as I told her about the conversation on the way home.

So if you’re wondering, here’s a guide to party conversation:

Do Don’t

Tell sports anecdotes about how you are guiding your kid through struggles and teaching them the value of sportsmanship and the larger life lesson.   (bonus if you use the phrase “teaching moment”)


Talk about your job. (I think this is because it somehow gets too close to touching on how much money you make and no one wants to admit they’re rich.)

Tell funny stories making fun of what a bad parent you are. (example: “I just put on the Disney channel, plunked them down in front of the TV, and opened a bottle of wine HAHAHAHAH!”)


Say anything nice about your wife. (For some reason you’re not supposed to like hanging out with your wife – thus you get away from each other as quickly as possible.)

And I now I know that I can add “talk about masturbating” to the don’t column.

However, with all that said, I have over the years found myself in some terrific conversations with people that to this day I love seeing and catching up with.

So if you see me at a party and you:

  • Want to sit down
  • Want to talk about something other than nothing

I’m in. So let me know. It’ll keep me in Shani’s good graces.

Parenting: Phase 2

So…I have been searching for relevance with NuckolBall.

  1. There is a lack of drama with my boys. Things are in a groove.
  2. I’ve taken a new job this past year, so work has occupied a bigger part of my energy and focus (and I’m not blogging about that).
  3. This MLB season has been a little boring – and to be honest, this site has never really been about baseball.

I will tell you that Jack’s fall season of little league has started. This past spring season Jack went hitless again and struggled pretty mightily, but I didn’t write about it. It seemed like the same story all over again and I’m a little over it.

This Friday night, his first at-bat of the fall season started with his trademark wishy-washy approach where he tries to draw a walk and takes shitty, late swings at the ball and strikes out looking. So I figured, “here we go again.” But then on his second at-bat he corked a shot past the 3rd baseman and flashed to first. He had another game Saturday morning where he got another hit and pitched a scoreless inning. Jack’s friend Max called him Sunday to ask if Jack could come over; I heard Jack on the phone:

“I got a hit, a walk, and struck out.”

There was a brightness in his voice. It was pretty great.

But that’s not what I want to write about at all. What was really notable about the weekend for me is what happened after the game. It happened quickly:

After the game, Jack and his friend Christopher decided to go downtown and get lunch and hang out. (Can I have some money, Dad?) Alex went to diving practice.

In a blink Shani and I were looking at a free afternoon. We stared at each other a little uncertain that it was real. But it didn’t take us long to take advantage.

We shot to the Farm and Fisherman and sat at the corner of the bar. We laughed about God knows what. We talked about how handsome we think Alex is becoming. We drank piney IPAs and shared the “breads and spreads” platter. Shani told me all about the book she’s reading. Man, we had a great time.

And it occurs to me: Is this our future? Is this the next phase? Beers and snacky dinners at 3:30 PM? In bed by 10:15 on a Saturday?

More and more we are finding ourselves kidless and staring at each other, saying: “I guess it’s just us.”

About 5 years ago Shani and I got into a big fight. I don’t know the exact cause, but really it was a product of taking each other for granted in the midst of managing the kids. It’s easy to lose each other among the bed times and play dates, and we had to some degree. It had come to a boiling point.

“Look man,” she said to me. “There’s gonna come a day when these boys leave us, so you and I have to be right!”

It ended in a pretty desperate hug in the kitchen and I remember saying in a choked-up and murky voice:

“When I picture heaven, it’s being with you forever. You know that, right? That’s what I want heaven to be. With you.”

I’m getting a little choked up writing about that, actually. But this weekend at the Farm and Fisherman made me think about that fight. Above all, it brought me to a big realization:

I believe Shani and I are have reached a new place in our life as parents. I wrote a blog post about a year ago called In Transition about the pain of entering it. But now we’re through the transition. We’re there. Our kids are driving their own agendas. They don’t want me as a playmate anymore; they want to call their friends and do their own thing. They don’t need me to put them to bed. We can leave them home alone without even thinking about it. Parenting isn’t the all-encompassing effort it once was. It’s not priority #1 the way it used to be.

More and more Shani and I are able to step out to grab a beer together or have dinner by ourselves.


I am officially declaring that we have entered a new place in parenthood. It opens up a new range of topics and considerations for NuckolBall posts (I’ve updated the site look to commemorate it).

Parenthood: Phase 2 is here.

It feels weird, but I’m getting used to it. Get ready for a new ride.