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?”

“Yeah.”

“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.”

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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?”

“No.”

“Who?”

“I have my sources.”

And that was pretty much that.

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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.

 

 

 

 

About Fatherhood (The Curse of Donna G’s Boobs)

 

This is the final and concluding installment of the Donna G Project. This project has been written to and for my boys. It was inspired by my wife’s friend Donna G and her experience with breast cancer.

The final subject of the Donna G Project: fatherhood.

If you’re a dad, and you take your kids out for breakfast without your wife, there is a 100% chance that someone will come up to you and say:

“What a good father you are.”

It’s a sure thing. It usually happens 2-3 times over the course of the meal.

Now let’s break this down. A dad spending time with his kids without his wife is so extraordinary that strangers feel the need to come and recognize it. Hell, you’re not even making breakfast – you’re taking your kids out so someone else can do the cooking. But still, it stands out as a marvelous act of fatherhood.

Think that happens if a mom goes somewhere alone with her kids? Not a chance. But that’s how low the bar is for dads.

The fact is, dads get a pass. For some reason, wives, kids, society, everyone is just fine with dads getting away with doing 10% of the parenting. Watch families in public for 5 minutes and you’ll be stunned.

Dads pretend to not smell the dirty diaper. They pretend to not hear the baby crying. They dodge their own kids and for some reason that’s OK. It’s actually expected.

That’s the bar for dads.

Now you may ask yourself: How can this be? Why is it like this? Good question. Well, as a father, I can share 4 reasons that help explain the current state of fatherhood.

Reason #1) There are times when fatherhood sucks

Everyone will tell you it’s wonderful being a dad. Children are a blessing. But in reality, some things about fatherhood are just awful. Fatherhood is sitting through 2-hour pre-school “concerts” where 14 classes of kids sing crappy songs. You wait for your kid’s class to sing and then afterwards you tell them how amazing they were at singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Fatherhood is pushing a big wheel around the driveway until your back is killing you because kids don’t pedal for themselves. Fatherhood is deep knee bends down the hall at 3:55 AM trying to get them back to goddam sleep. It’s rushing into the skankiest gas-station bathroom for an emergency poop and suspending a 4-year-old over the bowl for seven minutes with your face level to the lip of the foul-smelling toilet.

Fatherhood is boring. It’s exhausting. It ruins vacations. Hangovers are brutal.

A lot of the time, it sucks having kids.

Reason #2) Kids make it easy

Fatherhood is the most unfair relationship in the world. You have all the power – and that is awfully seductive. You make the rules. You define good and bad. You have the power to punish and reward. You can say: “Daddy needs to watch this game and then we can play.” And because you said so, you’re right. Hell, you can punish them if they don’t leave you in peace.

In other words: if you want to avoid fatherhood, all you have to do is tell your kid that it is right to do so. They will accept your rules as right because you’re the dad, and you have the power to enforce your bullshit rules.

And on top of it all, that kid worships you. So after laying all that unfair bullshit on them, when you finally do get up and spend 20 damn minutes kicking a rubber ball around the backyard, your kid will forget the 3 hours of waiting. They’ll be deliriously happy. Kicking that ball will be their favorite memory of the whole week. They’ll tell you you’re the best dad in the world.

That is how easy kids make it.

Reason #3) Technology makes it easy

Give your kid your phone – done. Put on a video – done. Set them up with the iPad – done. This one is obvious, but still it is so easy to fall into that trap. Whole teams of brilliant experts are developing technology designed to be more interesting than you. Your kids will beg for it and all you have to do is say yes and you’re off duty.

Reason #4) Society (including wives) make it easy

Think of it this way: if you went to your job and 90% of the time, dodged your workload and dumped it onto your co-workers, what would happen? There’d be a damn mutiny. You’d be fired in a week.

But dads do that every single day and for some reason it’s fine. Maybe wives just give up and decide it’s not worth the fight.

In fact (and I swear I’m not making this up), I wrote a draft of this in an airport and right across from me…a mom, dad, 3 little kids. The kids were crying and fighting and the mom was struggling to wrangle the 3 of them. That dad sat right there, talking on his phone, like he didn’t even realize his kids were there.

So now when you ask yourself why the fatherhood bar is so low, you have 4 solid reasons why. Someday you may experience these reasons first-hand. In fact, that’s where we’re going to go. But before we go there, we’re gonna take a time out. This is the last installment of the Donna G Project, so I thought it made sense to check in with Donna G. Let’s revisit her story, shall we?

It started with an abnormal blood test. Then a scan and the detection of cancer in her right breast. There was telling her husband. There was telling her two daughters. (You boys know them, imagine that moment.) There were logistics and appointments. Then the surgery.

They laid her on her back, put her under, and took scalpels to her breasts. They cut down the tops and across the bottoms, discarded her nipples, and then peeled the skin back like opening up an orange. Then they cut out all the flesh of her breasts. They slid implants under her pectoral muscles. Then with great care and precision, they sewed the skin back together.

Start there. Consider that mutilation. That physical devastation.

From there, the slow, plodding, aching recovery. Physical therapy. Muscle spasms in the pectoral muscles. Knots in the tendons under her armpits that a physical therapist would have to “crack” by pushing down hard with both thumbs. That’s what Donna G went through.

It’s been two years and no sign of the cancer returning. But still the thought never leaves. When Donna’s knee hurts after going for a run, cancer lingers. She will think: “Has it spread to my bones?” Horrible doubt and fear lurking. Donna G lives under that shadow.

She takes medicine that causes her hands to ache. Her daughters will notice when it’s bad and say, “You don’t have to braid my hair, Mommy. I’ll wear it straight today.”

Donna has faced it with grit. With bravery and clarity. She told me, “cancer is a control freak and you have to take control back from it.” That’s what she does. That’s what she has done. “It’s the new normal,” she says.

And as I read that over, it occurs to me that those are her reasons. If she wanted to do a half-ass job as a parent, she had plenty of compelling reasons.

So with that, let’s go back to fatherhood, shall we? Because as we come to the conclusion of this project, I am invoking all the power of Donna G. The suffering, the endurance, the refusal to live under any terms but her own. I invoke all of it and bring it to bear in the form of a curse.

When it comes to fatherhood, you two don’t get a pass. Your pass has been revoked. You two get a different bar and I’m setting it right here and right now. In all the other things I’ve written, I’ve given you advice. This is not advice. This is a requirement. This is mandatory.

I am calling on the full power of Donna G’s boobs and laying this curse upon you.

If you choose to have kids, you are going to be kickass dads. You read that right; I am placing an honest-to-God curse on you.

Oh, and remember those 4 reasons I laid out? Well those don’t hold water for the two of you.

“But sometimes being a dad is so annoying. I thought it would be fun.”

Too bad. Get in there. I don’t care how bad it sucks. Especially when it sucks. You will engage every friggin’ time. You will get your ass off the couch. You will dress up in dumb costumes. You will play hide and seek even though kids always hide in the exact same spot every stinkin’ time.

“My kids tell me I’m a great dad. They understand that I need time to myself. I’m helping them be independent.”

You don’t get to pull that bullshit. That incredible power over your kids is to be used to make them good people. It is to teach them good life habits and ingrain them with a sense of right and wrong. You get to use that power responsibly and for the interest of your kids, not for your own self-interest. It takes tremendous restraint and discipline – but that’s exactly what you’re gonna do.

“They don’t want to play with me – they want their devices.”

You’re gonna put that shit down. Devices are not the parents — you are. You need to be more fun than the device. Cut that bullshit out.

“But that’s how dads are. My wife gets it.”

BULLSHIT! 100 times – bullshit! You will not buy into that – do you hear me? You’re gonna get down on that rug and roll around. You’re gonna push that kid in those swings and chase them around the playground – then do it again. You are going to be the first to smell that diaper and you change it, goddamit. That’s your kid. Spring out of bed at night when you hear the crying. Read those awful picture books over and over.

You two listen to me, and listen good. This curse is real. It is legal and binding. It is happening. If you boys choose to be fathers, you will honor this curse or you will spend fatherhood with my foot (and Donna G’s foot) up your ass.

That is the curse of Donna G’s boobs – and I hereby lay it squarely on you both.

Pause.

Full stop.

Take a moment to appreciate the fact that you’ve just had a curse placed on you. Because now I want to follow that rant with a few stories. Check it out.

My precious son, Jack:

The day after you were born I went for a run. My run took me through a tunnel and as I ran through it I suddenly found myself bellowing: JACK! JACK! JACK! It just gushed out of me. Again and again, I yelled it with all the might my thunder-throated voice could bring. The sound of your name crackled off the concrete arches and each time I heard it, reality sunk in deeper and deeper.

What had happened didn’t seem possible – but it was real. I was a father. I had a son.

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My son, Alex:

When you were three we spent a whole day together. Mom and Jack were away for some reason. You and I ran errands, we played ninja fights, we had dinner together. That night, I put you to bed and you were falling asleep the second you lay down. As I tucked you in, you said to me in the sleepiest voice:

“I wish we were twins.” Your voice was so tiny.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because then we’d be together always for our whole life.”

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My son, Jack:

When you were two years old and we were living in that temporary apartment in Pennsylvania, you wanted to play cars outside after dinner. It was raining just a little, so I sat down on the concrete and rested against the door. I expected you to go play cars on the sidewalk, but instead you sat down right next to me like it was perfectly normal and suddenly everything everything locked into crystal clear focus. The whole universe instantly made perfect sense. In that moment I literally knew the meaning of life with absolute certainty. I had it in the palm of my hand. The doughy little boy, side by side with me on that cold concrete was everything I had ever wanted or needed. It was more than I ever had the right to ask God for, but there it was just the same.

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My beautiful son, Alex:

Our first backpacking trip. We slept in the shelter, and in the middle of the night it absolutely poured. The rain rattled so loudly on the metal roof it woke me up. I sat and listened to the whole world roaring around me. Out there with no one around for miles I sat there with your tiny sleeping body next to me, and I wished that moment would last forever.

My two sons. My two magic boys:

These moments are endless for me. I could fill pages and pages and pages with these moments. You boys have brought me joy that dwarfs anything else I have ever known. When it comes to my love for the two of you, it feels like God himself pulled the sun from the sky and stuffed it into my chest. To me, that is fatherhood. That is what the two of you have brought to me.

So yes, I have put a curse on you. But in spite of what the majority of people seem to believe, Fatherhood is not a curse.

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The 2 Keys to Happiness at Work

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

First and foremost, we will clearly lay out The Fundamental Truth when it comes to work:

Most people’s primary objective at work is to do as little as humanly possible.

Let me say it again:

Most people’s primary objective at work is to do as little as humanly possible.

That is THE Fundamental Truth, and people are brilliant at achieving this goal.

“I’d love to help out, but…”

“I’m not confident I’ll do it right without proper guidance.”

“If you ask, I’m there, but on one asked.”

The energy, planning, strategy, and creativity that goes into achieving this goal is mindboggling.

OK, so now I’m gonna blow your mind with this next fact:

The vast majority of people are not happy or satisfied with their job.

Are you seeing a correlation? Any bells ringing? Because this fact and The Fundamental Truth are directly related.

Think of it this way: if you spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at a job that you are actively trying to avoid, by definition you will resent it. You don’t want to be there. You’re just trying to get out of there. You’re doing as little as possible. You don’t value it one bit.

Of course you’re miserable. You’re spending the majority of your waking time doing something that gives you zero satisfaction. You are wasting most of your time. You are wasting your life.

And all of this brings me to the first key to happiness…

Key to Work Happiness #1: Do a Kick Ass Job

Whatever your job, nail it. Dominate it. Attack it.

If your job is washing dishes*, get those dishes clean and then go scrub out the pots and pans. Organize the store room. Wipe down the counters. Hose down the air filters.

Look, you’re there for 8-hour shift, right? Avoid your job like most people do and you’ll walk out of there saying: “Finally, I can get out of there and start doing something I value!” Kick ass at that job and you’ll walk out of there saying: “I’m glad that’s over, but I sure kicked ass in there.” It makes all the difference in the world.

You are going to have to have a job for most of your life. My recommendation is that you avoid the trap of The Fundamental Truth and kick ass at your job.

Key to Work Happiness #2: Don’t Rush Into a Career

There is a TON of pressure to have a career. This starts very early.

“What major are you considering?”

“What colleges are you looking at?”

“What’s your plan after you graduate?”

Older people, especially the ones who care about you, want to feel like you’re OK. We worry about you. We’re invested in you. We want to be able to say: “He has a job in a big company. He’s doing well.” That brings us great comfort. That means you have an income. You have health insurance. You’re on the path to home and wife and kids and stability. It makes us feel like you’re safe and that we’ve done a good job.

I am sure you will get that pressure-vibe from me. You’ll get it from your mother too. Anyone who cares about you will be subtly pushing you into the safe haven of a career.

But I’m here to tell you – don’t rush it. Don’t succumb to that subtle gravity. Because it may not feel like it, BUT A CAREER WILL ALWAYS BE THERE. Corporate America is dying for young, responsible, competent people (think back to The Fundamental Truth). It will feel like the opportunity to get into a good company is rare and has to be taken. But those opportunities are honestly a dime a dozen. Those opportunities will come again and again and again. Those opportunities will come agains and again and again. (Plus with my next entry – 3 Keys to Success at Work – you will absolutely rocket through any organization and blast up the ranks.)

Look, when I was 23 I had a great job. But then I quit. People thought I was crazy. My parents were all a-flutter. But I quit and spent a year living in my car and driving around the US.

Want to know what the consequences were to my career path?

Nada.

I came back and in 6 months was right back into a secure job.

A few years later, I quit AGAIN. This time I spent a year travelling the world with your mother.

Oh, but wait, there must have been consequences of that rash action, right?

Wrong.

Once again, there were no consequences. I came back and in about a month I dove right back into the world of security and career. And here I am now – good job, house, kids, wife, whatever.

And get this – looking back – imagine the consequences if I had NOT quit my job. What would have happened if I had made a career my primary focus?

I wouldn’t have backpacked through that meadow in Washington that was so beautiful I prayed to God thanking Him for giving my eyes.

I wouldn’t have been on that boat in Thailand where that Japanese guy barfed on me.

I wouldn’t have trekked the Himalayas. I wouldn’t know what kava tastes like. I wouldn’t have heard the call to prayer in Morocco. I wouldn’t have gotten that God-awful haircut in Des Moines. I wouldn’t have spent my first wedding anniversary with your mother listening to a Vivaldi concert in a gothic cathedral in Paris.

In other words, the consequences would have been devastating. The career would have been the same.

A career will always be there. There is plenty of time to fall in step and gain stability – a stability I find wonderful. But the time to wander and explore and wonder and soar? That time, my sons, is limited.

So trust me, do not rush into a career.

Stay tuned! The second part: 3 Keys to Success at Work is coming soon!

*Note about the example of being a dishwasher. In many cases, that is a hypothetical example. That is not the case for me.

Official Stadium Rankings

Following the game this weekend in The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, our sports editor, Jack Nuckols, produced this document:

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Based on this, we will be providing official rankings of the 10 stadiums the boys have visited.

Jack’s Rankings

(based on field, view, food, and atmosphere)

1.              PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates
2.              Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City Royals
3.              Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
4.              Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals
5.              Citi Field, NY Mets
6.              Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds
7.              Nationals Park, Washington Nationals
8.              Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies
9.              Yankees Stadium, NY Yankees
10.          Rogers Center, Toronto Blue Jays

Alex’s Rankings

(based on food)

1.     Great American Ballpark, Skyline Chili Dogs
2.     PNC Park, Pot Roast Nachos
3.     Citi Field, Shake Shack
4.     Kaufmann Stadium, Those pretty girls took us out of the cheap seats and into the great seats – free nachos and ice cream!
5.     Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies
6.     Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
7.     Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals
8.     Nationals Park, Washington Nationals
9.     Yankees Stadium, NY Yankees
10. Rogers Center, Toronto Blue Jays

Mike’s Rankings

(based on field, view, food, and atmosphere)

The Transcendent

1.     PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates
2.     AT&T Park, SF Giants

The Exceptional

3.     Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles
4.     Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals
5.     Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds
6.     Coors Field, Colorado Rockies
7.     Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
8.     Petco Park, San Diego Padres
9.     Nationals Park, Washington Nationals
10. Dodgers Stadium, LA Dodgers
11. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies
12. Citi Field, NY Mets

The Meh

13. O.co Coliseum, Oakland A’s
14. Angels Stadium, Anaheim Angels
15. Yankees Stadium, NY Yankees
16. Rogers Center, Toronto Blue Jays

8 Observations from a trip to Cincinnati

This weekend we made it to Cincinnati for our first game of the season. A roadtrip to meet up with Shani’s folks at The Great American Ballpark. Here are 8 random observations:

1) I could be a professional baseball park travel agent. I got prime seating for $28, parking for $5, and executed an exit strategy that was easy as pie. All this for a sold-out game. I have this down to a science. In fact, NuckolBall readers should feel free to contact me for consultation if you’re visiting a ballpark. I’ll set you up.

2) I found the people of Cincinnati to be incredibly kind and helpful. And every single one of them want to talk about why Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.

3) During batting practice, baseballs gather in between the pitcher and hitter. Every once in a while a bat boy has to run out an pick up all of those balls. But with the Cardinals, all the players go out and do it as a group. These are millionaires and they’re doing it like they did in little league. I have never seen another team do this – and it speak volumes about the Cardinals to me.

4) If you get to Cincinnati, get your ass to Skyline Chili. They make these chili dogs that have a 6-inch cloud of finely-shredded cheese piled on top. You wonder how you can fit in all in your mouth, but then it mushes together into cheesechilihotdogonionsmustardheavenallgone. Alex is digging in to one in this photo:

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5) 90% of the time, Shani is the worst co-pilot on earth. She alternates between reading, dozing off, and fiddling with her phone. She sets her water cup overtop my carefully arranged power cords. She is deeply annoyed when I ask her to put the creamer into my coffee because I’m busy driving a car.

But then there’s the other 10% of the time. She’ll pull out a chapter book and read aloud in her melodious voice. The boys will be captivated and keep begging for just “one more chapter.” Or she’ll snatch up my phone (the phone I’m using the navigate with) and start cycling through TV theme shows on Spotify.

“You know this one, I bet.”

“Is that Dallas? No…Dynasty!”

“It’s St. Elsewhere, silly.”

“Right!”

“How about this one – I loved this show!”

And yes, we’ll miss our exit, but still we’re in hysterics as we sing the theme to Moonlighting together.

6) My boys’ ability to road trip is simply mindboggling. We did 11 hours straight on Friday and come Sunday they jumped right back in the car, eager to hit the highway.

7) Shani’s parents are my perfect role models for what I want to be as a grandparent. They drove 600+ miles to spend 24 hours with the boys. Saturday morning they took Alex to Target so they could get a sewing kit. One of his stuffed animals had a tear and required “groin surgery”.

Shani’s folks get it and they do it 100% right.

8) My life is divided into 2 seasons, baseball season and not baseball season, and there is a valve in my heart that opens up in April and then slides shut with the final out of the World Series.

This Saturday I sat in the sun at The Great American Ballpark and watched the Red and the Cardinals play. My son was next to me talking with his grandfather about Stan Musial. A few seats over, Alex was chattering away as he showed Shani and her mother photos he had taken of the game. I could smell the mucky spring scent of the Ohio River, which flows behind right field. I had a big, cold Bud Light and a bag of peanuts.

That valve in my heart was wide wide open.

It’s 2015. Play ball.

Reader’s note: The NuckolBall sports editor, Jack Nuckols, has now officially ranked the ballparks he has visited. That list will be coming this week.

Here are some photos from the weekend.

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Bad Language in the Dugout

Little league playoffs. Double elimination and Jack’s team had already lost once. It was do or die time. Potentially Jack’s last chance to get a hit this season. I’ve kept the score book all season and this time the head coach asked me to sit in the dugout. Alex joined me.

Two observations of note:

1)    The kids were amped up. They wanted it and they wanted it bad. This did not work to our favor. Kids swung at lousy pitches, struck out, and then slammed their helmets down in the dugout. I would say half the kids ended up in tears of frustration at one point during the game. Rough stuff.

2)    Baseball is second priority in the dugout. Top priority: putting stuff into their mouths. Every kid brought in something: sunflower seeds, big league chew, Bazooka gum. They are constantly trading, begging, swapping, denying, and above all stuffing all that garbage into their mouths. Look, I’m a born low-life, but this genuinely grossed me out. These kids are pigs. It’s like Halloween in there.

Some poor kid left an almost-full pack of Starburst on the bench when he went to bat. By the time he got back there were 2 left. I swear to God kids we’re eating them up while other crap was still in their mouths.

As to the game itself, ultimately they lost 8-4 in a really tight game. But the big question…did Jack get a hit? Well let’s start at week 2 of the season. I’m at the airport about to fly to SF for work and Shani calls.

“Jack said Coach Guy (not his real name) used the F word in the dugout.”

“Really?” I asked.

“He was kinda shaken up about it.”

Crap. By the holy laws of Dad-hood, I have to call Guy and talk to him about this. I didn’t know Guy well at all. I wrote him an email:

 —-

To: Guy@email.com

From: Mikenuck@yahoo.com

Guy – can you give me your phone number? I’d like to give you a call.

 —-

To: Mikenuck@yahoo.com

From: Guy@email.com

I think I know what this is about. My number is: XXX-XXXX

 —-

To: Guy@email.com

From: Mikenuck@yahoo.com

I’ll call you tomorrow. Just so you know, I’m not even remotely pissed off (just in case you were anticipating an annoying angry parent call).

 —-

I think that sent a good tone. When I got a hold of Guy, he apologized and we both laughed about it. At the next game he came up to me with a big smile and we shook hands. Oddly enough, the whole thing had actually made us friends. And for the record, Jack has had terrific fun this season and I like the coaches a heck of a lot.

OK…so back to Jack’s playoff game. First at-bat, he was facing the best pitcher in the league. This kid throws super fast and has an honest-to-God curveball.

Jack walked – but he took a couple swings. He hadn’t swung in weeks. This was an extremely good sign. Next at-bat, he walked again but even fouled off a couple of pitches. After Jack’s walk, they put in a new pitcher.

“I think he’s gonna get a hit,” I said to Alex, who was in the dugout helping me keep book.

Jack got up again in the 6th and final inning. This would be the last chance. Jack let the first 2 pitches go by without a swing. Then he took two balls. Then the third pitch comes in. Ump pumps his fist – strikeout. It was over. Hitless through the season.

“Shit!” I yelled. Then quickly I covered my mouth up. “Sorry, Alex,” I quickly muttered. Then I turned to my right:

Coach Guy was sitting right next to me with the biggest damn grin you’ve ever seen in your life.

Phillies Game Part 2 of 4: Team Analysis

Before we begin, let me remind you that I am a huge Yankees fan, and therefore loathe the Red Sox. They are my mortal enemy. Also note that my entire town including my younger son are Phillies fans. I genuinely root for them and consider them my second favorite team.

However, as Shani’s dad and I spent the game mushed shoulder to shoulder, deeply analyzing the game with our expert eyes, our conclusions were inescapable. We’ll begin at second base.

The Red Sox second baseman is Dustin Pedroia. As his pitcher winds up, Pedroia takes two quick steps forward and then springs into the air. Check out the photo.

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He times it so he’s landing just as the ball reaches the batter. That way he’s in motion and ready to spring whichever way the ball goes. Ball, foul, pop fly…it doesn’t matter that the ball gets hit to him only 5-8 times in a game. Every single pitch, Pedroia leaps into action.

Compare this to the Phils second baseman, César Hernández. He would stand in the field with his feet together and then just as the ball was pitched, he’d crouch slightly, halfway into a ready stance. A stark contrast to Pedroia’s bounce.

In the outfield, when a pop fly went between the center fielder and right fielder, the Red Sox center fielder would get to the ball. The right fielder would run so he was behind the center fielder for the catch. You’ll see this taught in little league. The idea is that if the center fielder misses the ball, the right fielder is there to back him up.

Now, sure, this is a professional ballplayer with a routine fly ball; there’s no way they’re going to miss it. Yet every single fly ball, the Red Sox did this. I didn’t see it once from the Phils.

In between innings, the Red Sox outfielders would spread out into a triangle and toss the ball around, firing hard straight throws.

The Phillies outfielder did the same thing expect they set up a much smaller triangle and their throws were slow, lazy arcs.

In the 6th inning, the Red Sox batter hit a long fly ball that was clearly going for a home run. Phillies right fielder, Delmon Young, trotted in the ball’s direction, watching it fly.

Except it WASN’T a fly ball. He misjudged it. The ball bounced off that wall and away from Young. His slouchy play turned a single into a double.

The exact same thing happened in the next inning on a fly ball that Phillies left fielder Domonic Brown clearly could have caught if he’d run.

The Phillies played like a team entitled to win. The Red Sox looked like a team taking nothing for granted.

These are clearly both teams in decline. Red Sox won the World Series in 2007 and the Phils won in 2008. They were both powerhouse teams. But now it’s 5 years later. They have aging stars and mediocre rookies. I’d say they each have about the same level of talent on their teams. But the way the teams approached the game was entirely different. It’s not a shocker that the Red Sox won the game 9-2.

Watching the Phillies play lazy baseball, I found it pretty tough to root for them.

Watching the Red Sox play tough, smart baseball, I found myself…not even close. It gives me hives just writing complimentary things about the Red Sox. Actually, I take it all back. They suck.

BREAKING NEWS: Jack Nuckols sets record

We interrupt our 4-part Phillies series to bring you an important update. The final game of the little league regular season was yesterday. Let me give you the play-by-play.

Jack had still not gotten a hit yet this season. To add to the drama, his grandparents were there to see the game. We were really hoping for that first hit to come.

2nd inning, Jack walked. This was not the normal case where Jack doesn’t swing out of fear. This pitcher was so wild Jack couldn’t have reached the ball if he had a 5-foot broom. Once on base, Jack stole second, stole third, and came home on a passed ball.

4th inning, Jack got up to the plate. This was the ideal pitcher. The kid was throwing slow, gentle rainbows. They might as well have been underhanded. Shani’s dad and I leaned in, rooting under our breaths (Jack has forbidden us from cheering).

“Come on, Jack,” I whispered.

“This is it, I know it,” said Shani’s Dad through clenched teeth.

Jack swung at the first pitch and missed. Second pitch was a ball. Another ball. Another ball. Count was 3 and 1. The entire crowd is rooting for him, especially his coach. Everyone wanted Jack to get that hit.

Next pitch came looping slowly in. Jack swings. Connects weakly. The ball dribbled down the third base line.

“RUN!” I screamed (couldn’t help myself).

“Go, Jack, go!” screamed his grandfather (he couldn’t help himself either).

Jack hauled ass and easily made it to first. The third baseman hadn’t even gotten to the ball by the time he was safe.

“Foul ball!” yelled the umpire. At the last second, the ball had rolled over the line into foul territory.

“Son of a bitch!” I muttered. The whole crowd made a collective “Aw” sound of disappointment. Shani’s Dad got up from the stands, walked a small, stressed loop and then sat back down again.

Next pitch: ball four. Jack walked to first base. No hit. Jack proceeded to steal second, steal third, and then come home on a passed ball. He did not get up to bat again.

It was a fun game and Jack made some nice plays in the field. His team won 9-5. It was hot as hell, so Shani and her folks left the minute the game ended. I stuck around as Jack’s team huddled around the coach for the post-game meeting. As Jack came out of the meeting he came up to me trying to hold back a smile.

“The coach just told me that I officially led the league in stolen bases,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“The coach just told me that. With all the bases I stole today I did it. I have the most stolen bases. The season ends today.”

Now just to be clear. The league does not track stolen bases. I keep the official score sheet for Jack’s team and I don’t record stolen bases. Jack is legitimately fast and has gotten pretty damn good at stealing bases. But it’s not something anyone is tracking. What had really happened was that Jack’s coach had delivered an act of coaching genius.

“Congratulations!” I shouted and hugged Jack.

We drove back to the house. Jack entered the living room and once again trying to keep his big smile in check informed Shani and his grandparents about his official accomplishment.

“HEY!” they all shouted. His grandmother hugged him hugely. His grandfather shook his hand.

“Let’s go out to lunch and celebrate,” Shani said. “You choose where we go, Jack.”

“Not right now,” Jack responded. “I’m not ready for lunch yet. I want to play some.”

It was over 90 degrees. But the boy went outside, put on his batting gloves and helmet. He then proceeded to the street in front of our house and began playing an imaginary baseball game. And I’m fairly certain that he was wreaking havoc on the base path against his imaginary opponent.

Phillies Game Part 1 of 4: Boy Management

I was explaining to Jack where I got the tickets.

“They’re from a guy I used to work with named Andrew. He’s a real-deal baseball fan.”

“Not more than me,” Jack replied.

“Actually, this guy might have you beat.”

“How?”

“He has a baseball bat autographed by 23 Hall of Fame baseball players.”

Jack frowned at that. He takes pride in being the biggest baseball fan on earth. He didn’t have a comeback to that bat.

Either way, we had 4 tickets to the Phillies-Red Sox game. As luck would have it, my in-laws were in town, so it was me, Jack, Alex, and Pop-Pop (my father-in-law — hereafter referred to as “Dad”). Boys trip to the Phils. We climbed in the car and headed for Philly.

We parked and walked to the stadium, got in and just made it for the first pitch. The seats were spectacular – first base side, 12 rows off the field. Perfect. Or so I thought. Turns out, we had some issues.

It was hot as holy hell. 96 and muggy. Worse off, the sun was absolutely blasting us in the face, which made it tough to see the game. Jack was behind two tall guys, so he kept standing up to see, which was annoying the hell out of the people behind him.

As for the game, each team was starting a rookie pitcher. That meant there would be lots of hits and lots of walks. We were in for a long night.

At the top of the 2nd, I looked over at Alex. The boy appeared dazed. As I looked him over, I thought about what he’d done that day…

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He’d had a school field trip where they hiked around a pond searching for bugs. This was 4 hours in the hot sun. From there he’d gone to a swim practice where he’d done laps for 90 minutes. Shani had rushed him home, put him into a Phillies shirt, handed him a slice of pizza, and threw him in the car for the game.

“Alex…let’s get a drink.”

“You said the 3rd inning.”

“I know, but we’re going now. Come on.”

Alex plodded slowly behind Jack and I as we climbed the steps up to the concession area. We got into a slow moving line. Alex was flopping against me. He leaned his face up at me and said:

“I’m not having any fun.”

Oh boy. Now we had a situation on our hands. Alex vs Jack. I totally understood where Alex was coming from. He’s hot, he’s bored, he can’t even see the damn game. And we’ve got 2+ hours to go. On the flip side, I’ve got Jack, who will throw an absolute shit-fit if we even suggest leaving early. My only way out was a spending spree to keep Alex entertained, which is brutal on the wallet.

“Excuse me, are they with you?” A man had come up behind me.

“What?” I bumbled. “Yeah, these are my boys.”

“Here.” The man handed me 6 tickets. “They’re concession vouchers. I can’t use them. Buy them some ice cream.”

“Wha…thanks!” He was gone. I looked down into my hand: I was looking at $30 in vouchers.

“Boys!” I shouted. “The baseball gods are with us!”

Lo and behold, they were. The boys each got Gatorade, I bought myself a beer, and I got a water for my dad. We went back to our seats. Alex sat on my lap and slurped down his blue liquid, perking up as he got re-hydrated. The sun sunk below the stadium wall so we could stop squinting. The temperature dropped.

A friend in Jack’s class called down to us. He was 6 rows behind us watching the game with his dad. The seats next to us were free and we invited them down to join us. In the 6th inning I took the boys to buy ice cream with the rest of the vouchers. By the 7th inning the Phils were down 7-2 and the stands were thinning out. The 3 boys scooted down to the front row. They spent the next half hour begging the ball girl to give them the next foul ball (that never happened).

My dad and I spent the rest of the game side-by-side. We could easily keep an eye on the boys and still focus on watching baseball. We were both too big for the chairs and our shoulders were mushed together. We watched every pitch and shared a running commentary on what we saw.

In the 9th inning they put up the “Flex Cam”. Jack began flexing his muscles for the crowd and suddenly there he was on the big screen.

“It’s Jack!” my dad spat out, leaping out of his chair and thoroughly mushing me in his enthusiasm and shock.

When the game finally ended, the boys rushed across the rows to the Phillies dugout in hopes of getting autographs. An old lady usher promptly shooed them away after making Jack tie his shoelaces.

So we headed out. The four of us walked together back to the car. The parking lot exit fed us directly out onto the Walt Whitman Bridge headed east. With sleepy boys in the back seat, we headed back to Jersey.

[Part 2 of 4 coming tomorrow(ish), where I’ll actually focus a bit on the game.]

Lyrics from Boston

First, let me get this out of the way: we did not go to Fenway Park. The forecast called for rain all weekend, and we’re going to the Phillies game Thursday night – so we decided we’d do Fenway for our visit next year. Now…let’s proceed.

Memorial Day Weekend and we were off to Boston. A road trip to visit my Uncle Bob and my Aunt Joan, two of my favorite people. As we headed out, we initiated a new variation on our “rock block” format.

In the past, each person got to pick 4 songs. Shani would take the request, search for the song on Spotify and play them individually. However, this time the boys created playlists on Spotify and took turns playing 4 songs randomly from their playlists. It worked out well.

Jack’s playlist includes Guns N Roses and rappers with aggressive-sounding names like “Pitbull.” Jack’s first song was “Welcome to the Jungle” and in the back seat he sang:

In the jungle, welcome to the jungle
Bring you to you knees-knees
Ooh! I want a watch you bleed.

Jack growled out the lyrics doing his best Axl Rose voice. I smiled when I looked at him in the rearview mirror, putting on his  warrior face. But as it turned out, Jack’s music choice was appropriate for the weekend.

He’s almost 10, and he’s beginning to slide away from being our sweet little boy. Sometimes we’re still his favorite people in the world to be around, but sometimes we’re not. On a dime, he can change into a pre-teen, constantly annoyed at being burdened by his family cramping his style. There were distinct examples of this behavior over the course of the weekend.

Halfway though the drive he started poking at Alex for taking gymnastics. Jack would declare that gymnastics was for girls and Alex would scream that it was not. Soon Alex was in tears of anger and shame. In spite of knowing he was right, he so looks up to his big brother. Jack’s words hurt him; Jack knew it too.

We spent the next day walking around Boston seeing the memorial for the marathon bombing and checking out the Make Way for Ducklings statue.

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Jack started begging to take the train.

“It’s too far to walk! I’m tired! I don’t want to walk around stupid Boston!”

His whining was loud and intense.

“This is so boring! Why can’t we take the train? I’m tired!”

I eventually cured this problem by beating him senseless with my umbrella.

However for every example of poor behavior, there were also moments of intense sweetness.

Jack did a project on family history this year, so Bob brought out a folder filled with genealogy. Bob had the entire Doran family tree on 16 printouts that Bob had taped end to end. Jack and Bob spread the family tree out over the floor. Side by side they crawled around the carpet together as Bob told stories of different relatives.

Sunday morning, Jack woke up before Alex. He popped out of his sleeping bag and climbed onto the bed. He burrowed his way under the covers between Shani and I.

“Spoons,” he cooed and squirmed tightly against Shani.

The final morning we were there, I sent him and Alex out into the hallway to have a rubber band fight (my uncle lives in a condo). We could hear their bare feet thumping up and down the carpeted hallway. A few minutes later, both boys skulked back in. Jack’s face was red.

“What happened?”

“Some lady came up and yelled at us,” he spat as he began to sob. “Why does she have to be so mean? It’s 10:46 in the morning! I wish a rubber band had hit her in the face.” Then he ran into the bedroom and pressed his face against the window, muttering with humiliation and anger.

Probably not the way Axl Rose would have handled the situation. I think Jack’s career as a badass might need some work.

Then there was Alex’s playlist. In contrast to Jack’s playlist, Alex’s was filled with Katie Perry and Taylor Swift. The explanation for this is simple: girls love Alex.

Alex is unbearably cute. 100th percentile. The girls in his first grade class have literally gotten into fights over which one is going to marry him. When we go to friends’ houses and there is a pre-teen girl, she will immediately snatch Alex up and run away with him to her room like she’s been given a new doll to play with. Grown women lean in to ask him questions and find themselves in long conversations with this articulate, irresistible morsel of a boy.

Last summer on the swim team, Alex was the pet of all the girls on the team. They were constantly playing Katie Perry and Taylor Swift and Alex was right there in the midst.

So Alex’s playlist was filled with sentimental girly songs about first heart breaks and teen love. Alex knows every word.

I think about summer, all the beautiful times
I watched you laughing from the passenger side
And realized I loved you in the fall

Hearing his little voice sing out these songs gets me choked up every single time.

Like his brother, Alex’s songs fit his actions over the weekend.

Alex was sweetness itself. He snuggled with my Aunt Joan as they colored the kids menu at dinner. Alex spent the entire train ride into Boston at Bob’s side hearing everything about how to read the train map and the different parts of the city.

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Watching Alex and Bob together took my breath away a number of times over the weekend.

We go to Boston every year and last year it was for Bill’s funeral. Bill was Bob’s husband and they were together for 40 years. This was our first Boston trip without Bill. It wasn’t sad though, which Bill would have appreciated. We actually had a great time. We had cocktail hour every night, drinking gin and tonics and eating bugles with clam dip. We took the Duck Tour and then walked around Boston. We grabbed lunch at a dark old Boston pub and had creamy creamy delicious-ass chowder.

But still Bill’s absence sat vaguely at the back of our minds. To me it felt like a strange nagging. It was like I had something I meant to tell Bob about, but just couldn’t remember what it was.

At cocktail hour Saturday night, Alex broke out the best lyrics of all. He’d written a song about Bill, “An Important Person”. With a tinny electric piano Shani had picked up at a garage sale, Alex performed his song.

He was a nice man
We loved him and
He lived in Boston
No, not Austin

He was important to me
He was important to we
His name was Bill
He lived near Beacon Hill

He was married to Bob
Loving Bill was his job
His funeral was in May
It was a very sad day

He was important to me
He was important to we
His name was Bill
He lived near Beacon Hill

From the first note, the room turned into a hug waiting to happen. Joan, Shani, Jack, and I seemed to fade into mere background; it was just Alex, Bob, and a hug, irresistible and profound. When Alex lifted his fingers off the plastic keyboard after the final note…

You know in action movies when the door of a plane gets blown open and the passengers all get sucked out of the opening? It was like that. Bob was the open door and Alex came flying across the room into Bob’s arms.

I will admit it is a bit odd that on a blog about baseball our family trip to Boston did not include the following lyrics:

Take me out to the ball game

We will set this right with our Boston trip next year. Instead, I’ll leave with lyrics from a song we sang at Bill’s funeral last year.

Oh, I can’t explain,
It’s surely not his brain
That makes me thrill –
I love him because he’s – I don’t know…
Because he’s just my Bill.

Phillies game Thursday. Full report to follow. Til then…