Baumhower: From Jerk to JackieWritten by Jeremy Baumhower | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I was raised in a family where the patriarch of my clan, my grandfather Pete, took it upon himself to rename or issue a nickname for every child, grandchild and great-grandchild. The nicknames range from “Terrible” for my Uncle Terry to “Stoshew” for my non-Polish cousin Joshua. Pete blessed me with the nickname of “Jerk-a-de-dimah,” but it’s been since shortened to simply … “Jerk.” Every person in our brood has one, with no exception. Pete never forces the nicknaming process, it just happens over time and they always stick. He rarely uses our given names.
Without trying or even wanting to, I have inadvertently carried this tradition on in my household. As the father of four, it’s sometimes hard to keep everyone’s names straight, especially when one’s voice is raised. I don’t remember at what exact age I started calling Mackenzie, my oldest daughter, “Ya-Ya,” but she was still a toddler. The word came from an evolved play on the word “Baba Booey,” from “The Howard Stern Show.” I have no idea why I started calling her this, it just stuck.
My almost 11-year-old daughter, Kacee, was only 5 or 6 months old when she was first called “Chucci.” My one planned child, who was born on a Friday night, Kacee came out of her mother’s womb and instantly owned that hospital room in Cincinnati. She was and still is so breathtakingly beautiful, but what made her stand out was her full head of dark curly hair and her oversized lips. The non-planned portion of my offspring all came into this world tow-headed and with little to no hair. Kacee has genetically inherited both my darker complexion and my crazy.
When Kacee was only 2 weeks old, her mom joined me in Philadelphia for a new job. It was the first time in my life that I experienced people and communities who were 100 percent purebred Italian or Irish, not part-this and part-that, as we Midwesterners tend to be. I used to hear my Italian co-worker call all his babies “Chuccis” and I loved his endearment behind the word. I was such a fan that I pulled a Jay Leno, stole the nickname, gave it to my dark-haired baby girl and the rest is history.
A funny thing happened the following year when I announced I was moving back home to Toledo. My now former co-worker had an honest moment and told me the actual translation of the word “Chucci.” Let’s just say its usage will not be a bullet point for my Parental Hall of Fame application. Yet the love I have for the word “Chucci” is equal to the little girl who proudly answers to it.
When my son Brady started playing baseball, I was asked to be the coach. When he made a mistake or an error, I would catch myself cursing his name and other words in various combinations under my breath. The game of baseball features beautiful colors on the field and more colorful words on the bench. My outbursts got louder and more booming and I needed to learn some new words, this world has no place for a cursing T-ball coach, nor should it.
This is the origin of my “Jackie.”
While Major League Baseball has No. 42, Jackie Robinson, the Sylvania Recreational T-Ball League in 2006 met its “Jackie” — via a tow-headed lefty named Braden “Jackie” Baumhower. The nickname “Jackie” was created out of necessity, a shortened public park-and-recreation-friendlier version of the word “Jackass.” It was easier calling my son “Jackie” than the choice words that were naturally forming in my mouth. If you have ever witnessed my coaching excellence, standing near third base with my booming voice yelling “RUN JACKIE,” you now understand.
It didn’t take long for the nickname “Jackie” to catch on, nor was it exclusive to one child. All of my children are occasionally and lovingly referred to as my “Jackies.” Numerous boys and girls I have coached have earned the affectionate moniker, I even had a former baseball team that named themselves “The Jackies.”
It’s mind-blowing how words and nicknames become a part of a family’s identity and dialogue; how a single moment of being a bad coach and possibly worse parent can enter the way you forever communicate with your family or those in your community.
The word “Jackie” was born out of my frustration with a 6-year-old’s inability to catch a pop-up and has now blossomed into one of the words I hold closest to my heart.
My grandfather “Pete” was legally named Merlin after being born during the Depression into a family with no money. As a show of thanks and in lieu of payment, the good doctor named him Merlin. The day after Merlin was born, his uncle came to visit and gave him a more fitting nickname. “He looks like a Pete,” he said. He has never answered to Merlin.
Only we as the human race have the power to create and/or change the meaning behind words and names we use. Pete has called me “Jerk” every day since I can remember. He took an ugly noun, spun it on it’s head and humorously filled it with love. It’s a skill set that he unintentionally passed on to me.
To every child I have ever called “Jackie,” I love you.