Do other people have a nickname they got in their youth that is still used by family members today? One they might be embarrassed about, but that they are also secretly pleased to own? Mine is Robin. How did I come to have that special family name?
After I was born and my mother and I were still in the hospital, the nurses would bring me to her to feed. My mother said that I was so eager to eat and puckered my waiting mouth in such a way that it reminded her of a baby robin in a nest. So she started calling me Robin, as a diminutive of my given name Robert, which was also my father’s first name.
She liked it and used it all the time I was growing up. So all the other members of the family came to use it, too. I was grandson Robin, nephew Robin, cousin Robin, Grace’s son Robin. And it extended to friends of the family and neighbors, too. I was Robin all over the place, until I started school.
From that point on, I was Bob to my teachers and classmates. Robin was reserved for home and family use only. I remember being in high school and having my mother come to school for conferences with teachers and guidance counselors. I lived in mortal fear that she would slip and call me Robin. But she was unerring when it came to my name.
We could be walking down the hall and she would say to me, “Now, Robin, what’s the name of your guidance counselor?” When we entered the office, she would say to the counselor, “I’m glad we have this opportunity to talk about possible college choices for my son Bob.” It was as though she was bilingual and was equally fluent in Robin-speak and Bob-speak, and could slip effortlessly between them.
Because of my parents’ divorce, I lost contact with all of my father’s family members, most of whom lived in Michigan. That lasted for 21 years, from when I was 14 to when I was 35. When my father and I were finally reconciled and I visited him in Michigan – Bob Poczik: husband, father, worker, homeowner, church member – I was immediately greeted by everyone – aunts, uncles, cousins – as Robin. It was as though I had not aged a day since I was 14. My long-lost family took me once again into their hearts. I loved laying aside my adult persona and responsibilities, and just being Robin again.
Nowadays, as I age and there are fewer family members alive who still call me Robin, I cherish each of them. Whenever we speak by phone, I always naturally say, “Hi, it’s Robin,” and letters and cards are always signed, “Love, Robin.” But to the world at large, phone calls begin, “Hi, it’s Bob,” and letters and cards are signed, “Bob.” I, like my mother before me, am fluent in Robin-speak and Bob-speak.
Looking back now, I can still remember clearly how it felt when I was 14 years old and my mother remarried, my brother Bill and I came out of foster care, and the four of us lived together in our new home. I did not have many prospects, yet was so eager to experience the larger world. I dreamed of travel to far-off places, with no sense of how I might ever come to fulfill those dreams.
Nowadays, whenever I am about to set off on a trip to Japan, China or India, I say to myself, “Well, Robin Poczik, you are truly seeing the world.” That young boy, that Robin, full of dreams, who still lives inside me, grew his pair of wings and learned to fly.