My dad was big on nicknames. Each of us kids had at least one, sometimes more. I was “Beep.” Jenny was “Jenny Penny,” later “Jenny-O.” We both sat squarely in the middle of the nickname spectrum between Humdrum and Humiliating. My brother, on the other hand, didn’t get off that easy. Ready for it? Keeble Beeble Bumble Bee. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. It’s worth repeating: Keeble Beeble Bumble Bee. And whenever he tortured me (which was often), I’d enjoy calling out in a singsong voice when his motley gang of misfits and hellions were assembled in our front yard (usually playing football; often throwing the ball straight at my head whenever I happened by), “Oh, Keeeeeeeble Beeeble Bumble Beeee…. Mom wants you!”
My dad attracted labels as effortlessly as he gave them, for sure. He had multiple upon multiple nicknames; a list that we recorded with wipe away marker on the board in his hospital room during that last week and that Keith recited during his memorial service last year. Names like Professor, Dr. O, Diddy, Daddy-O, Jet Propulsion, PUF, Passionate Pussy Cat, Johnnykins, Poppa, Pops, Champ, and, my favorite, Johnny Rocket.
When we were kids, the nicknames he gave us were cringe-inducing. Now I think we each treasure them; I know I do. No one has ever called me Beep except my dad and, while many things are lost to me these days, the sound of his voice saying that silly, childish name is locked away in my head and rings clear as a bell when I need it.
Thinking about my brother and his nickname and those hot summer days when his gang gathered in the yard awaiting his instructions for that afternoon’s activities (Ride bikes or play football? Take the bus to the Gainesville Mall and scrounge change for an Orange Julius or rummage around the construction site down the road past the culdesac?) makes me want to share this letter I wrote for him recently when he was renewing his broker’s license.
“To Whom It May Concern,
It’s my pleasure to offer this letter of reference for my brother, Keeble Beeble Bumble Bee. (NOTE: No, I didn’t really use his nickname in the letter.)
For as long as I can remember, KBBB’s response to any family member expressing the need for a service of any kind (be it emergency plumbing, washing machine repair, yard work, car maintenance, even dog care) has been “I know a guy who…” This response is so common that it’s become a family joke of sorts; a source of endless ribbing that KBBB has accepted graciously. But, as with most family jokes, it’s rooted in an inarguable truth: my brother is someone you can turn to for any sort of solution and he’s someone to whom people of all walks of life gravitate towards; he truly does know a lot of guys who. Even more remarkable: they all show up when he calls.
When he asked me to offer this written reference on his behalf I spent a bit of time thinking about why that is; why does my brother’s mental rolodex rival that of most anyone I know? Sure, he’s friendly and he takes the time to ask people questions about themselves which serves to ingratiate them to him more quickly and lastingly than most. And yes, he’s spent his life learning many skills himself, which means he speaks the common language of many many tradesmen. Both of these reasons certainly contribute to the phenomenon, but there’s more to it and I believe I know what it is: his character. KBBB is someone whose words are backed up by action. When he tells you something (whether he’s offering advice and guidance or simply recounting his day), you take him at his word because his word, every time, is honest and true. He builds lasting relationships because he has integrity and he insists that he himself live up to the same standards that he looks for in others: a strong work ethic, generosity towards all, no dishonesty in negotiations, and unwavering follow through (you made a promise? You better keep it.). People gravitate towards him because he exemplifies all of these character traits and, in turn, he brings them out in others. What’s more, he inspires loyalty in his friends and associates and spurs them to want to help when needed because they know he’ll always do the same for them.
I respect and admire my brother immensely. He inspires me daily and I couldn’t be more proud to offer a strong recommendation for him to your organization.
It’s a pretty great exercise, sitting down to write a letter like this for someone close to you. Someone you’ve known your entire life; someone who can sometimes frustrate you and drive you up a wall and down again. But when you really think about who that person is; when you take a few to really really think about it… Well, you remember that that person is your hero, your coach, your partner in crime, your conscience, and someone who makes you say to yourself often and clearly: I want to be better tomorrow than I am today.