What behavior earned Max the nickname "Kicker"? Why did he behave this way?
In chapter 1 of Freak the Mighty, readers meet Max. He is also the story's narrator. In the second paragraph of chapter 1, Max tells his readers that his day care teachers used to call him "Kicker." Max admits to readers that he used to say things with his fists and feet.
Called me Kicker for a time—this was day care, the year Gram and Grim took me over, and I had a thing about booting anyone who dared to touch me. Because they were always trying to throw a hug on me, like it was a medicine I needed.
Max goes on to explain that he knew the hugs were a rotten lie. The hugs weren't given out of love. They were given out of pity because Max's father killed Max's mother, and Max witnessed the entire thing. Instead of quietly accepting the lie and just tolerating the hugs, Max reacted violently and tried to fight off the fake hugs. Max tells readers that he even made a game of it.
Instead, what happened, I invented games like kick-boxing and kick-knees and kick-faces and kick-teachers, and kick-the-other-little-day-care-critters, because I knew what a rotten lie that hug stuff was.
The only person that Max never kicked with his kicking games was Kevin.
And for some reason little Kicker never got around to kicking little Freak.
On the very first page of Freak the Mighty, we learn that Max earned the name "Kicker" in daycare. According to Max, he would kick "anyone who dared to touch [him]." Without hesitation, Max would kick people who would hug him. Even as a child, Max could recognize that the hugs were "phony."
One reason why Max may have decided to react in this manner could be related to his unstable upbringing. He started day care when his grandma and grandpa took him in as their own - later, we learn that Max's father is in prison and his mother is dead.
From Max's perspective, the hugs were a symbol of pity. People felt sorry for him due to his situation, but Max didn't accept their pity.
The only person he never kicked in daycare, we learn, is Freak. In the first chapter, Max argues that this was due to the fact that Freak used crutches. However, if you trace the relationship between Max and Freak throughout the book, you notice that Freak is the one person who doesn't pity Max. Instead, he builds him to reach his potential, boosts his confidence, and becomes his best friend.