Going out the door each morning when we were kids, my dad would remind us, “Remember you’re a Peacock!” Well with a name like Peacock, it is pretty hard to forget. It’s not a very common last name. When we went on vacation, we would always pull out the phone book in the motel room to look under the “P’s” to see if we had any long lost cousins we had never met. It made us feel special indeed when the Peacocks were few and far between. “Remember you’re a Peacock!” How could we possibly forget?
Dr. Peacock, my dad, packed an awful lot of pride into our family name. My dad was brilliant like Dr. Salk who conquered polio. My dad was handsome like Dr. Kildare. My dad was a doctor of fine arts; Salvador Dali etchings and a Winslow Homer painting hung on his walls. My dad was a master of music. On his reel-to-reel tape deck he’d play Mozart, Chopin, and the New Christie Minstrels. My dad was a gourmet who had to have lemon peel with his espresso and fresh oysters in his turkey stuffing. My dad was a voracious reader whose library was filled with classics, art books, and avant-garde novels. He was a tinkerer and a gardener. He grew roses and azaleas in our back yard. In our basement, he built short wave radios and puttered at his workbench.
He was also more than a bit like Felix Unger. Everything had to be spit and polished and squeaky clean. Dr. Peacock was exceedingly dapper in his tweed sport coats and wing tip shoes. He was more than just a little vain. The letter congratulating him on scoring 100% on his surgical boards hung prominently in our recreation room. On his bathroom mirror. he pasted a plastic label that read “You handsome devil you!” Modest he was not.
Father of six, however, my dad was no Dr. Spock. In many ways he raised us to become miniature versions of himself. Whenever we asked him a question, he would have us look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. When we wanted to know the meaning of a word, not only did we have to look it up in the dictionary, we also had to translate the word into French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin (or at least try to:)). When you let the tea kettle whistle too long, my dad would yell “Don’t they teach you any physics in that school I send you to?” Dr. Peacock believed that we could all grow up to be him – his daughters as well as his sons. And it was a great disappointment to him – that none of us ever did– become a doctor that is.
Dr. Peacock was also something of a Dr Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Chief of Surgery at Carfritz Hospital, the nurses thought he walked on water. Grateful patients thought him a miracle worker. At the hospital my father had everything under control. But at home not so much. Home wreaked of havoc. Chaos ruled. My mom’s moods made her spend way too much of my father’s money. My mom’s moods led her to steal my dad’s prescription pads. My mom’s moods meant sometimes we had Beef Stroganoff for dinner and sometimes Chef Boyardee. My mom’s moods meant sometimes all our clothes were clean and pressed and sometimes not.
But my father was also a man of unpredictable moods – and possibly bipolar himself. Dr. Jekyl became Mr. Hyde who hollered and screamed. Supposedly the stable one, he yelled obscenities and called my mother names. I was the third Peacock in a pack of six. As a middle child, I would cower in the corner and try to disappear.
“Remember you’re a Peacock” really meant that in public we had to pretend everything was perfect, while in private everything was actually coming apart. So all of us little Peacocks were supposed to walk around with our tails between our legs. And I did for as long as I could as best as I could. But being bipolar myself, it was really not in my nature.
I remembered I was a Peacock. Grandiose like my dad, I knew I was beautiful, brilliant and bold. I was at the head of my class all eight years at Holy Family School. I won awards for creative writing and public speaking at Immaculata Prep. I sailed over my senior year to start college early at Catholic U. I bucked the authority of both church and state. I trashed Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical on birth control in religion class. I skipped French and math on May Day of 1972 to protest a war I really did not understand. I remembered I was a Peacock and it saved me. I remembered I was a Peacock and I was resurrected.
The Peacock is an ancient icon. It is the symbol of resurrection to pagans and Christians alike. The Greeks dedicated the peacock to the goddess of the stars and sky. The soul of the poet Homer, Pythagoras said, lived in a peacock, so that his words would live forever.
Peacocks were said to have guarded the Gates of Paradise. In antiquity they were painted on the walls of catacombs and decorated Byzantine mosaics. The beautiful birds were woven into vestments. They shone through stain-glassed windows. Biblically and artistically speaking, peacocks at the manger foreshadow the empty tomb.
And St. Augustine, the 4th century Bishop of Hippo, preached the legend of the peacock’s incorruptible flesh — a sign of immortality. And it is a matter of fact — the beautiful birds lose their feathers in the autumn and regrow them in the spring. Peacocks — poignant reminders of both rebirth and resurrection.
So yes, I remember I am a Peacock. I remember that I am blessed to be a Peacock, a priestly and bipolar Peacock who celebrates and believes all this crazy bird represents.
So friends, do you remember who you are?