When M.A.S.H. played on primetime TV, my dad, Dr. Peacock, was in the prime time of his career – chief of surgery at Cafritz Hospital and a teaching doc at Howard U.
High priest at the hospital, his every word was gospel. Young doctors came to sit at his feet. Colleagues sent him patients they did not know how to treat. Nurses snapped to attention at his command. And grateful patients who could not pay, paid him homage — with bushels of crabs and crates of cantaloupes.
Bernard F. Peacock, Jr. (BFP, for short) was both brilliant and brash. Jesuit educated, he was top of his class – whatever that class might be. Insatiably curious, he consumed the news – reading three papers daily and the Wall Street Journal — just because. A voracious reader, he subscribed to the more scholarly book clubs – Penguin Classics and Heritage Historical, and the Book of the Month — just because. A musical dilettante, he’d spin the New Christie Minstrels just as soon as he would listen to Mozart or Mad, Madam Mame. Fastidious as a fox, he fussed over his attire and fiddled with his ties. Drop dead handsome, he rivaled the likes of Cary Grant – or maybe it was Rock Hudson — or at least, so he believed.
Being a doctor, of course, he worked doctor’s hours: weekends, holidays, Holy Days, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter – no exceptions. As a child it seemed to me he was always making rounds. And on very rare occasions, I got to go round with him and troop behind him – like an acolyte.
My father once told me, that there was nowhere he was more at ease, there was nowhere he was more relaxed than in surgery. He was most himself in the operating room.
Can you imagine that?
I thought him a miracle worker and a healer and I was in awe of him.
Not even Dr. Kildare could compare with the likes of Dr. Peacock.
Both grandiose and grand, at home my dad stayed up nights building short wave radios and practicing the piano. He was commanding and demanding, expecting the home front to function like the hospital. And to my father’s great disappointment, nothing was farther than the truth.
And all of us were – at least to some extent – a great disappointment to the good doctor. Sadly, most of all, my mom, Mary Lou.
The physician could not heal his own wife. He did not know how to cope with my mother’s illness – what we came to know as bipolar disorder. And so he coped very badly or he coped not at all. And it drove him mad.
A practitioner of the most compassionate of professions, my father could say the cruelest of things to the woman he loved. (And loved her, he did.) “God damn it, Mary Lou!”, was his most oft and mildest of refrains — so painful to recall, on the first anniversary of her death (in fact today, June 19th . God rest her soul.)
So God damned complicated, this Father’s Day weekend. So God damned complicated, for this Christian who signs herself in the name of “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”.
Is it any wonder I am prone to call upon my God as a SHE and not a HE?
Because of my dad, the doctor, I know what dysfunction is.
Because of my dad, the doctor, I know what it looks like to inflict pain on the ones you love.
Because of my dad, the doctor, I know just how sick one’s household can become.
And I know that I loved him. I loved him dearly.
Because of him I am a bibliophile. Because of him, I have the audacity to sing. Because of him, I buck authority. Because of him, I know that I am smarter than any man. And even as a kid, because of him, I knew that this little Roman Catholic girl could grow up to be any God damned thing, she could dream of.
Maybe even a doctor. Maybe even a priest.
And because of him, I am mad about M.A.S.H. And binge watching reruns on my couch, I realized that this is the homily I never got to give at his funeral.
So who was my dad?
He was Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, brash, and brilliant, and bold.
He was Colonel Sherman Potter, commanding and demanding, extremely knowledgeable, and sometimes wise.
He was Captain BJ Hunnycut, dedicated, driven, devoted to his work — and as best he could be — a family man.
He was Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester, pompous and arrogant, and truly the best at his profession.
Not quite as crazy as Klinger. Nor quite as compassionate as Father Mulcahy, he had all the sex appeal of Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan – a very handsome man, indeed.
He was Dr. Bernard Francis Peacock, Jr., my dad. And he ran for 78 seasons and went off the air in August of 2004.
Mad, mad, mad, and so God damned complicated, he was my dad. I loved him madly. I love him madly still.
Happy Father’s Day, dad, 2015.