Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Our Father, Who Art Where?

My father, Dr. Peacock, God rest his soul, was a healer.

I was in awe of him.

Brilliant, like Dr. Salk who conquered polio; handsome as Dr. Kildare; a doctor of fine arts: Salvador Dali etchings hung on his walls; a master of music: Mozart spun on his turntable.  A gourmet, he insisted on lemon peel with his espresso and fresh oysters in the stuffing. A voracious reader of classics, art books, and avant-garde novels, his library runneth over.  He was a tinkerer and a gardener who  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. On his bathroom mirror. he pasted a label: “You, handsome devil you!” He bragged about getting 100% and acing his surgical boards.

Modest, he was not but he was marvelous in my eyes.

And when I was a child, I would pull wondrous instruments out of Dr. Peacock’s little black bag – the same things he would use to prod and poke us if we claimed we were too sick to go to school – the stethoscope to listen to your chest, tongue depressors to look down your throat, the little flashlight to peer into your ears, the little hammer to hit your knees.  Invariably he would pronounce us well, prescribe two aspirin and send us off to school.

(No wonder, I won the perfect attendance ribbon – many years running at Holy Family School.)

And my father was our family’s avid protector. A surgeon conscious of all kinds of calamity, he took extraordinary measures to keep his family safe.

our father norman rockwell painting

Long before seat belts were standard in American cars, my dad had “safety belts” installed in ours. If he discovered you were not wearing it, he would swear and pull over to the side of the road and go nowhere until we had buckled ourselves in.

Long before smoke detectors, my house had fire alarms and we quite literally had fire drills.

In a time when only banks were wired for burglary, so was our home in Hillcrest Heights.

In my house, we had no ashtrays. Smoking was forbidden– protecting us both from fire and from lung cancer.

Firearms – even BB guns — could not get through our front door. My dad, the surgeon had stitched up and lost too many young men on his operating table in Southeast D.C.

He wouldn’t even let us twirl sparklers on the Fourth of July – in case we might burn our little hands!

Does this remind you of your father? Or a grandfather? Or a step father – who stepped up when your own wasn’t there? Or a godfather – who guarded  you under his  wings?

Who loves you so much, that they would want to catch you before you fall – “lest you dash your foot upon a stone”?

Fathers, of course.

But even the best of fathers cannot save us from ourselves.

We fall, we scrape our knees, we crash the family car. We make bad choices, ingest things we shouldn’t, and head down the wrong path. We fail, we drop out of school, get in trouble with the law. Selfish and self – centered, we don’t realize the havoc we create in other’s lives. Quick to blame others but not ourselves.

Nor can even the best of fathers save us from the muck and the mire of this world.

Life itself is a risky business. The world is a dangerous place.

Every day, when we head out from home to work or school or wherever – we assume that we will return safe when the day is done.

We assume that everyone will stop at red lights.

We assume the food we eat is safe and the water we drink is free of lead.

We assume that everyone will follow “the rules” – whatever the rules may be.

And that the bad guys are all behind bars.

And we take for granted our safety and security and those who serve to protect us,

with a fatherly care (be they male or female).

We take for granted the safety and security in our own backyard.

Bad things happen in Manchester, London, Tehran, Aleppo,

And Lord almighty, even in Portland.

BUT…

Not in Del Ray with the “Kindness” signs in everyone’s yard.

Not here on the baseball field,

Not here in our own backyards.

But it did. On Wednesday, June 14th it did. And all of our assumptions were shattered.

Even the Heavenly Father, God almighty, maker of heaven and earth, was not able to deliver us, this neighborhood of Del Ray, this city of Alexandria from violence, from danger, from fear.

At least not in the way, we would like God to.

To swoop down from heaven and make this all go away. To rescue us. To save us.

But as Christians, we believe in a God, a Heavenly Father who did not save his own Son. We believe in a God who did not rescue his own Son from the Cross.

There is no Deus ex Machina. There is no miraculous divine intervention.

But there is redemption.

Because out of fear, God brings forth courage. Out of pain, healing. Out of death, life. Out of suffering, joy.

Our Father, who art in heaven,

can bring out the father in all of us,

to reach out and care for one another,

look over and protect one another,

to love our neighbors as ourselves,

whoever our neighbors might be.

So, let us pay, today, this week, this month, to discern a way to turn this tragic story upside down – to turn it into a redemption story. And borrowing the words attributed to St. Francis:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not seek so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

JoaniSign


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Mad about M.A.S.H.

MASH cast goodbye farewell amen

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen

My dad, the M.D., was mad about M.A.S.H. This surgeon was crazy in love with the show about surgeons.

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.

JoaniSign