Mr. Smith Was My Father



I responded to a blog post comment the other day, and signed the response “Greg”. It was a heartfelt response, one that I felt needed to be from me as a person, not me as a doctor or writer or blogger or professional person. Just from me.

Another commenter noticed that and said something about what it must have been like to sign something with my name, and not “Dr. Smith”.

That made me think.

We sometimes use different parts of ourselves, different facets of our personalities, and even different names to interact with others as we move through the world.

We might put on the mother or father hat in the morning when getting our children ready for school, shouldering the respect due us as authorities in the early morning sunlight. By midmorning, kids long since gone out the door and us in our offices or cubicles somewhere across town or even in another city, we wear the professional mantle that marks us as bosses or partners or worker bees, slipping on those roles as easily as we don a familiar, slightly stretched knitted sweater.

By afternoon, we slide out of those warm garments and slip back out into the world, the easy weight of the workaday world behind us, and the coming dusk greying us and softening us around the edges. We are partner, friend, lover, and that takes us easily into the coming evening, deepening the world’s hold on us, drawing us back into the warm circles of light that begin to dot the landscape, as welcome as the blinking glow of fireflies on a summer’s night.

We are different then, somehow, with fewer connections, stronger, lasting or not, intense and white-hot as a welder’s flame, binding as a fetter and sharp as a steel blade.

Gregory E. Smith MD

Dr. Gregory E. Smith.

Dr. Gregory Smith.

Dr. Smith.

Dr. Gregory.




I am all of these.

They describe me clinically. They define me professionally. They mark me.  They allow others to connect with me, or to keep a safe professional distance.

Sometimes they choose.

Sometimes I choose.


Who are you?

What do people call you?




17 thoughts on “Mr. Smith Was My Father

  1. This should be fun and deep—–
    Jo–My mother couldn’t have another baby-so I was named after my father-than Joseph, my brother was born.

    Kathy, Sharon, Betty- I had to pick out a new name because when mother hollered JOE-the 3 Joes went somewhere else-and we all said “I thought you meant one of the others Joes.”

    Mary-That is the name that I wanted and chose. I found out that it was my maternal grandmother’s name. To me she was Grandma Weaver. My teacher had passed an ultimatime that I get a name-she never knew what to call me-and I often forgot if my name was

    Betty or Kathy that week.While I went through a dozen names or so, I just knew that I was not a Sally or Suzy.When my parents suggested Sally and Suzy, I stomped my foot and shrieked. They had my birth certificate modified to Mary.

    Yuki- Japanese for my maiden name. I grew up in Little Tokyo. There were many Mary’s, but very few Yukis. Now my brother lives in Japan, and he is ‘Yuki’. It is funny how we change positions and identities in life.

    Darling, Sweetie Pie, Honey– I don’t have to say more, but a Darling from a Southern man is special.

    Mrs.– I had that ring on and a sea bag to pack-I married a deep water sailor. I really didn’t know what I was getting into-that the sea was his first wife-and I gave birth to sailors that headed for sea like salmon.

    Mama, then Mom– I’m still that-the joys and trials change.

    Flaca—I moved to the deserts of the Southwest. For some reason, I was exceptionally thin. I was in the university Spanish dept. and somebody kept saying, Mary, Maria, and I didn’t see anybody I knew- then. “Flaca!” I did turn-and it was a neighbor kid that was now all grown up. I hadn’t seen him in about 15 years.

    Old Cowboy—Ray Wein, a big rancher in Wilcox, AZ gave me that, because like my
    Grandmother Mary, i have an ability with animals, and I know why a horse does something.


    Cuss word, Irish cuss word— My marriage of 37 years was breaking up. He missed his first wife-the sea. He tried to bully me, instead of sweet talking me. One day, I was walking down the street-and some very little kids came running up, and said, Good morning Mrs. cuss word Irish cuss word. Their mother came out apologizing. The children said, “mama that’s what her husband calls her, and you told us to call her Mrs. because her husband is mean.” I didn’t believe in divorce unless there was physical abuse. He crossed that line and drove off with a blonde younger than our youngest child. The neighbors found me on the floor, and I had to learn how to walk again. He left the blonde after a month and returned to the sea.

    Mary, Maria–I became a student to get Pell Grants so I could survive.

    Meyati—I was in a school computer class and had to find an Email name-Everything I tried was already taken. In frustration I used an old local Spanish patois for black-and rural Vietnamese patois for sweetheart. It’s a good avatar.

    Jeannie Marie–my persona as a university reporter. I started a tongue in cheek food review, which seemed to grow. Students would write letters to me, and ask my opinion on things.

    The Miss—Students had too much trouble pronouncing the Cajun last name, and I wasn’t just any Miss- After the first week of classes, the students would change their schedules to have compatible gang members in a math class. Sometimes I saw graffiti that said, “The Miss is like Hitler.”

    Now I’m Mom, Mary, and Grandma.-my coonhounds call me woof–


  2. My breast surgeon was the first physician I met after learning of my cancer diagnosis. He is the head of breast surgery at the cancer institute, has been a professor at several universities, used to be the head of the National Cancer Institute in Canada, etc. In other words, his c.v. is kind of impressive.

    He is the best physician that I have ever had and I’ve have some amazing physicians. Dr. Beatty knows his way around the O.R. but it also invested in all of the other aspects of doctoring–listening, patience, teaching, compassion, and most importantly, laughing at my jokes.

    He is personable, but has a somewhat formal demeanor. Dr. Beatty is a tall and fit man with excellent posture. He doesn’t talk about himself much. He does, however, respond to questions like, “Where are you going on vacation, Dr. Beatty?” From that question I learned that he is married with three adult sons and three young grandchildren. When I ask him about his grandchildren, he gives me a look like I just gave him the best Christmas/birthday gift ever. Then I hear a delightful story about a little kid and his/her grandpa.

    I had three surgeries from Dr. Beatty. Two lumpectomies followed by a mastectomy. Three surgeries in the span of six weeks. Everyone in the office was wonderful to me during one of the most painful and stressful times in my life. Shortly after I returned to work, I wrote individual thank you letters to Dr. Beatty and all of the staff.

    A few days later, I received a personal email from Dr. Beatty thanking me for letters. He told me that I was in his thoughts and prayers. He signed the email, “Hugs, David.”

    That email was an remains an amazing gift.


  3. Now this is a very very interesting post. As a woman with a PhD, who earned that “terminal” degree at a time when there weren’t all that many women with doctorates in the social sciences, I do tend to notice when and if I get referred to as “Dr. Gould.”

    Should come as no surprise that first in academia and then when I worked in state government, my male colleagues would immediately get addressed by title. Me? “Meredith…” And if I made a fuss, I was a bitch. Hoping that has changed for women with doctorates today who work in environments where those with PhD’s really are addressed as “Doctor” or “Professor.”

    Professional life is even more interesting when I’m around colleagues with medical degrees. “You are not a ‘real’ doctor.” “No, YOU are not a ‘real’ doctor.”

    Just recently I had a long conversation with my publisher about not putting “PhD” after my name on my new book because that might be off-putting to the intended audience, a large percentage of which would be clergy. “But don’t they use their honorifics, like ‘Pastor,’ ‘Father,’ or ‘Msgr’?” “Yes, but…” My book is by: Meredith Gould.

    All this is to say, I believe women have a different experience with all this stuff. Not being bitter. Just being sociological!


  4. And the greatest of these is “Doc” because it tells us most about who you are in total, the sum of all your parts. It implies skill, and not necessarily in medicine alone. It implies grace under pressure, cool when required, warmth when not. It implies accessibility, approachability, humanity. It implies wisdom. It tells us this is someone we can depend on. Someone we need to listen to. Someone we can share a joke with. Someone who cares about us–all of us. “Doc” is a title conferred by a grateful public, not earned in school. Rare is the doctor who can wear it well, or wear it at all. Keep on keeping on, Doc!


  5. No, not really, Doc, or better yet–just the facts, Jack! In a couple of years, I suspect you’ll look and act a lot like Milburn Stone playing Galen “Doc” Adams on the set of “Gunsmoke.”


  6. Too late for Festus, I’m afraid. I’ve already got the part: “Mr Dillion! Mr. Dillon! Don’t eat that! It’s paison, Mr. Dillon! Paison!” But Jibby-John (Festus’ cousin, I believe) is still up for grabs. Awww, stick with Doc, whydoncha? He always got a seat next to Miss Kitty!


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