‘Doug can do things that seem impossible’

Kendra Davis

 The first time I met Doug Petock, he called me a “purple monkey dishwasher” for no apparent reason. The following time, he signed his e-mail “Obi Wing,” just because. He began our 90-minute conversation by reciting the first 10 lines of the “Odyssey” in an Anglo-Saxon accent. He ended it by informing me that throughout our phone conversation he had been plummeting down the “misty mountains of Colorado,” which explained the excessive wind in the background.

Why does he do these things? Many students have tried to answer that same question and have given up. Instead, they generalize that his eccentricity is entertaining, which is why Doug Petock, affectionately known  as “Mendel Doug” due to his repeated spotting outside of Mendel Hall, is perhaps the fourth most renowned name at Villanova University, behind Jay Wright, Scottie Reynolds and Father Peter Donohue, O.S.A. Beyond his frequent light saber attacks on helpless passersby and adoption of various accents, it seems as though everyone has a “Mendel Doug” story worthy of telling incoming classes. But comical incidents do not make someone a topic of discussion year after year.

So what is it, really, that makes the 29-year-old alumnus so famous across campus, particularly since he graduated three years ago?

“Doug has always been unique,” says his father, Michael Petock. “I don’t think there’s anyone else like him. There’s nobody in our family like him.”

While Doug may be unique in the Petock household, perhaps one heroic person had a slightly similar lifestyle. 

Since his ACS professor allegedly called him “the Odysseus of Villanova,” Petock has likened certain stages of his life to a series of epic battles fought alongside his gallant comrades, or, as we would call them, his friends. But, despite his shoulder-length locks, stocky build and grizzly facial features that certainly fit the mold of Odysseus, he is only half serious when he speaks of the “crew of the Iliad,” the “defenders of the Alamo,” “the physics league unlimited” and, most recently, “the legend of the yeddiman” that help him fend off the ongoing battle of life which he calls “the Psylock wars.”

Even his light saber was originally purchased as a goof, and he only began carrying it around because two astronomy majors whom he calls Siegfried and Roy attacked him on the “only day” that he didn’t have his.

Underneath all the jargon of warfare and “Star Wars,” however, Petock has always been on a quest for “acklessness,” which he says is “the only thing keeping me alive these days. It’s like recklessness but with slightly less probability of death.”

Yet his journey began long ago, and thus far it has been successful.

From a young age, Petock always had “a love of the ocean above everything else,” according to his father.

He swam competitively for the Valley Forge Country Club Swimming League, but he was happiest on his catamaran and soon became “an avid ocean-kayaker,” his father said.  No matter the conditions, Petock was out at sea, oftentimes departing from his family’s summer home in Ocean City and traveling to popular areas like Atlantic City and Cape May. His father recalls one particular time when his youngest child was out virtually all night, resulting in a call from his neighbors and a Coast Guard search that involved a helicopter.

Since then, Petock has been known to brave hurricanes for the thrill of kayaking in the roughest of waters and drop from the top of what he calls “major waterfalls.”

During his Villanova years, Petock fulfilled his need for thrills by being an instrumental member of the rugby and water polo teams, partaking in several forms of martial arts and studying physics with his professors, a branch of science which he calls “the only worthwhile major.”

According to Edward Sion, one of his favorite professors, Petock “has in-depth knowledge of many subjects. He would ask very astute questions in class, which reflected how well he understood the material. I think this often stimulated the other students to think more about it as well.”

The two have plans to travel to Antarctica to study the Dim Sum Paradox, which Petock describes as a search for meteorites on snowmobiles.

He is also hoping to turn his oceanic interests into a business, as he has designed a line of surfing kayaks which he has pitched to several companies. Atop that, he and his team, which he defines as “a farm boy and a few others,” are trying to make a movie called “The Psylock Wars.”

Perhaps most impressive, however, is his recent acceptance as a patent agent for the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office, a position which will allow him to prepare and prosecute patent applications for inventors that approach him. A while back, his dad urged him to take the exam for the position and helped him study for it. Soon thereafter, his son passed the exam, which has only a 35 percent pass rate on the first try.

Given Petock’s family history, his success is hardly unprecedented. Currently, his father and brother own a law firm for which his mother is the secretary, and his sister is a lawyer at a different firm. Michael Petock attended both law and medical school after graduating first in his class at the Penn State University College of Engineering, a feat which Michael Petock speculates drove his son to initially attend that university. Doug Petock lasted half of a semester and managed to finish one course, skiing, before realizing that it wasn’t for him.

“Villanova was a godsend [for Doug],” his father says. “He developed some really great friendships there.”

Later in his life, Michael Petock became a Navy engineer for submarine location devices during the Vietnam War, and he was a big-wave surfer in Hawaii.

“He’s pretty much freakin’ awesome,” Doug Petock says, and the feeling is mutual.

“[My wife and I] have confidence that Doug can do things that seem impossible,” Michael Petock says.

Yet the triumphs of the Petock family do not stop there. Petock was recently in Florida, where his cousin’s wedding was being covered by the New York Times because, instead of planning her wedding, Liz Gregg, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Miami, went down to Haiti the day after the earthquake and didn’t return until the day before she had to walk down the aisle. While her efforts in Haiti and research in disaster relief were supposed to be the emphasis of the piece, her cousin managed to be in the center of the picture, which was blown up and printed in the newspaper. 

“Somehow he still always seems to be in the center of attraction,” his father says.

Hardly anyone would dispute that statement when it comes to “Mendel Doug.”

He is often recognized for his annual participation in the Wing Bowl, a day which brings him less and less excitement because “the wings are not even hot. They’re barbecue, and not even good barbecue,” he says. “I don’t know why they do that. They should make them hot — it would make heat training a whole new element.”

He is also defined by his ability to party like one of the main characters in “Animal House,” or perhaps by his grand entrances.

“One had to adapt to his classic arrivals into the classroom, culminating in a thunderous somersault,” Sion says.

Others remember Petock by the way he interjects his sentences with “alas” in the same way that the average teenager interrupts every third word with “like.”

Yet none of these characteristics truly reflect Doug Petock. He is defined only by the fact that one cannot define him beyond that he is someone who has an acute sense of self. He believes he has garnered fame here on campus for that reason.

When asked to give advice, he rambled off some quotes from Jimmy Buffet, Buddhism, Indiana Jones and his religion  —  the Church of Surf Catholic-Jedi.

He noted that, in addition to fighting the Psylock Wars, “I was always fighting against monotony. That’s what your light saber is for. You gotta freak out these squares. Shake it up.”

A sort of modern-day epic hero, he continued. “Our lives change like the weather, but a legend never dies. If I am truly this symbol, then take up my call. My call is to do —  it’s all about acklessness. It was never about the money for us. It was about those dead souls inching along the freeway in their metal coffins. This Villanova and this world is an uncertain realm, filled with evil. Honor undermined by the pursuit of power and conformity, freedom sacrificed when the weak are oppressed by the strong and dingles may try to enforce their way of gayness. But there are those who oppose these powerful forces, who dedicate their lives to physics, honor and freedom. We’re here to show them that the human spirit is still alive, so stop being a freakin’ doucher.”