It’s Time To Get Over Birthdays

 Posted by on September 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm  Season 4
Sep 082010

“By the way, you are twenty-something years old. It’s time to get over birthdays.”

Birthdays have always been important to me. I grew up in a family that is very pro-birthday. We’re big on cards, got the top rated cool stuff for presents, and just generally making the day special for the birthday person.  Although birthdays don’t necessarily have to be an elaborate celebration, it’s nice to do something to celebrate the day. You get only one a year, so you might as well make the most of it.

Hearing Don’s negative attitude towards birthdays was disappointing, although not really so surprising. Growing up the way he did, I don’t expect that birthdays were a special or joyous occasion in his home. Once he got married though, I have no doubt that it was very different. I am certain that Betty and the children made a big deal about his birthday. And we saw that Don was a big part of Sally’s elaborate birthday celebration in Season 1, so evidently Don does think birthdays are worth celebrating for children. He just thinks adults should “get over it.”

But, when you have people that care about you, they will try to make the day special for you, no matter how old you are. Don probably had nice birthdays when he was married, but now that he’s living alone, it’s a different story. I don’t know what month his birthday is, or if it’s occurred yet in 1965. It’s not hard to picture it though. Don sitting alone in his dark apartment, drinking. Or maybe working late at the office. Possibly Roger would want to take him out for a drink–maybe Don would go, maybe he would make excuses. Besides Roger, does Don really have any friends? It doesn’t seem so.

It’s hard to say how much of his attitude is based on his current status and how much of it is based on his general views. Don avoids sentimentality when he can. We already know he doesn’t believe in mourning. He tried to get Betty to steer clear of it when it came to her parents, and I have full sympathy for her in that situation. (And I feel sorry for him.) How can someone who never knew his real mother and never loved the people who raised him (or got love from them) empathize with someone who truly misses her parents?

To bring it back to birthdays, he just doesn’t understand. He thinks birthdays are something adults should forget about, maybe even block it out. This type of thinking is sad. Celebrating a birthday means that you are taking a day to remember that yes, you are here. You are alive and your life has meaning. There are people who love you and want to acknowledge it. It doesn’t have to be a huge party, but I think for many of us, there is at least one person who calls us, or e-mails us, or buys us a present or a piece of cake, or takes us out for dinner or a drink. Someone who reminds us that we are special, and we should enjoy this.


  49 Responses to “It’s Time To Get Over Birthdays”

  1. Plus every time Don remembers his birthday he probably has to decide whether he’s celebrating Don Draper’s birthday/age…or Dick Whitman’s.

  2. The simplest explanation is that Dick is forced to celebrate Don’s birthday and on that day he is always reminded of his imposter status. He — and Adam and perhaps Anna Draper — were the only ones who knew Dick’s actual birthday, which is also the same date as Dick’s mother’s death. He can’t celebrate his 2 birthdays on any level.

  3. In Episode 1 of Season 3, Don told the flight attendant he was with at the Baltimore hotel that it was his birthday. This was some time in the spring, March or April, of 1963.

    As to how old Dick/Don is is another matter. He or his doctor, I can’t remember which, mentioned during his physical in the first episode of Season 2 that Don was 36. This was supposed to take place in February of 1962–a month or two before his birthday (which we wouldn’t know about until the Hotel incident in Season 3). However, later on in that same Season 2, and well past what would have been his 37th birthday, he tells someone else he’s 36. Of course, since he’s been lying for years about who he is, I suppose there’s no reason to believe he’d be telling the truth about his age!

  4. I’m reminded of the episode last season in which Don and Sal go to Baltimore (or was it Boston?) to see the London Fog people. Don knows people are over-sentimental about birthdays and uses that knowledge to get laid when he tells the stewardess he met night* that it’s his birthday. When she asks to see his ID Don replies, “that wouldn’t do you any good” or something to that effect.

    I think what he meant with that line is that it was Dick Whitman’s birthday, not Drapers, so the date on the ID would be different. He probably hasn’t had a genuine birthday in 20 yrs, and maybe is slightly jealous of those who do (and have people to share it with).

    *This is, in my opinion, the best-looking girl Don’s been with the whole series, Betty included.

  5. I wonder if Don was just lashing out out of fear and anger. Remember, when he was in Baltimore with Sal in the first episode of season 2, he told the airline stewardess that it was his birthday. His birthday was obviously important to him in that moment, and likely is. It’s just another of those intensely private things that he has trouble sharing with anyone meaningful.

  6. Speaking only from my own personal experience, I think it has something to do with how one grows up. My grandfather grew up dirt poor during the Great Depression and has no use for birthdays, and thinks the celebration of them is ridiculous (we have to call his birthday parties something else in order to get away with having them.) His first wife (my grandmother) grew up in the upper middle class and made much more of a fuss for birthdays. Consequently, birthdays are important (though not excessively so) for my mom. My dad, like my grandfather, grew up dirt poor and doesn’t really care about birthdays, or least the celebration of them. He does see every year he ages as a triumph, he was quite proud of turning 50 and 60.

    I’m somewhere in the middle, I like to do something for my birthday but nothing huge. I’m not big on parties so a nice dinner with people I care about is good enough for me.

    Don/Dick likely grew up in a culture (much like my grandfather) where birthdays were not really celebrated. Add to that the fact that he wasn’t much liked in his own home so I doubt anyone ever really took note of his birthday while growing up. And now there’s the whole stolen identity issue to confuse things.

  7. That Don expressed a negative attitude toward birthdays didn’t surprise me, although it also wouldn’t surprise me if he’d LOVE to get to a point where he could celebrate his real birthday with loved ones — something he’s almost certainly never done.

    I don’t imagine that growing up, his Depression-era, poor family made a big to-do over the day that Archibald’s bastard came to live with them. And once Dick became Don, he’d have to “celebrate” Don’s birthday (which is most definitely the one on his official IDs). I’m sure Betty made a big to-do over Don’s birthdays, but that just underscored that she really didn’t know Don/Dick, or even when his real birthday was.

    I agree w/ the previous poster that birthdays are indeed important to him, but that due to circumstances he’s never been able to even acknowledge his real birthday with anyone (except maybe Anna).

    And maybe he was a bit (probably unconsciously) jealous of Peggy, who had the opportunity to share her birthday surrounded by her loving (but flawed; whose isn’t?) family. (Talk about the grass being greener — celebrating her b’day w/ her family was the last think Peggy wanted!)

  8. I’m thinking this episode actually takes place somewhat close to Dick Whitman’s birthday…if Episode One, Season Three took place in April, and this one takes place in May, then it’s only a month or so after Don/Dick’s birthday.

  9. Um…excuse me—Sally’s birthday was a piece of crap for Don, and not to mention the Betty. He drank his way through building the playhouse and barely pulled it off. He bailed to escape a nagging and jealous wife. He picked up a dog that he somehow scrounged after making a false promise of a pony.

    What birthday were YOU watching?

    Note: Please watch your tone – we do moderate comments here and even if you disagree, it needs to stay respectful. Thank you.

    As for the pony, I don’t think even Sally thought that was serious.

  10. Dick Whitman’s birthday had just passed without any acknowledgment from anyone, obviously.

    My husband is in the “get over it” camp as far as birthdays are concerned. He refuses gifts, shuns cake and kind of pouts if anyone makes mention that he is another year older. As a middle child of six children growing up poor, birthdays were less than special during his childhood and he doesn’t want anyone to fuss over him now that he’s an adult. I’m sure Dick/Don feels the same and assumes that other adults should, too. That exchange with Peggy was, sadly, very true to his character.

  11. I’m with Pete on this one. I think Don obviously could see that children’s birthdays were something other people placed a lot of value on, but it looked like he felt the whole thing was a hassle at best.

  12. How much of the immolated Draper’s identity did Dick Whitman take on? What documents?

    Does anyone know? Any speculation?

    Dog tags for sure. SS Number? Driver’s License? Birth Cert?

    The last three would put him older than Dick – by a number of years.

  13. # 7 JoanBetty:

    No doubt #26 was (will be) the most significant birthday Peggy ever had (will have). An intense night like that – blows away damn near any planned celebration.

  14. Birthdays in our household are week long events. They always start with a Sunday brunch the weekend before and continue through the birthday to the following weekend. But that’s a modern interpretation: I’m sure back in the 1960s that would have been considered excessive.

    Don doesn’t seem to like holidays or occasions all that much. He doesn’t want a fuss made because then he’s required to reveal something, like a memory, and Don doesn’t like being specific.

  15. Don’s dislike of birthdays will have been solidly validated by now. His own marks his mothers death, his official b’day isn’t his own but a dead man’s, and Peggy’s is the same day as the death of his only real friend. Good times.

  16. Good points about Don vs. Dick’s birthday. Also, good catch #4 and everyone else who mentioned about the stewardess. I had forgotten about that.

  17. JoanBetty (#7): “And maybe he was a bit (probably unconsciously) jealous of Peggy, who had the opportunity to share her birthday surrounded by her loving (but flawed; whose isn’t?) family. (Talk about the grass being greener — celebrating her b’day w/ her family was the last think Peggy wanted!)”

    I wondered about that too. Peggy mentioned to Mark that her family drives her crazy, and I can see it with her mother, but Peggy’s sister Anita has been really sweet lately. Between her support over Peggy’s move to Manhattan last year and her encouraging comments to Mark the other night (however misguided), she has come a long way from her resentment of Peggy in Season 2. Seems that talk with Father Gil helped immensely.

  18. Melissa (#11): “I’m with Pete on this one. I think Don obviously could see that children’s birthdays were something other people placed a lot of value on, but it looked like he felt the whole thing was a hassle at best.”

    I agree about the hassle, although I also felt that Don’s main concern was wanting to escape from the group of adults assembled. He has mentioned to Betty about not liking Carlton much and he seems rather ill at ease whenever he finds himself in the midst of a group of suburban husbands/dads. He prefers to be behind the scenes, which is probably why he seemed the most comfortable when he was filming everyone else at the party.

  19. Could be the whole Dick vs. Don birthday bugs him…could be he grew up dirt poor and so birthdays were not a big deal to him…but it could also be that is a “work first” kind of guy, who is not necessarily opposed to birthdays, but when there is work to be done, thinks a 26 year old should do her job rather than worry about going to her birthday party. I have worked for people like this in the past (and come to think of it, may have become one of these people myself.)

  20. Brenda (#14): “Birthdays in our household are week long events. They always start with a Sunday brunch the weekend before and continue through the birthday to the following weekend. But that’s a modern interpretation: I’m sure back in the 1960s that would have been considered excessive.”

    Wow. I think that’s a little excessive in the 2000s! I just don’t know anybody who celebrates birthdays to that extent, not that there’s anything wrong with it.

  21. This doesn’t really add to the discussion, but my own 26th birthday (just last January) parallels Peggy.

    In the days leading up to my birthday, I mentioned the date to my 40 y/o boss, who remarked that in a couple years, I’ll forget my own birthday and stop celebrating it. I’m not even that into birthdays to begin with. (I pumped my fist when Don said “It’s time to get over birthdays.”) I prefer them to be low-key and definitely NO gifts. When my birthday rolled around two days later, my boss conveniently forgot and kept me working late (although only an hour and I didn’t miss dinner with two close friends). Just another parallel between Peggy and me (the other being that we both had a thing for Duck and Pete).

  22. Birthday parties are for kids. Adults having elaborate celebrations, or any kind of celebration, really, beyond a “oh, hey, happy birthday then” is a modern invention, much later than 1965. The only persons expected to celebrate a grownup’s birthday were his or her children, and even then, it’s really for the children, not the parent. But then, much of life today is childish, a return to childhood. Grownups patronize cupcake shops. Don wouldn’t even know how to process a cupcake shop.

    Note also that Peggy was far better off staying away from her birthday party, with her drip of a boyfriend sucking up to her fossilized family behind her back. Peggy’s like Don: satisfaction is something that comes from work. This is corporate America; Don works 80 hours a week, and if Peggy wants to get where Don is (and she does) she’s going to have to work 80 hours a week too. That’s not going to leave a lot of time for birthdays — or hanging out with the downtown arts crowd.

  23. #22 Fnarf, but Don goes to the movies (remember Layne questioning his business expense?) Peggy can call her outings “research.”

  24. #20 Kitty, it isn’t like we rent yachts or private jets. It’s just a little thing every day during birthday week, like lunch out or a movie. It makes the celebrant feel special.

  25. #22 Fnarf, if liking cupcakes makes one juvenile then I guess I’ll never grow up. And I fail to see how having a nice dinner with friends and/or family to commemorate the date of one’s birth is childish.

  26. I agree with Don. Too much is made of birthdays.

    Of course growing up as a twin may have soured my regard for birthdays. There was always this other guy there getting half the attention 🙂

  27. @23 Brenda, it’s true that while Don spends a lot of time at the office, he spends a lot of that time at the movies, lying asleep on his sofa, guzzling booze in some bar (or back on that sofa), etc. Really, the office is where he lives, or does what most of us would call living. He keeps clothes there! Peggy may have some trouble living in the office to that extent; she’s got non-Brylcreamed girl hair to worry about, for one thing. We’ve seen her take up the sofa already, though.

    @25 Jeanne, cupcakes are indeed infantilizing, imho; they are children’s food. But more to the point they are deeply un-sixties. So are grownup birthday parties.

    And what Mark had planned for Peggy was about as far from a “nice dinner” as you could possibly get; he’s brown-nosing her family to seal the contract with her. Not cool. More importantly for him, not going to win our Peggy.

  28. #25 Jeanne, if you like cupcakes, you go ahead and enjoy them. I like birthdays, maybe because it’s an achievement to make it through another year, and I don’t begrudge anyone their celebration.

  29. Well, Brenda, I said there was nothing wrong with it, and understood that there were no yachts involved. I just thought it was funny to say that week-long celebrations were probably deemed excessive in the 60s when, in my experience, that’s considered a lot now. My own family has been accused of putting too much stock in birthdays, and all we do is have dinner!

  30. Peggy was not making too much of her birthday for that or any time period. A dinner with her sister, brother in law, mother, room-mate and boyfriend is not comparable to a child’s party. I didn’t see any gifts on the table. It was a normal celebration completely in perspective for her age.

    I agree with those saying that Don’s outburst was him once again yelling at himself through her. Poor little Dick Whitman never had a birthday party, or a happy birthday at all – being the “whore child” and associating his birth automatically with the death of his mother.

    And now, living as Don, I’m sure he doesn’t celebrate his fake birthday, and if anyone of his family or “friends” insist on celebrating it, he only feels the lack of celebration for his real birth, now or at any time in his life. Dick/Don has never has a happy birthday – that’s why he yelled at her, in my opinion – the birthday pain runs very deep for him and he wants to get over it.

    #12 – you brought up two awesome points. I never connected the dots that Don watched an immolation as his past died, just like Sally watched one when Gene died. This show is awesome! And I would be willing to bet that Anna gave him all the papers he would need to prove his identity. We know he was able to buy a house with his new name, I would imagine he needed some ID in order to get a loan and sign all the paperwork, but of course I wasn’t around back then and I didn’t buy a house until 2006.

  31. Nice comments, everyone.

    totey #21: Your post reminded me that I did once have a boss at a temp job who was anti-birthday (it was her own birthday). IIRC it was an age thing and she said she was just past enjoying it. She was probably several years older than Don, although I suppose his age in the ’60s would be equivalent with her age in these times.

    Fnarf #22: The cupcake mention is amusing–cupcake places have become VERY big in NYC and perhaps it is more of a modern trend towards wanting to indulge/pamper ourselves. (But, nothing wrong with that, IMO) 🙂

    As far as Peggy & work, I don’t know. All work and no play is not really a good thing. I think Peggy realizes that–she DOES work hard, but I think observing Don make her see that it is important to have a balance in your life, and that balance should include friends, fun, romance, family, etc., as well as work. I don’t think she’ll give up her new friends. I hope she won’t, anyway.

    Fnarf, I do agree that the office is pretty much where Don lives, a lot of the time. (That’s why I included an office picture in this post)

    Lori #30: I like your comments about Don “acting out” and taking out his resentment about his own life/childhood on her. It’s something he probably wouldn’t even have realized he was doing.

  32. In the episode “Out Of Town,” Don told the stewardess in the hotel in Baltimore that today was his birthday, but when she wanted to see his drivers license, he wouldn’t let her.

    I’m guessing that whatever day that was, is Dick Whitman’s birthday and if the stewardess looked at the license, she would’ve seen the name Donald Draper and a different birth date.

    We haven’t been shown the real Don Draper’s birth date, but judging from the Korean War flashback when we see him, he looked a bit older than Dick Whitman, who (I think I read) was only 19 or 20.

    I saw on one website that Don’s birth date is November 10, 1925, but I doubt that information is correct, since I can’t find anything to corroborate that data elsewhere online. Besides, if BoK doesn’t have it, it’s not around to be had!

    If it is correct, it would have to be the real Don’s birth date, since he was a bit older than Dick and that birthday for Dick would make Dick older than 19 or 20 during the Korean War.

  33. Another thought about birth dates —

    Depending on whether there was a close-up of the military dogtags (Don’s & Dick’s) I’m pretty sure the dates would be stamped on them. So, if that can be seen in a freeze-framed close-up, we’d have the information.

    Unfortunately, I don’t recall the scene(s) showing the dogtags were shot in a way that would offer up much info.

  34. Another “another thought” about that —

    The hospital where Dick/Don was would have the information about Don’s birth date and the Pennsylvania induction center or draft board would have the information about Dick’s birth date.

  35. I was born 10 days before Christmas and often the day was lost in the shuffle. I’ll never forget hearing that same line from my older sister when I was in my twenties…”it’s a birthday….get over it.” I am almost 50 (gulp) and I still remember being told that.
    Of course we should still be celebrating and honoring birthdays. What other song are we still singing to each other after almost 100 years? What other phrase do we still wish upon each other, friend and stranger alike?
    So if you are reading this and it happens to be YOUR birthday, have a great day and many many more.

  36. My birthday always falls on Labor Day weekend and my sister’s on Thanksgiving weekend, so our parents always split the difference and had a big Halloween party instead. Birthdays were a cake after dinner and a small present.

    On my last birthday, I mentioned that I stopped counting the years at 30. My older friend said, “Don’t worry; you’ll start counting again at 50.”

  37. #31 MadChick: “I suppose his age in the ’60s would be equivalent with her age in these times.” Are you under the impression that life expectancy was 20 years less in the 60s? Or what do you mean by this?

  38. I have a different take on this character and I’m wondering if anyone else is with me.

    I think Dick Whitman is an introvert.

    Introverts, as a rule, yearn for a real interpersonal connection, one-on-one. They may have a knack for “schmoozing” or working a room, but it really is work to them, just a means to an end.

    In their heart of hearts, introverts despise small talk, feel ill at ease during parties (whether for adults or children), and particularly dislike being in the spotlight on occasions when the role they usually play serves no real purpose — like birthdays.

    In his youth, Dick Whitman felt unloved and unwanted. In an atmosphere like that, one learns to be imaginative and resourceful, but quietly so. Dick is shy, intimidated by intimacy and more than a little self-loathing.

    When Dick assumed the identity of Don Draper, he created an extroverted, ambitious alter ego for himself which enabled him to escape and begin a new life. Don is a clever salesman with an instinct for spin and manipulation. He’s a natural leader, a charming ladies man, a war hero and a succinct, persuasive public speaker.

    It may seem counterintuitive to read Don Draper as an introvert. After all, he’s tall and good-looking, wears a suit well and has excellent posture. He’s confident and decisive both in business and when pursuing a woman. Draper is a man of few words, and in his era, silence is equated with strength (the “strong, silent type”).

    But Don Draper is a construct. It’s a character created by Dick Whitman to get himself from here to there. Draper is a role that he has now played for years, and it is exhausting. Whitman knows how to perform to get the desired results, but play-acting all the time, both during the day (for clients and colleagues) and at night (for wife and kids) is soul-depleting, particularly for an introvert.

    A double life (in this case the false, extroverted public life and the secret, unfulfilled inner yearnings) so often leads to reversal of fortune: loss, divorce, addiction, identity crisis. This seems to be exactly what is happening to our protagonist. Just like the opening credits suggest, we’re witnessing his slow, inevitable downfall.

    It seems to me that Dick Whitman is like so many successful actors, musicians and other creatives. He’s a masterful performer who enjoys his work and seems quite comfortable “on stage,” but inside he feels terribly alone and weary, desperately craving the acceptance of his true self. That’s why Anna was so important to him.

    I’m reminded of the Hawthorne quote from the “College” episode of The Sopranos: “No man can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one may be true.”

  39. Wow. So only children are allowed to eat cupcakes. Good to know.

  40. @ #38 WWDDD: excellent. I think this is very sharp, insightful, and probably true. It also indicates a plane where someone like Matt Weiner would have an understanding of the soul of a displaced ad man.

  41. WWWD, I was told by a psychologist that introversion and extroversion are not necessarily related to how much or how little you talk or interact with people in social situations and have more to do with what sort of situations you are either most at ease with and/or which you need the most to “recharge” yourself, so wheras an introvert can enjoy people on some level and be able to make small talk, be chatty at parties, but to feel content they need alone time and rely on inner resources to relax or tend to turn inward and introspect, whereas extroverts might or might not be the chattiest person in the world, but they need to be around other people to feel most comfortable, don’t enjoy being alone necessarily and tend to turn to others in order to recharge. In keeping with that I would say that Don Draper most certainly is an introvert just as much as Dick Whitman, perhaps even more so.

    Not that this is the best source but here are two pretty sound definitions of introvert and extrovert

  42. Birthdays at my house when I was a kid were celebrated, though my dad and my sister got the short-changed, since his was Dec. 21st and hers was Christmas Eve.

    I remember on my 9th birthday, my mom made me a cake – with coconut – which I hated! She says she “forgot,” but I never really believed her.

    Since passing 50, birthdays aren’t as big deal – other than pausing to appreciate the prospect of another all-expenses-paid trip around the sun.

  43. Remember in Out of Town that he and Sal had a ruse about their identities on the airplane—that was why he wouldn’t show his ID.

  44. berkowit28 #37, you wrote:

    #31 MadChick: “I suppose his age in the ’60s would be equivalent with her age in these times.” Are you under the impression that life expectancy was 20 years less in the 60s? Or what do you mean by this?

    What I meant was that he was “older” then than he would be considered today. Overall, people in the ’60s acted older in their behavior/demeanor than they do today. They tended to get married earlier and start families earlier. Peggy’s 26 might be considered comparable to a 30-something woman in 2010. Don at 39(?) is comparable to a man in his 40s.

  45. I am definitely an introvert who has become more social over the years. With regard to DarkPeggy’s information, I definitely enjoy alone time more than a lot of other people I know.

    As for Dick/Don: I agree with DarkPeggy that probably both of them are introverts. When he was a fur salesman and a car salesman he seemed more chatty/eager than he is now as ad exec Don. The “Dick” personality definitely seemed more of a people-pleaser. Of course, he was working in sales, so it makes sense.

  46. #MadChick – Totally agree. Today 60 is almost like still middle-aged, whereas in the 60’s it was pretty much old age.

  47. #7 & # 17- I think ya’ll are on to something. Don asks Peggy, exasperatedly, “Do you know when my birthday is?” (or words to that effect), while admonishing her to get over her own birthday…her response is impersonal, in that she replies she had to know it, as she was his secretary.

    Don might feel a twinge of hurt as he notices other people’s birthdays being acknowledged.

  48. Fnarf- Yes, I agree with you- 60s birthday parties were celebrated mainly by children. Ditto Halloween, which, in the late 70s experienced a resurgence as an adult holiday, shared with kids.

    On the other hand…I dislike the maxim “Chirstmas is for children” or other exhortations. Cripes. If grownups wanna be infantilistic regarding inconsenquial things …let ’em! Cupcakes + adults do not equal downfall of society.

  49. Wow this episode has made me feel guilty. My boyfriend expressed disapointmnet at having to work on his b-day. What did I say? You are 28, get over it. Ok before I seem too bad, we were going out of town for the weekend, we just did not do anything on that day.

    Celebrating b-days is kind of a strange concept to me because I did not do it as a kid and it is uncomfortable now. I wonder if this is how Don feels.

    I also loved the coment from #38 about Dick being an introvert. My Psychology Today this month had a wonderful article about introverts/extroverts.

    On another note, this episode and the importace of birthdays goes to a deeper level with tonights episode being about Baby Jean’s 2nd Birthday.

    ~BTW( I secretly wonder if Baby Jean is Don’s or the one night stands)

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