Father’s Day

 Posted by on June 16, 2013 at 5:22 am  Mad Men, Season 6
Jun 162013

The male characters of Mad Men say things to each other that you rarely hear on television. Roger’s insensitivity (“There’s a line, Freddy. And you wet it.”), Lane’s outrage (“You grimy little pimp.”), and Pete’s ambition (“A man like you I’d follow into combat blindfolded.”). They are all laid bare for us without nuance or apology. Often I hear a line and it resonates with me, like a truth I’ve known internally but that’s never seen the light of day.

So it is with Don’s monologue, as he explains that he did not love his children the moment they were born:

“I don’t think I ever wanted to be the man who loves children, but from the moment they’re born, the baby comes out and you act proud and excited. And you hand out cigars. But you don’t feel anything.”

" and you see them do something and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have.     and you see them do something and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have."

and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have.”

“Especially if you had a difficult childhood. You want to love them, but you don’t, and the fact you’re faking that feeling makes you wonder if your own father had the same problem.”

“Then one day they get older and you see them do something and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have. And it feels like your heart is going to explode.”

I had the same feelings when my children were born. My first was delivered in the afternoon. There were late complications and my wife was whisked off to emergency surgery, leaving me alone in the birthing center, watching the double doors slowly flapping as she was rushed to the ER. I found my way to the waiting room, where I made small talk with another soon-to-be father. After a while, a nurse came and got me and led me to the nursery, where my daughter was naked, behind glass in her plastic  shoe-box sized container from Island Plastics. My waiting room buddy stood behind me and said, “Ah, you got a girl.”

And I thought to myself, how does he know that? A few minutes later I figured it out, but it was all too much to take in. A baby, my baby, she was just this pink blob of hair and closed eyes (and labia), still with a screw in the top of her head where they’d placed a monitor. I couldn’t even get my head around the idea of her.

But I never told anyone. I thought it was this unique flaw only I had, maybe because of my own difficult childhood. So I pretended to dote on her every soiled diaper, burp and spit-up. I inhaled that new baby smell until the formula washed it away. I carried her around, showing her off to friends and family. But I didn’t feel love. I thought there was something wrong with me. Fortunately fathers are overlooked, starting with the announcement that you’re expecting. This period lasts until, I don’t know, the father-daughter wedding dance maybe. It’s pretty easy to hide something when you’re the dad, because no one really expects much of you.

After The Flood I went to Wikipedia and looked up “Human Bonding” and found paternal bonding:

“In contrast to the maternal bond, paternal bonds tend to vary over the span of a child’s development in terms of both strength and stability. ( . . .)  In general, paternal bonding is more dominant later in a child’s life after language develops. Fathers may be more influential in play interactions as opposed to nurturance interactions.”

And now I know this is a thing. I thought it was only me, but my time with other dads indicates it’s something that happens to fathers quite a bit. My younger daughter, born six years later, is a case in point: once her older sister left for college, our bonding time began. Our weekly time together was finally all about her. Whether that time comes in a child’s first six years or when she’s a bright and goofy middle-schooler, maybe that’s what it takes for a father to fall in love: Six years.

This delay isn’t a flaw. It isn’t bad parenting. It is how men often pass through the portal and find their way to fatherhood. On this Father’s Day let’s remember the words Don Draper said and celebrate all dads, however they get to that place in their lives.

P.S. As for my older kid and me, we figured it out.

"And it feels  like your heart is going to explode."

“And it feels like your heart is going to explode.”


  14 Responses to “Father’s Day”

  1. When my son was born in 1970,men were expected to wait in the father’s lounge quietly while your wife went through labor. Doctors for the most part did NOT allow fathers into the delivery room. My son was born early in the morning; that afternoon I was expected to be back at work and handing out cigars. The roles were clear, women nurture and men provide. It was a different era.The message was clear and strong; you show your love for your child by bringing home that paycheck. You put up with work because of that paycheck. The male characters on Mad Men I think see themselves as good fathers because they bring home that paycheck. That is a hard concept for many younger fans of Mad Men to understand. It was an era for men that the job came first always. They still talk of the concept of good family man today whatever that means. Today we talk of women having it all, well did men have it all in the 1960’s.Mad Men peels back the onion skin of its characters. They never did that to Ward Cleaver.

  2. Jim:

    This is the best thing you have written here. At dinner the other night, you said (paraphrasing here) that “the Basket of Kisses is our Rorschach test”. I admire the courage it takes to write something this personal – today of all days. Our worlds are richer when you share your truth with us in such an eloquent way.

    I’m thankful that we get to share you with your daughters. Happy Father’s Day, amigo.


  3. I will not stop thinking of your story all day. You have moved me profoundly. Elegantly told.

  4. A few things to know about the kind of dad White T Jim B is:

    * Our older kid played basketball all through high school, and Jim want to every game. On Easter weekend her senior year, he sat quietly in the bleachers and cheered her on while wearing a pair of fluffy pink and white bunny ears.
    * Our younger child has always been very tall. (She’s now 17 going on six and a half.) Her Dad happily put her on his shoulders whenever she got tired, even when she was so big that the visual effect of this was like watching a monkey carry a baby giraffe.
    * In his single-Dad days many years ago, he was out with the kids one day when the little one fell in the mud. Jim changed her into the only thing he had for her to wear afterward: a huge t-shirt. In the photo we have of the kids seconds after this happened, they’re standing in that same foggy clearing, laughing their little heads off.

    Jim’s a terrific Dad. (I should know: I had the best one, for 45 years.) And the onset of love doesn’t matter as much as the love itself. This man adores his kids, and they know it.

    Happy Father’s Day, husband. <3

    • I don’t know you guys except through this blog, but I know you are awesome.

    • Anne,

      Thanks to you and Jim for this lovely post. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and came into my own as an adult that I really appreciated that my dad was more than just “there”. We became especially close after my mom got ill; I realized how much we enjoyed each other’s company, and how much of my personality was shaped by him. Now that he’s gone I think of him every day and what he meant to me. The bonding between dads and children is a two-way street. Even though my husband is very involved with our kids I see how easy it is for them to think of him as “just dad”, so I try to remind them in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle!) ways how he’s always there for them.

      Your children are lucky to have such great parents!

  5. To all of the Dads out there, my Father’s Day gift to you (and for those of you who are not Dads, we are all sons):



    Dammit (my brother is Jesus Christ)

  6. Greatest generation – redux.
    I once had a cab driver with eclectic musical tastes – he played big band on CD’s and he frequently attended performances of the Dorsey Brothers and others of the 1940’s. I often listened to XM 40’s on four, as much for the context of the greatest generation as for the music which I find more pleasing than more modern forms.

    As we spoke, my driver revealed some of his story.

    Born in NC and accepted to Harvard University, the attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything for him, and us. He and his brother fought in Europe, my driver also in the Pacific theater, there under MacArthur. He and his brother left the farm to fight for their country – and neither ever returned, one for sadly different reasons.

    I arrived at my destination, impressed by the simple approach my driver exemplified; “just keep moving forward”.

    It was personally pleasant for me to connect with my father’s generation once more, for even too brief a time. My Pop left me in 2009, buried on his 96th birthday.

    I have long since surpassed all of my Father’s accomplishments, but I will forever strive to meet the standards he set and lived.


  7. I really disagree with this. How can you say this about your own children? Your own flesh and blood. I just think this is so wrong. What if your child read this? How would they react.

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