The Only Sweet Thing In My Life

 Posted by on June 26, 2013 at 6:24 am  Mad Men, Season 6
Jun 262013

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 11.42.19 PMIt’s Daddy. – Don to Sally Draper, ‘In Care Of’

Nothing surprises Don Draper more than grief. He’s lost so much, through fate and by design: the life of a man who sheds one identity to assume another must include losses of all kinds. But each time he loses something he really loves, Don Draper is at sea.

Somebody very important to me died. … The only person in the world who really knew me. – Don Draper, ‘The Suitcase’

When Anna died, grief blindsided Don. He fought off the pain for as long as he could, but still it shocked him when it came. In Care Of takes him back to those depths, but this time it’s Sally he’s losing.

Everyone can see it, but Don saw it first. Sally has stopped wearing that necklace with her initials, the one she got in the dark Christmas after the divorce. She has moved away, is acting out; now she’s suspended from school, leaving her mother as heartbroken as her Dad.

She was drunk. She got other girls drunk. I’ve done everything I can think to do. The good is not beating the bad. – Betty to Don Draper, ‘In Care Of’

When the grief comes for Don this time, it is at the worst possible moment. He falls apart in the middle of a pitch to Hershey, whose account may be worth millions.

I dreamt of it: being wanted. … Closest I got to feeling wanted was from a girl, who made me go through her johns’ pockets as they screwed. If I collected more than a dollar she’d buy me a Hershey bar. And I would eat it. Alone, in my room, with great ceremony. Feeling like a normal kid.

It said ‘sweet’ on the package. The only sweet thing in my life. – Don Draper, ‘In Care Of’

He’s not talking about a candy bar. No one loves chocolate that much. No one cries when he talks about it; least of all Don, who’s lived inside the old, bad story of his life for so long it’s lost all of its romance, and most of its power to wound.

He’s describing the terrible brevity of happiness in an unhappy childhood. This man, who has just called a Hershey bar “the currency of affection, the childhood symbol of love,” is aware at last that he’s raising his children in the same poverty he knew as a child. He’s stranding them in a place where they don’t know for sure that they are important, wanted … or loved.

Most of all, he’s talking about Sally: “The only sweet thing in my life.” Don finally sees that the sweetest thing in his life is in danger. All of his children are at risk, but the one most endangered is Sally. No client, no pitch, no meeting is bigger than she is now.

My husband, father-of-two White T Jim B, noticed where the episode title appeared in the season finale. “In Care Of,” he said. “It’s on that envelope to Sally. It reminds Don of his responsibility to her.” Jim keeps a similar reminder close at hand: the bracelet issued by the hospital on the day his younger daughter was born. ALTA BATES MEDICAL CENTER, it says. FATHER.

If we’re lucky, our adult lives offer us many roles. But the moment we become parents, that takes a certain priority. We have to care for those little people. Whatever mistakes we make, whatever troubles we carry or cause, it’s on us to protect them from those things. When we don’t, our troubles become theirs.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 11.50.54 PMThere is hope for Sally. In the last scene of Season 6, as Draper father and kids gaze up at the dilapidated place Don called home in his own childhood, her face tells us that (unlike her Dad’s “partners”), she craves this kind of information. Sally may well be open to understanding her life through the lens of her father’s; and for once, Don may be open to giving her what she needs.

Our children are tied to us for life: ours, and theirs. They are indeed the sweetest things in our lives. The fact that Don knows this now is the most hopeful sign for Season 7.


  32 Responses to “The Only Sweet Thing In My Life”

  1. I really liked this look at the Hershy’s meeting.

    I felt like in his speech to Ted in episode 12, he was also talking about Sally, when he thinks he’s talking about Peggy. And it’s clear he is still in a defensive, wrong mindset. “Sure your little girl has pretty eyes but that doesn’t mean you give her everything!” He angrily says to Ted. And it echoes his inability to give Sally anything, least of all some truth. His anger so out of proportion to the situation,

    He still has an either or outlook. I can’t tell her the whole truth so I can’t tell her anything real. But just a little piece if truth would have made all the difference. And we get to see that in this episode.

    We forget just how powerful we are to our children just in size alone, let alone the emotional power and even their basic day to day survival depends on us. They are not little adults, no matter how bright and amazing. They can’t fend for themselves entirely, or even at times partially, as we saw with grandma Ida.

    • And this is why Sally tells Betty in the car, “My father has never given me anything.”

      Wonderful post, Anne B and comment by Peggy oh!

      • I love Sally. I have all the sympathy in the world for this kid, and I totally get why she would say that. I do. But a teeny tiny part of me says ” Beatles tickets. Hello.” Is that wrong?

        • That is the exact same thing I thought in the Sally-Betty cigarette scene.

          “The Beatles at Shea Stadium is nothing? Go to your room.”

          • Oh,and,although nothing can really top Beatles tickets, remember when Don retrieved Sally’s Barbie doll (gift from Baby Gene) from the shrubs by the front door and placed it in her room? OK, Sally did wake up screaming, but who comforted her and put her back to bed and called her Salamander?

            It was the guy that Sally caught with the neighbor and his boxers around his ankles.

            A father’s expression of his love to his kids……priceless.

        • I was thinking about the life she had pre-divorce. It’s a classic poor little rich girl. She always had good clothes, plenty to eat, and a nice house. She grew up with plenty of material things and physical comfort, but very little love and affection.

        • The reason it’s wrong, and I hate to say wrong, is that is a material thing, once again. It also cost Don literally nothing to get them.

          When he yells at Betty when he finds out about Henry Francis, after she has already told Don she wants a divorce, Don says “But I gave you EVERYTHING!” (Maybe he meant STDs ha)

          But everything was material and is really nothing, worse than nothing to the spiritual needs of a child or even adult.

          Stuff. Stuffed feelings. He gave her that.

          But her perspective is off. As is mentioned in this thread. He had shared small bits of himself with her. Non-pretend will bits of himself. He loved her. He gave her something but she was blinded to it because the good couldn’t beat out the bad.

          Don himself was blinded (blinding was a theme this season) to what Sally or other people in his life actually needed from him. And to what he had and was throwing away.

          • Oops! This was supposed to be in reply to the Beatles ticket comment!

          • Yeah, i’m sure he’s technically given her things, tickets, clothes, presents, but ‘things’ don’t mean much to people who have lots of them, and can easily come by them.

            And Don’s post-gene comforting of Sally really is one of very few incidences in 14 years. She’s young enough to have probably forgotten much of that. For all the flak that Betty gets, underneath it all she probably is a good mother. She’s always there. Don, he can barely muster up the concern half the time. His attitude to Sally going to private school was to offer the money, not to talk to her. And how long have weekends in NY for the draper kids involved Don and Megan working and being left alone?

          • Of course it’s wrong, that’s why I phrased it like that. As much as I empathized with Sally, I can only draw from my own experiences in my reality. My own dad did have a thing or two in common with Don, but he was very demonstrative and loving and I never doubted his intentions, so clearly it’s more like sympathy than empathy. And as a lifelong Beatles fan, (Hay. Lets split hairs, Woo Hoo!) I don’t see the tickets as a material thing, but a spiritual one. The fact that he got them for free means nothing as they could have cost a bunch of $ but money means nothing to him anyway. He thought of Sally, wrangled them specifically for her, bought earplugs and chauffeured and chaperoned her to a stadium full of thousands of hysterical, screaming hormonal pre-teens. It’s not even in the ballpark of secure daddy-love, I know that. But it’s not nothing. Ok, I’m done now.

        • Well, of course she’s being a little over-dramatic. She’s 14, it goes with the territory. But I can also understand why she feels that way; seeing him with Sylvia and then having him feed her bullshit about it feels like it cancels out any “stupid Beatles tickets,” plus she might not even be much of a Beatles fan any more what with White Album weirdness and all that. She might prefer the Stones or the Doors or Hendrix or Cream or Janis, maybe even Laura Nyro or Joni Mitchell or Simon and Garfunkel. Later on, of course, she’ll be telling her kids all about the Beatles at Shea, but right now? Maybe not so much.

  2. One of the things to come out of this season is Don’s discovery of how deeply he really loves his kids. As he stated to Megan midway through this season, he didn’t know if he truly loved them. He has learned that he truly does and hopefully, it will be his path to redemption.

    • After deadening his feelings for so long with alcohol, and unsure of whether he loved his kids, this will be the payoff of his sobriety.

  3. Lovely Anne. There is hope for Don…and Sally. I teared up twice watching this exchange and now again reading it. What a moment!
    Kudos to Hamm, Moss, Shipka, Kartheiser, Hendricks,Slattery and of course Ted and Bob–the acting this season left me breathless. Emmy Gods…it’s time to acknowledge some extraordinary work.

  4. Anne is one of the great jewels in the Basket.

  5. Those two observations: The necklace and the envelope; I didn’t have either and they’re brilliant examples of the minutia informing the whole.

  6. Geeze Louise! Are ya tryin’ to make us cry?

    Brilliant work, as always, my dear. My contribution:

    Sally = Us

  7. I watched season 6 episode 13 again and came away with the message that fathers matter to Matt and his writers. The 1960’s were still an era where mothers nurtured and fathers provided. We see not only Don Draper but Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell and Ted Chaough face issues with fatherhood. All four men have provided financially for the support of their children throughout their careers but do little of any nurturing. Roger has seen his relationship with his daughter all but destroyed.I hope that he can develop some relationship with his son Kevin. Maybe Pete has realized that his daughter means something to him; I think Trudy sees it does. Ted Chaough understands that Peggy’s love will come with a steep price; a damaged relationship with his children. Peggy is sent a strong clear message in the office that Ted’s children matter to him and he will not divorce Nan. Don has a lot of baggage to deal with. I hope that he can salvage his relationship with his children.

    The 1960’s were the end of an era.The 1970’s saw women’s lives improving in the workplace. Child support orders were finally enforced by the courts and no fault divorce became common in most US States. It also meant that fathers became more involved in their children’s lives. Men could nurture as well as provide. The 1970’s saw fathers finally allowed into the delivery room with their wife.

    Mad Men gets it right most of the time. The roles of both sexes will change in the 1970’s. Both sexes will change in that decade.

    • Yes! As much as MM has been called a feminist show, it has shown the crisis of masculinity really well too. In so many ways. Not to go off track from what I wanted to say in response to your post, but it is an important part of MLK’s message: oppression hurts the oppressors as much as the oppressed. Holding more temporal power does not mean that you can escape the human and spiritual price (Pryce) of holding the power.

      But, what I wanted to say was that men were really looked down upon if they did the women’s work of cooking, or child care. And often much bonding comes in the daily care of the child. My father starting cooking for my family in the late 60s and eventually took it over, and it was a big deal to other people!

      Even when I had babies 20 years ago, the older generation made such a big deal over my husband changing diapers! It’s crazy!

      We still have a long way to go, to have a more inclusive, collaborative culture, and strict gender roles have eased. But I have to say that I still had 98% responsibility for child are plus work. I hope it is getting better for younger parents, but with economic disparity, you often have to have the one who makes more have less home responsibility.

      • It’s only because the show is feminist that we’re seeing the real picture of our culture’s strict delineation of the concept of masculinity–it’s always been feminism’s singular point that both women and men are deeply harmed and limited by the patriarchal sex roles each is assigned. We’ve never seen such clearly illustrated, powerful critiques of the idea of masculinity in our culture outside of feminism, and since that’s a major influence in this show, we’re seeing it clearly dramatized in the male characters like Don, Pete, Roger, and even in Dr. Rapist/Harris. It’s been a consistent theme and the big impetus in the whole story arch. Those assigned, unquestioned roles trap everyone: but in this story’s tumultuous time period, women, homosexuals, children, mothers, fathers, politicians, anyone who is not white and male AND even those who are white and male and privileged begin to question and doubt all those assumptions and limitations.

        That’s not “despite” feminism, that’s because of feminism.

    • It may be a minor point, but I want to say how proud I was of Don for not bending to Betty’s angry demands to discipline Bobby for, uh, being a kid – in this case playing with his toy robot at the dining table. Granted, he exploded and smashed the toy against the wall in frustration, but he clearly refused to physically reprimand his son. And later, in bed, he explained to her. It was one of those scenes where I felt great relief that his efforts to change the patterns of abuse could be appreciated.
      How many times have we heard that there is no handbook given at the hospital on how to raise your children? Well, it certainly was a more common phrase before we entered the era of the self-help bestseller. You can bet that a man’s role in the emotional life of his children was probably never discussed and barely considered in the 50’s or 60’s. Providing for the family’s material needs on his own seemed to be plenty. Doing that with as much success as Don seemed to give him carte blanche to “unwind” in just about any way he wanted as long as it didn’t interrupt the rhythm of home life. If not being home could be accepted as part of the father’s duty, then this was his window to act upon his unmet needs.
      Of course, our society has changed forever in many ways, large and small, but Mad Men has been a powerful reminder of what it used to be like – and how little has changed in many respects in our inner lives.

  8. Wow! Just wow. So magnificently written; thoughtful, gentle. I can read anything you write and immediately feel better.

    I hope S7 is about Don’s redemption. But slowly. A step forward; 2 steps back. But progress. So when I say goodbye to Don and co., I can smile that his journey and mine and say ‘well done.”

    • What Lianne said!

      Beautiful. Just beautiful Anne B., thank you.

      I can wait till season 7 now in peace, fairly assured Don is on the right track.

    • Sorry, a step forward and two steps back is not progress, not even slow progrss. It is regression and I hope we do not see more of that for Don in Season 7.

  9. Annie, *sniff!* I love you! 🙂
    Yes, I’ve always felt that Don has always loved his kids, especially Sally, but a few seasons back when he said his life was like (heavily paraphrasing here) ‘scratching at something’ but not quite connecting with what that was. I’ve always felt that it was Don’s wounded childhood that kept him from his kids, and earlier this season when he claimed that he “acted” like he should as a father (at their birth, etc) part of me just couldn’t see that as the complete truth.

    We’ve seen many tender moments in the past with Don and his kids. The one that stands out to me was where he reassured Sally that baby Gene was an individual and not a reincarnation of her Grandpa. That was a beautiful scene, as was the scene where Don greets little Gene at Betty and Henry’s house after Betty had denied his access for a time. Yes, fatherhood does matter to Don, and I am hopeful that Don’s character will emerge a better man and father now that Dick Whitman has arrived for real in his world.

    Thanks (as always) for the great post!

    • Touching also was Don’s bedroom speech to Bobby several seasons ago about Don’s childhood at a time Betty was pushing Don to punish Bobby.

      The problem is just how that empathy that Don shared with Bobby III is transmuted to Bobby V.

  10. Anne B, you captured this brilliantly. I hope we’ll see the relationship with Sally begin to mend and allow them both to heal. For some reason, I keep thinking of the voice in Field of Dreams that calls out “ease his pain”. That’s pretty random, but it was connected with mending fences with estranged fathers and kids.

  11. Anne B., this is a terrific post. I want to offer a little perspective on men from this era. Don, Roger, Ted, and the other fathers were doing exactly what was expected of fathers at the time. They were supposed to play the role of breadwinners, man the grill on Sundays, attend their sons’ baseball games and daughters’ recitals, and that was pretty much it.

    Things are about to change dramatically, but for the 1960s, these were good fathers. It’s a mystery to them why this isn’t enough. Soon, we will find out why.

  12. MW has reminded us that the Death card in a standard (i.e. Rider-Waite) Tarot deck actually represents not literal death at all, but change the kind that’s permanent and irreversible. The change in question may be good or bad, it doesn’t matter; the important thing is to be ready for it and embrace it when it happens.

    Dante’s Divine Comedy is about redemption, but not the kind you can spend one hour a week in church to try and earn you really have to work hard for it, and if you think you’re so low that divine intervention is your only hope, then you have much, much further to go. There have been many stories in classical literature (and even contemporary, to some extent) that involve being allowed to travel in the land of the dead as a guest, rather than a resident; the protagonist doesn’t actually die, but always comes away substantially changed, as Orpheus was when he snuck a premature glance behind him at his bride, Eurydice, and consequently lost her forever. In a way, such changes are also a form of death and rebirth; the moral is that you can emerge from your travails stronger than before, but you must be prepared to leave your past behind, or the lessons you take with you will do you no good.

    This season finale, then, is in effect the death of Don Draper, as the rest of the world has known him. Don has famously cut an enigmatic figure in the world of Madison Avenue; everyone has heard of the great puzzle that he is, the man who speaks reservedly, but with eloquence; the man who creates campaign after brilliant campaign, and collects award after award. That shroud of mystery is the agency’s key selling point. It’s a fine magic trick, getting swept up in his enchantment. And, as any stage magician knows, as soon as the mask is torn loose and falls away there IS no more enchantment. But few stage magicians, even those preparing to retire, ever voluntarily reveal their own secrets. Don/Dick his different. He’s tired. He’s been bruised. His stage life is killing him, has been killing him slowly all along, but now he’s lost more than he bargained for. It’s time for him to walk away from the stage at least for a while. It’s time for him to unmask himself, to resume being the person he truly is… the person he’s run away from for so long.

    Adultery is an act of lust, which is relatively mild on the sin scale (as measured by depth in the nine circles of Hell, mapped by Dante); what Don/Dick is repenting is treachery, specifically against his family (i.e. Sally), which is the lowest circle of all. He knows he’s reached that point. He knows it’s time to start working to climb out. And, since there ended up being no Virgil along for the ride to help him, he has to do it himself starting by letting his own children watch him climb right up the curly hairs on Satan’s back.

  13. The final scene, Don and children in front of his teenage home, was an earnest sign of hope for all of them.

    I know that Weiner faced the onslaught of interviews with talking points, to be sure to get a coherent message out to Basket cases in all their manifestations, but his metaphor, that the writers “feel like” they have “painted themselves into a corner” (by resolving all those threads as they did).

    Certainly past plot decisions inform (and restrict) how the story can move forward with integrity, but lordy, all of those resolutions seem anything but restrictive.

    Will Megan stick around? Will Don return to SC&P? If not, what will become his new exploit?

    Will Sally get some happiness – however slight – as she did when she took the train to Manhattan?

    (will she and Dad go to Woodstock together?)

    (if they do, they get stuck in traffic, turn around and go Plan B)

    What of Pete? Will he grow the business in SoCal?

    Ken may slip to the sidelines – or out of the picture alltogether.

    As CFO and mother (in that order) Joan will have plenty on her plate. Wonder if she will service Avon – or turn that over to “a junior account man” (Ken?)

    Peggy’s professional future seems unlimited. But what of love?

    Will Stan ever get a bite of the sandwich (after Ted gets done with it)?

    Will Stan ever get a bite of …. well, you know.

    Pretty big “corner”.

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