Sometimes, make believe can get too real. A sure sign of this is when you begin trying to read the minds of characters who aren’t actual people at all. That’s what I started doing as I drank beer after beer while watching the “Mad Men” premiere.
Spoiler alert: If you haven’t yet watched this season’s “Mad Men” premiere, the story of my early childhood will ruin it for you.
My father, Don Henry (not Draper), made his living convincing people to buy things. He was dark, handsome and charismatic. I have no proof, but I believe he, like the leading “Mad” man, was hiding something important until the day he died.
Like Betty Draper, my mother, Alice Danner, had been tragically miscast as a suburban housewife. Blond, intelligent and achingly beautiful, she had survived the Depression by escaping to the imaginary world of books, where fathers didn’t disappear and mothers didn’t nearly starve themselves to feed their children.
Not very long after she married my father in Kansas City, Mo., my mother’s “nerves” started going. The doctors, working with my dad, treated her with lots of Valium and finally resorted to shock therapy. For a while, Alice returned from her wonderland. She and my father bought a little house and adopted Stephanie in 1959. Then, surprise, I came along in 1962 (the show’s second season.)
Then Mom started having problems again. It was probably in 1964 that she decided she’d had enough of my father’s drunken carousing and ended up having an affair of her own. She disappeared into the Ozarks for a couple of months, and when she returned, the marriage ended.
Just like Don Draper, my dad moved in to a high-rise bachelor pad, where he soon met and married a beautiful brown-haired woman half his age.
Every weekend, my father picked up my big sister and me in his Cadillac for some divorced-family fun. When the outing ended, we’d reassure Daddy that we’d had a wonderful time, and he’d drop us at mom’s without coming in. Usually she was asleep, her last Scotch melting on the nightstand, next to an ashtray full of Benson & Hedges smoked down to their filters.
If you remember the opening scene of the premiere, when Don dropped off his kids in his Caddy, you must think I’m making some part of this up. I’m not. Sometimes, make believe can get too real. A sure sign of this is when you begin trying to read the minds of characters who aren’t actual people at all.
That’s what I started doing as I drank beer after beer while watching the “Mad Men” premiere. For a kid like me who’s been in that car, it wasn’t even hard to figure out what was going through the minds of the Draper kids as they idled awkwardly in front of the house where they had once been a family. They were thinking: “Maybe this time Daddy will just come in, and we can go back to how things are supposed to be.”
Don Henry is the NewsWorks director of digital news.