We’ve recently been watching the second season of Mad Men. I find myself fascinated by the writing and acting (and yes, costumes and sets) of this show, while not necessarily always enjoying the stories. It’s probably a mark of how well written and acted it is that I care about the characters as much as I do, even while gritting my teeth over many of their actions and choices. For instance, I honestly can’t understand how I remain sympathetic to Don Draper, whose sometimes despicable choices make me wince (or make me want to smack him) and yet for the most part, my main feeling for him is pity.
It’s the loneliness of the characters that keeps stabbing me to the heart. The way they strive after success, prestige, youth, beauty, or what have you is sometimes funny, sometimes awful, sometimes pitiable, but you realize how many of them are just truly lonely. It’s particularly painful to watch the scenes between the married couples, like Don and Betty and Pete and Trudy, who seem to spin along like isolated tops, never orbiting close enough to one another (even when they’re touching) to make a real connection.
A scene that took my breath in almost painful intensity the other evening came in an episode when Betty had been yelling a lot at Bobby, the youngest Draper child. It became clear midway through that her frustration with Bobby was really misplaced frustration at her unfaithful and distant husband. She kept snapping at Don, telling him he should discipline Bobby for various minor infractions, and finally Don snapped and threw one of Bobby’s toys against the wall (a toy the child had been playing with at the table) and stormed out.
The boy, about five years old, came trailing forlornly after his angry and frustrated father and lisped out a quiet “I’m sorry.” Don’s angry face looked like it was about to melt. Quite frankly, melting would be a good thing for Don, but he always seems to master whatever emotion threatens to engulf him without surrendering to it. You could practically see him take a deep, inward breath and pull himself together. “Sometimes dads get mad,” he said, kindly and calmly and inadequately, but at least it was an admission of sorts that he’d lost his cool. “Did your dad get mad?” asked Bobby curiously, and Don nodded and told him lots of times. “And your daddy’s dead?” asked Bobby then, and Don responded, “He died a long time ago.” To which the child replied, his face completely somber, “We need to find you a new daddy.”
This heart wrenching scene actually ends in Don hugging his son close, a tenderness we don’t often get to see. Talk about a beautifully played and written one. That one childish remark cuts to the heart of Don’s lostness, and the lostness of all the other characters too.
Everybody needs a loving father. We may especially feel it when we’ve lost our earthly fathers or are estranged from them, but it’s just an underlying truth for us all, regardless of what we've experienced with our human parents. Yet another reason to be deeply thankful for the loving Abba heart of God.