For Christmas in 2009 my dear friend Stan Brown gifted my wife and I the box set DVDs for Seasons 1 and 2 of a show called "Mad Men". I gave up on it while watching Season 1. It didn't feel like it would be "my kind of thing," but my wife kept watching for some reason. Eventually, I gave it a second shot and I'm glad I did. When the final episode aired last night it marked the end of a six year journey with these characters. The show was far from perfect, but I think most people will see it as one of the all-time television classics.
There are a million things I could say about this show, but I will stick with one, the one that meant the most to me: it gave me a glimpse into the world where my grandparents were the parents and my parents were the children. My mother was born in the early 60s. My father the late 50s. This show allowed me to try to understand one of my grandfathers, now estranged, whose demise can be credited to an obsession with climbing the corporate ladder after returning from military service—like Don. It has given me a place to begin with some of the questions I've always wanted to ask my grandmother on my mother's side, and I'm glad I asked, because the answers gave me insight into what that world was like for women and showed me everything I needed to see in order to admire my grandmother even more. On the father's side things are less clear because the connection isn't the same. My grandfather on my father's side served in the military, but then became more of a country loving, outdoors enthusiast who did manual labor (I believe CalTrans) for a living and whose religion was camping and hunting for animals—a religion he tried to pass to my through my father, but which I rejected. He died in 1999 of cancer. My grandmother on my father's side is a woman whose story I haven't had a chance to hear, but maybe the opportunity will present itself.
I came to understand my family a little better through the Drapers. I think I was able to see why my father and grandfathers tried to teach me a certain form of masculinity that I found troubling even as a young boy and that for the most part I have rejected as an adult (I still love baseball and that is their great gift to me). I came to admire my grandmothers a little more for being part of the beginning of an era that would help subsequent generations of women, the Betty Friedan "strange stirring" era (and yes, I realize this benefitted white women more than others). And I think I understand my parents better as children of this generation, children who lived through the empty promises that era offered.
So, farewell, Don Draper, the sitcom version of the older men in my life. I hope your story ends well. And by your story I mean I still hope for redemption for the men of that era who are alive, and their spouses, and their children, a redemption modeled by the strange persistence toward rooting for Don's salvation that stuck with me even as he played the villain, in part, for seven seasons.