And if you care, don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away.
My Mom grew up in a home with no privacy. Her mother was mentally ill and convinced that Mom didn’t do anything but misbehave and keep secrets. She made Mom sleep in bed with her, and on weekends, Mom would have to sit by her bed and read passages from Psalms while her mother wept. I always thought that sounded deliciously macabre, but having that constant mistrustful attention focused on her gave my Mom tremendous respect for privacy and personal space. When I was growing up, she allowed me a lock on my bedroom door; bought me diaries with locks and encouraged me to hide the tiny keys; left me alone with my thoughts for hours; was a quiet presence waiting in a room to give me affectionate attention whenever I desired. This excellent parenting happened as a result of abuse.
My mother made mistakes, of course she did, no parent is perfect, and Don is an excellent example of an imperfect parent, but parents are also daughters and sons. So much of a parents’ style is either carrying on what they learned from their parents, or recognizing that what their parents did was wrong, and committing to not repeating mistakes. Don’s most recognizable effort in not repeating the mistakes of the people who raised him is determining to give his children a posh, pampered life. Sally, Bobby and Gene want for nothing financially; they are spoiled, and comfortable. Chocolate bars are not consumed with great ceremony by Don’s children; all those little treats that were so important to Dick are expected by Sally, Bobby and Gene, and that soothes Don.
Don is aware though, that he has no personal connection with his children beyond a base desire to protect, one that doesn’t even manifest itself in any noticeable way. He’s not able to properly react to Sally’s fear after the home invasion because he’s too lost inside himself. Don is an excellent provider though, so he tells himself that it’s enough, that his children are bright and clean and clever, so he must be doing something right.
A large theme this season is Don’s inability to express his emotions, and his ham-fisted attempts at displaying affection. It’s awkward, and a little disconcerting to see a man so confident at selling products or seducing a woman so unable to say to his sweet loving wife, “I’m terribly unhappy”. It’s easy to sell products, it’s easy to sell Don Draper, but it’s heartbreaking and nearly impossible to be Dick Whitman. To say, “I didn’t have a loving parent, and as a result, it’s difficult for me to be honest,” would choke Don, so he steadies his hand and quiets his thoughts with liquor and somehow manages to get through each day.
It all came crumbling down this season though. A person cannot push away affection and live inside a lie for as long as Don and not pay consequences. At the beginning of the series we all imagined this great weight that would lift off Don’s shoulders if he was only able to say, “My name is Dick Whitman”, but it hasn’t. Now he has to be Dick Whitman. Now he has to own his past, recognize that the events of his past are what shaped him into the man he has become, atone for his mistakes, open up to the people who keep begging to know him, and forgive himself. Otherwise this identity that he worked so hard to shape is going to consume Don and he’s going to be nothing but a lonely lie.