My dad could kick Don Draper’s ass


I am the same age as Sally Draper.  We both grew up a long time ago, in a galaxy far away,  in a world that no longer exists. Beyond that simple sharing of age, we have nothing in common.  My family did not have anywhere near the money the Draper’s had.  I never went on a vacation that didn’t end up at a relative’s house.

More to the point, my father was nothing like Don Draper, and thank goodness for that.  In my suburban upbringing, Dad left the house early every morning and returned every evening just in time for dinner.   No one thought that was unusual; it was just the way things were.

What was unusual was the degree of involvement he had in our lives.  Many of my friends ate dinner early, with their parents eating a later, quiet adults-only meal.  Not in my house, despite the number of times my father mentioned it  (usually after one of us spilled a glass of milk, or a raging fight had just blown over).

When bedtime came, it was Dad’s turn to take over.  I have no memories of my mother ever putting us to bed; that was his job.  He was great storyteller, and bedtime was a chance to hear his range of voices and accents.  Many of his choices were adult classics; I can still hear him reading Rudyard Kipling, complete with British and Indian accents.

My mother slept like the dead; when I had a bad dream or woke up too late to make it to the bathroom, it was Dad who fixed everything and got me back to sleep.  Later, in my teen years, he was the one to greet me at the door when I tried to sneak in past curfew.

To me, as a child, my dad was amazing.  He’s a small man, but compactly built and strong (even today, in his mid-80s, he lifts weights every morning).  My father was into exercise and healthy living long before it became fashionable. During the same years when Don Draper was drinking a 3-martini lunch, my dad was running the track at the downtown Chicago YMCA (this was so long ago it that the term “jogging” hadn’t yet been invented).  He hung chin-up bars on the door frames of our bedrooms, and tried in vain to convince us to use them every time we went in or out of the door.

Visiting him at work was always fun.  There were the fish tanks filled with guppies, the desk drawer stuffed with candy bars Mom would never let us eat, and the great view of Chicago out the window.  I’d always surreptitiously look for the paperweight I made for him back in first grade; it was there prominently displayed on his desk for every visit from early childhood through adulthood and until his retirement.

My dad didn’t dress as well as Don, and certainly never earned that kind of money; but I knew that I could always depend on him to be there when I needed him.  And he always has been.   He took us fishing, brought us to museums, went on family picnics, and showed up for every single school event.

Dad’s older now, and my relationship with him, as with my mother, is shifting from receiving support to giving care.  I take them grocery shopping most weekends, and I’m getting a lot of phone calls asking for help on certain items.

Still, there are times when he remains my dad, the guy who can take care of anything scary and make the world safe.  When I was little, he made sure that my room was free of the monsters I was sure lived in the closet.  At Rick’s funeral, as I was getting ready to leave, my Dad walked up to me and asked if I needed help paying for it.  He’d brought his checkbook.  I loved him for doing this; for being ready to help out just in case it was needed.  He was there, just as he’s been there for my whole life.