Sunday, June 16, 2013

To All the Fatherless Women on Father's Day

You know who you are.  Those of us who begin to feel a deep kind of sadness surface as Father's Day approaches, who realize that the sadness is always there, deep within, every day of our lives. 

He can be alive somewhere, or he can be gone, but he was never really there.  At least not for you.  You were invisible.  Or disappointing.  Or simply too unimportant.  He's the reason, the therapists tell you, that your relationships with men are largely and often completely fucked.  Why you chase the unavailable man, or the man who judges and shames you, the one who disregards you, and tells you it's all your fault. 

He's the reason you find it hard to trust anyone, or believe in yourself.  He's the reason you are too easily swayed by external judgments about your beauty, your intellect, your worthiness.  He's the reason you have Superwoman syndrome and a drive to be perfect, coupled with the crippling fear of your own deep and abiding imperfection. 

There are millions of us, you know.  In fact, despite all those "Happy Father's Day, Daddy" messages that clog social media,  the women who had loving, supportive, proud fathers are in the minority.  We are an army of wounded women - carrying the fatherless wound into our adult lives.  It doesn't matter how old you are, either.  Inside of you there is a deeply wounded, mournful little girl who needs to be acknowledged and loved. 

And since the reality is that your father will never heal the wound he left you with, it falls to you, yourself to begin a process of healing so that you don't expect anyone else to be responsible for fixing that gaping hole in your psyche. 

There is writing about this, of course, since there is writing about every subject.  H. Norman Wright's book, Healing the Father Wound is one.  The book talks about "father-shaped holes" and different unhealthy ways in which fatherless girls respond to their wounding.  Some become promiscuous, confusing sex with love; others go in the opposite direction and become asexual, never able to trust intimacy.  There is the superwoman syndrome -- always pushing yourself to have the 4.0 GPA, or the most billable hours, or the most perfect body - and sometimes ALL of those things and more.  There is anger management difficulty, and boundary issues, on-going depression, the wreckage of failed relationships.  A full review of the book can be read here:  Healing the Father Wound

Other books include Pamela Thomas's Book Fatherless Daughters: Turning Power to Forgiveness. 
To tell you the truth, the sentiment leaves me cold.  I like the idea of drawing our own power from the terrible wounding of childhood; I do not like the idea of forgiveness.  To hell with forgiveness. 
Jonetta Rose Barras provides a racial focus, talking about the black woman's struggle with fatherlessness in  Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl  A review of Barras's book can be read here.

So, it's probably a good idea to check out the advice available.  Become aware of those fairly typical behaviors found in the fatherless daughter.  Work to heal them, and to correct any behaviors that can be causing you further harm.   Get help if you need it.  You are worthy of being happy, whatever that takes. 

And when Father's Day comes around, celebrate yourself instead.  Celebrate your strength, your beauty, your unique abilities.  Realize that your father's imperfections and inabilities, your father's failures are in your past, and don't have to define anything about you or your life now. 
Then, resolve to make that true. 

We are an army of wounded women, but we are also survivors.  We might carry our wounds like shrapnel, but we can move through these experiences and gain a lot of strength and wisdom.  Shift your perspective away from what you didn't get, try seeing how your own strengths developed to make you unique and strong.  Be proud of the strength that rose up within you as a guide; be compassionate about the frailties you carry as you work to heal them.   As for gratitude or forgiveness for the father who created the wound -- no way.  I'm not grateful that my father was too much of a narcissist to care for anyone beside himself.  I don't forgive his cruelty or coldness, his judgmental perfectionism, his emotional absence.  Fathers like this don't deserve anything but condemnation and shame, not just on Father's Day, but every day of their lives. 


Monday, June 3, 2013

What the Dickens Are They Doing?

"It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times."  In  "Tale of Two Cities", the latest episode of Season 6 of Mad Men, sets up the juxtaposition between L.A. and NYC in 1968 -- but it is NOT about "two" cities, actually.  It's about three - the third city which permeates the atmosphere on both coasts is the city in the center - Chicago - where the violent protests and fights taking place at the 1968 convention are filling the airwaves.  I'd like to point something out here -- the chants of the sixties were NOT what was being used on this replication of the demonstrations.  What did you hear the protestors chanting?  "The whole world is watching.  The whole world is watching."  That is the chant of the Occupy Movement, people.  A pretty brilliant way to connect the upheaval of 1968 with where we are today.  And, back then, as Don said, none of the information coming across the airwaves about what was happening was shown until "after primetime" -- in 2013 that is not the case.  The whole world IS watching now.  All the time.

With two sides of the country being in such different places - displaying entirely different "cultures",  the city at the heart is not functioning.  The center will not hold. 
This is not only a prediction of the cultural split that we see in the country, but the "two cities" of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price and Cutler, Gleason and Chaugh.  Two ad agencies, two very different cultures.  And, again -- a reference can be made to the U.S. today -- where the differences that polarize us might be different, but the polarization is just as acute. 

Dickens talks about a world that has been rocked by revolution, and looks carefully at the differences between the "sanity" that is London in comparison to the "madness" which is Paris during the Reign of Terror.  But in America, circa 1968, just where is the sanity?  Roger Sterling would like to believe that it is safely grounded in Manhattan, that New York is the center of the universe. But back in HIS New York, at his firm, cracks and fissures are widening.  His New York has been burning.  And in the U.S. of 2013 - where is the sanity? 

Issues of hypocrisy  -- being vocally anti-war while working for an agency being paid by Dow Chemical, for instance -- are examined.  How can you work in advertising and be honestly and actively socially progressive?  Years ago, when Peggy brought up the question of a client that didn't hire negroes, she was told that their job was to make Americans buy from the client, not to make the client like negroes.  In other words, it is not an advertising agency's responsibility to be socially conscious; if anything, it is their role to remain socially unconscious and to see to it that America's consumers are misdirected toward purchasing rather than judging the products, or the companies producing the goods.  Flash forward to 2013 and we see where this has gotten us. 

The women's movement is addressed in the story of Joan fighting to maintain her ascendant role in the acquisition of a new client, Avon. (The irony there is pretty clear, of course.) The argument between Peggy, now much more comfortable in her role in the men's world, and Joan, who has had to play the femme fatale card again and again in order to progress, is telling.  Peggy, more "male-identified" as many of the women in my generation felt they had to be, and Joan, an old-style female, working old style ways - beauty, charm, dissembling - in order to get to where she wants to go.  Never mind that behind both of the facades -- because BOTH of these choices require facades -- the real women are competent, talented, powerful and magnificent.  They still have to adopt the personas that the male-dominated world can recognize.  And, they are still subject to the anger and retribution of the men in the office if they step out of line.  Peggy is sent out of the room -- summarily dismissed -- when she tries to speak on Joan's behalf.  Joan is seated - she sat down herself - while the men rail at her.  Why?  She overstepped her bounds.  She maneuvered -- gasp! intentionally! - to claim a position of greater influence.  "It's a conspiracy!" Pete Campbell screams.  Yes, Pete, two women in positions of power, as opposed to the legion of women typing the letters, pouring the coffee and kissing your ass -- that's dangerous, indeed. 

And wait.  Reaching for power.  Isn't that exactly what mystery man Bob Benson has been doing all season?  Who the hell is he?  What are his talents?  Other than his ability to play everyone by giving them what they want, saying what they want to hear, being who they want him to be, what can he do?  He lies.  He panders.  He practically oozes his way through the scenes.  But what is the reaction?  He is handed opportunities to expand his role in the firm.  Give the sociopath more power.  In 2013, we see where that has gotten us, too. 

See the glaring gender difference?  I think Weiner was hoping we would. 

Another reference to Bob Benson as gay should also be noted.  Ginsberg asks him, "Are you a homo?" and Benson dodges the question.  Other writers have suggested that it is Benson who will bring us to Stonewall, and incorporate that historic event into the fabric of this show.  I'm wondering if there isn't a greater possibility that it will be Cutler.  Or maybe we'll see a return of the seriously disrespected Sal -- who has not yet made a reappearance on the show. 

Then there are the "California girls" of this episode.  Megan is set clearly in that camp, with the connection between California and actresses, and then with Don's hallucination of her being in the midst of the Hollywood party, dressed like the other women there, being deeply involved in the California culture of Don's mind.  (This, of course, further connects her to that culture in a way that those who have predicted an intended connection between Megan and Sharon Tate would see as additional proof of their theory.  Especially since she reveals she is pregnant, and tells Don that it is a "second chance" for them.)

Problem is, the California culture in Don's mind -- and actually, in America's ultimate outcome -- is a culture that includes a lot of death.  While he is not consciously thinking of Anna, or Lane, or his brother - I think Don is haunted by their ghosts constantly - and even more when he is away from the office, in an atmosphere of relaxation and happiness, where he feels his inability to be happy or relaxed even more keenly.   The dead man he hallucinates here is the young man who's marriage he attended when he was in Hawaii - a ghost without a right arm, who tells him, "Death doesn't make you whole."  But the dead soldier is not only that young boy, but the real Don Draper, the dead soldier whose identity he stole.  (Remember that he tells the blonde he is kissing during the party, "I told you.  My name's not Don.")  California, just one short year later becomes the California of the LoBianco and Tate murders.  It becomes the California who provides us the seeds of our greater destruction, in the person of Ronald Reagan.  All the hope, the dreams, the peace/love/joy of the California 60s is about to come crashing down -- those of us who lived through the end of that decade and have struggled with where our country has gone since already know that. 

The warning sign of that is Danny Siegel -- reincarnated in a ridiculous Indian shirt and love beads, calling himself Daniel J. Siegel - a half-pint producer with an inflated ego and enough power in this new world to karate chop Roger Sterling in the balls.  Yes, he wears the clothing and talks the talk of the California dream, but he's a Hollywood producer wannabe, ultimately no less slimy or suspect than those NYC ad men in their suits and ties, who stand out in all the wrong ways in this new world.  Daniel J. Siegel is just a new sort of phony, and the "free" love of this new culture is only "free" to the men.
Women -- and let's finally admit: it's taken us several decades to realize this -- continued to pay a far greater price for sexual intimacy than these men, who found it even easier now to take what they wanted without consequence.  Sexual liberation freed men from the need to respect women or to take responsibility for their own actions; it's done little to liberate women.  That Hollywood pool party was just a PlayBoy Club party, with better music. 

Finally, to the main image of the episode.  Don floating face down in the swimming pool,
looking for all intents and purposes like a dead and drowned man.  Remembrances of all the drowned, heroin-addicted rock stars come to mind.  But also -- the final image of Jay Gatsby -- floating face down in his own pool, a victim of his own excesses -- another character who has taken on a new name and identity to chase a dream that wasn't real.
Don is dragged from death and resuscitated.  On the flight home Roger is already rewriting history, and his explanation about what happened to Don is, "...and you are a terrible swimmer," which we know is not true.  What did happen?  Seems we won't be told. 

The episode ends with an agreement that the new, combined culture of both ad agencies will be named Sterling, Cooper and Partners -- with the names of the rest of the men, Don and Ted included, erased.  Ted's character seems self-effacing enough for us to believe that he is genuinely okay with that decision.  But Don, accepting a sort of professional annihilation? 

Final frame is that of a disgruntled Pete Campbell -- and when isn't that worm disgruntled? -- literally pulling a joint out of Rizzo's fingers and smoking it, alone, as Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" plays behind the fade out.  Another oblique reference to death, here, since Joplin died young, ostensibly of a drug overdose.  Not quite the fade out of Dicken's Tale of Two Cities, as Sidney Carton goes willingly to a death meant for another, sacrificing himself for an impossible love.  Saying to the world, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest
that I go to than I have ever known." 

In Mad Men, there is only one possible Sidney Carton, and that is Don Draper.  Just as Sidney has a doppelganger in Charles Darnay, with whom he exchanges fates and lives, so do Don Draper and Dick Whitman exchange fates and lives.  The disaffection and depression of Carton is mirrored by the constant disaffection and depression of Don.
It's an interesting connection that is not developed or made obvious, merely suggested by the choice of the episode's title, perhaps one that will be played out by the end of the season?

The 6th season will be wrapping up in a few episodes, so I guess we'll see where all these predictions and connections are going to take us.  But for now, it's a lot of fun to unpack the writing and try to intuit the intentions.