get dad a drink

The Mad Men Guide to Being a Father

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) - Mad Men - Season 5, Episode 7 - Photo Credit: Ron Jaffe/AMC
Mad Men: A tender Don/Sally moment between neglect and being caught cheating Photo: Ron Jaffe/AMC/@RONP JAFFE

Father’s Day fast approaches, a time for the dads of this nation to receive hastily chosen golf-themed presents and potentially E. coli’d breakfasts in bed. But through all the family hoopla, a father’s thoughts during this holiday can turn to the self-reflective, “Am I the best dad I can be?” For such introspective and possibly self-doubting patriarchs, we have another gift: The Mad Men Guide to Parenting. By compiling rules based on all the neglectful, irresponsible, and generally dismissive acts displayed by Don, Roger, and the show’s many other crappy dads, we provide a handy low-bar benchmark that can be easily cleared by even the laziest modern father. Sunday night, when they hug their kids at night, they can get warm fuzzies thinking, “At least I haven’t gotten drunk, cheated on my wife, and then told my daughter that the almost-intercourse she just witnessed was just Daddy’s pantsless way of comforting a neighbor.”

Don’t buckle the kids into seatbelts. Just shove them all into the front seat and block their little bodies with your arm if you stop short. That’s what Don did with the Draper children and they’re totally fine. We’re almost positive they all lived to see 1970.

Do teach kids to drive at a young age. As Grandpa Gene demonstrated when he put Sally behind the wheel, 9 is a good age to get ‘em started.

Do leave the back door to your apartment unlocked at all times. That way if a random woman who calls herself Grandma Ida shows up, she can just walk right in while your kids are alone and unsupervised, then make a nice plate of scrambled eggs before she steals a bunch of your stuff. Remember: A nutritious breakfast is important for young bodies, even when it’s served late at night by a home invader.

Don’t, however, leave your mistress’s bedroom door unlocked, especially if you decide to have makeup, you’re-welcome-for-helping-your-son-dodge-the-draft sex. Which, by the way, is the best kind of sex. You never know when one of the kids will access the keys to her place, barge in to recover a mash note, then suddenly see something she can never unsee.

Do take your son Bobby to movies about dystopian futures in which man is enslaved by monkey. It will allow for some rare, quality father-son bonding time. And who cares if the kid winds up having recurrent dreams from which he wakes screaming, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” He spends most of his time at his mom’s megamansion, so the night terrors will totally be her problem. (Note: This approach to fathering also works well for grandfathering. See: Sterling, Roger.)

Don’t mention the fact that the appearance of your son Bobby has drastically changed four times in the past eight years. It’s rude and besides, you were really drunk during much of that time, so who knows what that kid actually looked like in 1965?

Do let your children know that you are president of the Howdy Doody Circus Army. Pete Campbell sarcastically shot this line at a New Haven transit official, but with a less snide intonation, that bogus claim could really impress his daughter Tammy! Doesn’t matter if it’s not true, she’s not gonna ask for documentation. Kids love that crap, and they’re gullible!

Actually, if you really want to parent the Pete Campbell way, don’t mention or think about the fact that you have a daughter. Seriously, when was the last time Pete even said his daughter Tammy’s name? You probably didn’t even remember her name was Tammy, did you? That’s okay. Pete doesn’t either. Oh, and by the way, Pete? When you get old and your mind starts to go, you just better hope that Tammy finds it in her heart to find you a Manolo.

Do enjoy a post–Clio Award–winning lost weekend so much that you don’t know where you are, what day it is, or that you’re totally late picking up the kids. It’s good for sons and daughters to sometimes be forgotten because of Daddy’s debauched drunken haze. Builds character and makes them appreciate the sober, punctual pickups all the more.

Don’t mix your own drinks if your children are around to do it for you. Really, why should you get up?

Do happily eat French toast — with no shells in it! — that’s been prepared lovingly by your daughter. It’s especially rewarding when you realize that the “Mrs. Butterworth’s” poured on top is actually a generous, syrupy helping of rum.

Don’t hesitate to sit in a car and eat all twenty of the White Castle mini-burgers you supposedly bought for your family. As Harry Crane once said, “You bring home a bag of food and they go at it and there’s nothing left for you. Eat first. That’s my recommendation to people who say they’re getting married and having kids. Eat first.” Or, in other words: Teach a child to fish, you feed him for a day. Eat all the fish alone in your car, you feed yourself for a day.

Do ask the right questions when you find out your daughter has to go to therapy because she was masturbating in front of a friend. And by right questions, we mean: “Really? Boy or girl?”

Don’t allow your daughter to go to an American Cancer Society banquet wearing go-go boots. But do allow her to pretend to be the date of your hard-drinking, ladies’ man colleague at the same banquet. That way she’ll be wearing appropriate footwear when she walks in on said colleague receiving oral sex from your mother-in-law, an incident that will mentally prepare her for the aforementioned witnessing of sex between you and your mistress two years later.

Do plan your daughter’s wedding with a spirit of selflessness. To maintain a cool head during the planning process, repeat the father-of-the-bride mantras popularized by Sterling’s Gold author Roger Sterling, such as, “All of a sudden, I could give two craps about that wedding. All I want to do is win,” and “Tell the bride that everything is copacetic. We both agree that she’s nuts and she should shut up.”

But above all else, don’t forget to say things like this to your sweet baby girl before she grows up and becomes an adult: “You know what makes me happy? A beautiful young lady who will someday be wearing makeup. But not tonight.” Once in a very great while, Don Draper really is a good dad.

The Mad Men Guide to Being a Father