today is my father’s birthday and he’s gone now, but never forgotten.and whenever i see the show, ‘mad men’, i think of him. the look, the feel, the era – that was our life growing up. we lived in the twirly, swirling world of advertising.
my dad, in the left forefront, in a very important lunch meeting
we had cocktail parties at our suburban detroit house, hosting automotive clients and friends and all sorts of interesting characters. there were martinis and dresses and canapés and jazz and laughs long into the night. i once saw him put on a horrible wig and wear it like nothing was unusual, just to get a reaction. we would sneak down in our pajamas and sit on the stairs, just to be a part of all the hullabaloo.
on regular nights, we were always pitching ideas to him around the dinner table and suggesting musical lyrics, tag lines, and concepts for commercials. we never realized he was a media guy in the business, and that all of our creative gestures did not have any impact, other than making him laugh.
he was a tall, blonde, happy guy, who married my mother, a tiny, dark strong italian, and he was no match for her really. i remember him working a lot, traveling, and he could not fix a thing around the house or cook an egg or plant a tree, but he could tell a story, and he could talk anyone into buying anything, and he was very good at what he did everyday in the office – a man absolutely born to the job.
on saturdays, i watched every western and wwll movie with him, just so we could hang out together on the couch. and he would tell me made-up stories about the old stars. to this day, i remember the music from ‘the dirty dozen,’ and i can name every cowboy ever on television. he took my sisters and i on ‘one-on-one daddy/daughter dates’, where we got to choose what we did, and i frequently picked sharing a milkshake, his favorite, and going to a funny movie with him, just to hear him laugh.
he had the same name as a local television host, a former hollywood bit-player, who hosted a popular movie show. and even though they looked nothing like each other, we always had good tables when going out to dinner, for when he made reservations, restaurants frequently thought he was the same guy, and he never told them any different. he cheerfully signed autographs all the time for people when they discovered his name, and they somehow imagined him to be the same person.
when i was little, he showed me his ‘official man from u.n.c.l.e. identification card,’ and told me it was top secret, that he was really a spy, and not to tell anyone. it made sense to me as he had to travel a lot, and i figured advertising was the perfect cover. i always loved, spies, and mysteries and crime stories, and i was so excited that i immediately told everyone i came in contact with, and swore them to secrecy too. when i was much older, and i brought it up, he said that one of his clients, chevrolet, had sponsored the show, and they had given him the i.d. card as a fun promotional gift. and i loved him for letting me imagine.
dad on the right involved in some schmoozing and story-telling
interesting that i ended up in the same business, through a very circuitous route, many years later. guess it was in my blood, though i was on the creative and promotions side of the ad world, where i had to tell stories and get people to buy my product – not cars, but instead, movies and plays and parades and circuses – pure entertainment. experiences where they could suspend reality for a bit and just let their imaginations roam free.
and when he offered me media suggestions, they did not have any impact, other than making me laugh. happy birthday dad, and thanks for all of the memories, both the ones that were real and the ones you created for me.
Don Draper: Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK. – (Season 1, Episode 1 – Mad Men)