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Dropping the phony facade

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Thanks to the magic of DVR I’ve been watching the first three seasons of “Mad Men.”  Set in the early 1960s, the series is about a New York Madison Avenue advertising firm, centering around one character, Don Draper, who heads the creative department.  He’s a fascinating character - aloof, suave and handsome and morally bankrupt. He’s married with two kids, but he sleeps with anything in a skirt. It’s not uncommon for him to not come home for a few days.  His name’s not really Don Draper, but Dick Whitman. His mother was a prostitute who gave him away to his alcoholic father and his wife. His father dies and the wife remarries and Dick has a pretty miserable childhood.  He joins the military and is sent to Korea where, after his commanding officer - the real Don Draper - is killed, he switches dog tags and assumes Draper’s identity and deserts the war.  So, Dick, now Don, is a successful ad man. However, because he can’t completely shed his real identity, he’s constantly looking over his shoulder, on guard lest someone recognizes him as Dick and exposes him.  That happens a few times. He’s on the train and someone says, “Dick Whitman! How the heck are you?”  Dick/Don’s upper lip gets sweaty as he tries to ignore the person until he finally says, “You’ve got the wrong guy.”  Another time his younger brother finds him and comes to see him in New York. Don gives him money and tells him to go away. (Spoiler alert: The brother kills himself in a hotel room.)  As creative and brilliant as Don Draper is, even as he’s the envy of all the other ad men in his office, he’s an imposter. He’s Dick Whitman, son of the town whore, and he’s constantly haunted by nightmares of the former life he’s trying to hide.  Brennan Manning, former Catholic priest and self-confessed imposter in search of his real self, writes about his fake self and how he counts on outside experiences to give him inner meaning.  In his book, “Posers, Fakes and Wannabes: Unmasking the Real You,” he writes, “For a long time I hid from my true self by performing in ministry. I constructed a fake identity through sermons, books and storytelling. I convinced myself that if the majority of Christians thought well of me, there was nothing wrong, right? The more ministerial success I experienced, the more convincing the ‘Poser’ became.”  He adds, “For the Poser, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you look playing the game.”  Eventually, Manning came to the conclusion that to rid himself of his poser or imposter ways, he needed to “call the Poser out of hiding,” accept him, embrace him and bring him to Jesus.  “Because whatever is denied cannot be healed,” Manning writes. “We have to acknowledge our selfishness and stupidity and gradually accept that we’re as poor and broken as the next guy. And that it’s okay because if we weren’t then we would be God.”  He goes on to write, “When we accept the truth about ourselves and surrender it to Jesus Christ, we find peace - maybe not the constant emotional experience of peace, but genuine peace still, even when we don’t understand it.”  Recently, I learned that one of my favorite Christian writers, Heather Kopp, started a blog, “Sober Boots,” where she writes about being a Christian and being an alcoholic and how the two are not an oxymoron. 


She says labeling herself an alcoholic means that she will always be broken in this particular way and that she can’t wish it away. The label “recovering” means that she understands that when she wants a drink, what she’s really craving is grace and that being a Christian means she “believes God is making beauty out of my brokenness.”  “Sober Boots” refers to her one-time habit of hiding wine bottles inside her boots in her closet, pretending on the outside she’s something she’s not.  Now that she admits she’s a drunk, she’s free not to be. She’s now four years sober.  Don Draper never gets free (so far in the series). He does end up telling his wife everything, but only after she finds all his papers that he had locked and hidden away in a desk drawer - and she divorces him.  How tragic. By holding onto his fake self, he loses everything.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.