Mad Men, Sad Men?

This clever Sesame Street spoof made me think of the sensational episode called “The Gypsy and the Hobo” in season 3, Episode 11. This is the one where Betty finally finds out about Don’s true identity as Dick Whitman, a very poor boy born of a prostitute mother; raised by his abusive father, Archibald Whitman; and Archibald’s wife, Abigail. Don begins to cry over his half-brother Adam’s suicide. “I turned him away,” he says. “He just wanted to be part of my life and I couldn’t risk all of this.”

This is the first, and only time I remember ever seeing Don cry (diehard fans, please correct me if I’m wrong). Actually, I rarely recall seeing Don emote in any demonstrative way at all, except of course, anger. So, when it comes to emotional expression, he essentially is only a mad man. Which, when I think of my father or my grandfathers who were part of that same era, anger pretty much seems to be the one, acceptable masculine emotion they preferred.

Did this endear us to them? Or put a distance between us? How many of us can remember that one time our fathers of grandfathers actually cried, and how it made us feel closer to them? For me, it felt good to see Don freed to finally feel, express his feelings over his losses and mistakes. It brought me closer to his character, as that kind of true and honest emotion usually does. Vicariously, I felt closer to men like my dad and grandfathers, as well.

Unfortunately, although not as bad as it was during the Eisenhower era, this legacy of limited emotional expression for men is still with us today. Anger is still the most often expressed male emotion. Why? Because it feels more masculine, and is still the most socially acceptable of emotions for men. Angry men have an air of strength and purpose (like a warrior). However, anger expressed wrongly often leads to emotional or physical destruction. Our prisons are filled with, well, mad men. Sad men are called a wimp or worse, a p**** (trying to keeping a P.G. rating here). And if men are overly joyful, or happy, they often get that youthful jab, “he’s so gay.”

Conversely, anger is often the most socially unacceptable emotion for women. Women who express anger are often called “b****.” But it’s usually deemed perfectly OK for women to be sad or glad. Crying is still something that women can do more freely in society, but men really can not without judgement.

Change has started for men, however, with the modern men’s movement, ignited in part by men like Robert Bly and his book, “Iron John” in the 1980’s. This and other books about men’s lack of proper initiation into true manhood in our Western, industrialized, individualized society, has given rise to groups like The Mankind Project (MKP) that help men work on becoming emotionally mature, and embrace the full range of human emotions and expression thereof, as part of their initiation into community of fully, emotionally functioning men (aka the hu-man race).

Changes are happening, and men are becoming more free to be mad, sad, and glad in ways that are constructive rather than destructive. This is not only masculine, but in my judgement, the most powerful kind of masculinity. The kind that initiates, builds and strengthens our relationships and society.

My experience shows that these changes happen best when they happen early, when men are still boys. As Frederick Douglass so aptly said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Until age 19, boys’ decisions are mostly out of the rear, emotionally reactive, perceptual part of their brains. In these formative years of their brains, boys need tools, and help, from adults, especially men (aka mentors) to help them sort out their emotions, and reactions, in a way that doesn’t destroy themselves or others. As an ancient, African proverb says, “If we do not initiate the boys they will burn the village down.”

An organization that’s doing powerful work with boys to mentor and help them grow into emotional mature adults is Boys to Men (BTM). My son and I have started a local chapter in our town, Boys to Men Raleigh. I’ve watched boys do some fun, yet focused processes that helps them start dealing with their emotions. Their countenances often change overnight. If they can express and let go of some of their anger, sadness, or shame then they are suddenly free to be glad, carefree boys again.

Expressions often used in some of these circles of MKP or BTM are things like, “your anger is welcome here” or “your shame is welcome here.” Thus, to Don Draper, I’d love to say “your sadness is welcome here.”

Please comment, give feedback or contribute below. I’d love to know what YOU think, and what you’d like to see here next!

Editing, writing, and conceptual support from my good, generous, talented and crazy friend: Toby Roan, The Ninth Floor50 Westerns form the 50s.

Till Sept. 17: VOTE for Mr. Dapper Don to win Mad Men Casting Call

2 Responses to “Mad Men, Sad Men?”
  1. robinesque says:

    wow, what a great post … often being mad is an outcropping of being sad and not being able to express it … Again, nicely written!

  2. madmanbowman says:

    Yes, very insightful, Robin! In Boys to Men, we often ask the boys to find the the emotion “on top,” express it, let it out completely. Once that’s out, then the really strong one underneath is often there to freely express itself!

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  • This blog is the personal expression of MadMan Bowman and some of his friends. It is not owned, operated, supported or associated with AMC or the actual Mad Men TV show, or Banana Republic in any way, shape or form.
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