“Who are you supposed to be?” Unmasking Mad Men

“Who are you supposed to be?”

That’s the million-dollar question that a neighbor asks Mad Men‘s lead character, Don Draper, while handing out Halloween candy to the Draper kids. A lame, benign joke under other circumstances, but as it comes on the heels of Don being totally unmasked, he is left staring like a deer in headlights. Having just been forced to admit his true identity to his wife, Betty, he has just revealed that he used to be Dick Whitman—the son of a prostitute who turned away his half-brother only to see him kill himself. Thus ended one of the most powerful episodes in season 3, The Gypsy and The Hobo. Although, he would continue to wear many masks, Don Draper’s life would never be the same again.

Concerning the masks worn by Don Draper, Brett & Kate McKay write, “The problem with constantly putting on a false front is that the relationships we make while wearing it are inevitably inauthentic. People interact with your alter ego instead of the real you. Mad Men’s Don Draper is a perfect example of this. He tries to keep up a front of cool control and invulnerability in his relationships. His associate Harry Crane remarks, “Draper? Who knows anything about that guy? No one’s ever lifted that rock. He could be Batman for all we know.” The problem is not only that nobody knows Don, but that in pretending to be someone else (quite literally here) he doesn’t know himself either. He wants to change, but his real self and his false persona are so disconnected he doesn’t know how.” The Mask Men Wear on their site, The Art of Manliness.

Stuck to the mask.

This is exactly the place a lot of men and boys find themselves in today, with their masks, their false personas so stuck to themselves that their relationships are totally inauthentic. They want to change, but can’t. They do not know who they are. This disconnection from one’s self happens when a boy either has no men in their lives, or has only ones who hide behind masks and are emotionally distant. Covered by only a mask of anger, these are truly mad men, revealing nothing else to those around them but anger. A boy who has never seen behind the mask of any man close to him is totally lost, not knowing what it is to become as a real, authentic man.

That boy is left desperately, fearfully asking the question:”Who am I supposed to be?”

Often, instead of using words to ask this fearful question, a boy will more likely use actions instead of words to find his answers. Actions may include violence or vandalism to confront the dangers in his world. Or from fear, he may retreat into depression, using drugs to ease his pain. Or he may steal to get a sense of power when power seems elusive. All of these actions scream one thing to the men around them, “tell me, man, who am I supposed to be?!”

Mad men taking off their masks.

There are men who’ve gotten mad enough about the plight of these lost boys and to do something to help them change their situation. They’ve become mentors. And not just mentors only, but also men who are leading the boys in initiation into the world of men. There will always be a much-needed place for great mentoring organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Here, however, I want to focus on an organization in which my son and I are involved called Boys to Men mentoring network. The biggest change that Boys to Men and Journeymen is making is by growing communities founded on mentoring, rites of passage, and helping boys become fully functioning persons. These men and boys are learning how to be “full men” inside of a world that is often pushing them to lives focused on maintaining images and acquiring toys and holding onto their masks.

Removing their masks in front of boys, the mentors in Boys to Men endeavor to show authentic anger and how to process it. They also show that they have  the full spectrum of emotions as well, and that being a sad man or a glad man is as natural as being mad. All emotions are welcome and have a place to be expressed and processed to make one a fully authentic man.

To enter this world and work of men, boys are offered an initiation or rite of passage into the community of men. Initiation for men has always been an important tradition in all cultures throughout history, but has been lost in our post-modern, industrialized west in the last couple of centuries. Organizations like Boys to Men are attempting to bring this back and make it available to all boys, everywhere.

How Mike and Joe lose their masks.

Mike and Joe are two boys who have benefited from the work of Boys to Men in their lives. Mike and Joe grew up in opposite parts of the Twin Cities, but they have had something painful in common. Their frightening behavior has brought them to the attention of the system as “at risk” boys. But Mike and Joe are actually part of a rapidly growing population of boys who are either challenged, hurting, or “failing” in their lives.  Preview a documentary by Mirrorman Films featuring their stories, called “Journeymen” below:

This story is one of courageous men and boys removing their masks within healing, accepting communities. Besides touching hearts, the documentary’s obvious agenda is to inspire viewers to mentor or support mentoring. The Boys to Men mentoring program, (BTM), with its “Rites of Passage Adventure” (ROPA) Weekend gives this boys a foundation on which to start rebuilding their lives by finding out “who they are supposed to be.” Following two mentors through the transformation of the stories of their mentoring service, we find the rebirth of a vibrant male culture by talking with and seeing older men who’ve gone through similar mentoring or rites of passage in their lives.

If we do not initiate the boys, they will burn the village down—ancient African proverb

Boys to Men provides boys with mentoring and modeling so that they learn integrity, accountability, compassion and respect.We endeavor to Mentor adolescent boys on their journey to becoming men of integrity by modeling healthy masculinity, encouraging compassionate self awareness and supporting their emotional growth in an environment that welcomes their adolescent energy.
LAAMB-blasting the masks off.

LAAMB is the overarching directive of Boys to Men mentors: Listen, Accept, Admire, Model and Bless.We have a vision of communities of men who teach, support, mentor and encourage boys to become compassionate, accountable men. We help boys develop responsibility and guide them toward healthy manhood. Boys to Men Raleigh is part of the Southeast chapter of the Boys To Men International Mentoring Network, called Journeymen and located in Asheville, N.C. This is part of the larger, Boys To Men International Mentoring Network.
One of the strongest aspects of the weekends and mentoring is to help boys write their mission. They are asked very specifically to look where they have been, what was working and not working for them, and to start discovering their authentic identity. They are helped to look under their masks by a strong, loving, accepting community of men. In this way, they do not have to end up like Don Draper, moving from one distraction to another to discover “who they are supposed to be.”

Rites of Passage Adventure Week-end, May 2010, Journeymen, Asheville

Boys to Men Raleigh Mentoring ROPAW Homecoming Celebration

AND Facebook: Boys to Men Raleigh

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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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