Grand Rounds

Why we do the things we do

What Would Don Draper Do on a Long Weekend with the Kids Alone?

Dad's today do not, as a rule, wear Fedora's to work.

Would Don Draper Watch Spiderman with the Kids?
These are strange times for Dads. 

In fact, that's almost a direct quotation from my father.

Actually, after hearing that my wife was heading out for a few days to be with her brother, thus leaving me home for the first weekend of Spring vacation in a town devoid of play dates (most folks are away) and a town that refuses to acknowledge Spring (yesterday felt like November) what my Dad really said was, "Wow."

But the "wow" spoke volumes.  It said things like "Are you sure you don't want to hire a sitter?" or "Will you be eating at Red Lobster like we did when your mom worked late?" and, of course "Are you stocked up on alcohol?"

To put this into perspective, my parents' response to the hit show Mad Men was dramatically non-chalant. 

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"Look, Draper keeps tee-shirts in his office!"  I was in awe.

"So?" they asked smiling.

"They smoke....everywhere!"

"We sure did," my dad, a retired lung doctor, acknowledged.

"And he always wears a hat."

They were unmoved.

So, I guess this explains my father's response to my weekend alone with the kids.  He and my mother reared me in the 60's and 70's, and I was brought up right smack in the middle of the country.  My mom was home, even posted one of those "Block Mother" signs in our window, and my Dad always wore a hat to work.  (Somehow, my mother also managed to slowly continue her education, earning her PhD just two days after I finished medical school.  How she did this puzzles me more than the mystery of the Pyramids.)  My Dad left early and came home late.  The rare evenings when my mother wasn't home, Red Lobster was a staple, stuffing us with fried shrimp and hushpuppies for nice full bellies and thus particularly sound sleep.

But, many of us Dads in this 21rst century find Mad Men fascinating precisely because we do not wear, as a rule, Fedoras to work.  And, unlike Mad Men, our wives leave on occasion for a few days and we are at home with the kids.

Hence my dad and his comment.  ("Wow," is what he said.)

So, if you Dads who read this think a bit like me, we look forward with eager terror to these tests of our sensitive fatherly prowess.  Pizza delivery number?  In the smart phone already.  Movie?  Picked out at Blockbuster last night.  Pancakes in the morning, careful to clean the stove so as not to ascribe to the cliché of the man in the kitchen. 

But you know what?  All this planning just proves the point.  I still really, really miss my wife and her mothering.  And, I must admit, not the least of this is because she mothers me as well (and well.)

So here was my bozo move:

"Spiderman."

I rented the first Spiderman movie to go with the cheese pizza on Friday night. I was right in guessing that the kids would giggle at Peter Parker's inability to shoot the web from his wrist.  I knew they would delight in his swinging like a gibbon through the streets of Manhattan.  Somehow, however, I forgot how gosh darn scary the Green Goblin looks. 

He came sailing in on that crazy glider, those glistening fangs even spookier because they seem to refuse to move, and my 5 year old hid her head under the blanket.  My older one refused to "be scared" but she really isn't usually so pale.

After a bit, the little one was asleep under the blanket, having burrowed into a comfortable spot the way our pet hamster replaces her fear with buried comfort.  The older one smiled at me and noshed on her pizza.

"Nice, Dad," she commented.

And only 47 hours to go. 

Steve Schlozman's first novel "The Zombie Autopsies" was published in March.  

Steven Schlozman, M.D., is an Associate Director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry for Harvard Medical School.

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