What Don Draper Taught Me About Being a Man

Don Draper from the television show, Mad Men, has been on my mind a lot lately.  This year because of COVID, Bagel and I have watched a good amount of television.  Since January, we’ve ripped through The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Community (S1-6), When Calls the Heart (S1-2), Under the Dome (S1-2), and I also discovered and personally devoured all four seasons of Rick and Morty as well (Bagel dislikes cartoons so she sat that one out).  Of all of the shows I’ve seen this year though, Mad Men is definitely the most thought-provoking.  The show’s actually quite old; its first season released back in 2007.  And while I remember at the time watching the first two or three episodes, I eventually lost interest and never continued.  Thirteen years later though I think I’m finally now mature and old enough to appreciate Mad Men— this is probably one of the best television shows I’ve ever seen. 

To be clear, this is still not a show that I’d probably watch on my own.  Left to my own devices, I generally turn to television to be entertained.  Fare like Rick and Morty and Community are right up my alley.  But now I’ve met Bagel, my repertoire of appreciation has significantly expanded!  On our evening walks, Bagel and I often like to discuss Mad Men and its different characters.  While the show is fictional, it possess a fidelity to the 1960s that I’ve never seen in period television.  In the past, I’ve watched (and tremendously enjoyed!) period pieces like Spartacus: Blood and Sand and The Tudors but let’s just say that “period authenticity” isn’t exactly the appeal of those particular Starz and Showtime cinematic masterpieces.

Mad Men fascinates me though precisely because is so real.  I love all of its attention to period detail.  The way people smoke and drank (and littered after picnics in the park!) back in the 1960s is insane!  And since I obviously wasn’t around for the Cuban Missile Crisis or the prospect of nuclear annihilation, seeing people live during those periods have been hugely educational.  And while there are tons of things I could discuss (and probably will in future posts), today I wanted to write about Don Draper.  Specifically, what I’ve learned from him about what it means to be a man and a good husband.

I’ve always been proud of my own honesty and transparency.  But what I learned from Don is that when you’re married, being a good husband does NOT mean telling your wife and family everything.  In the past, I always foolishly believed that I should tell Bagel everything.  For example:  Our finances.  Let’s just say this year has been a very rough ride.  And there are times that when I’ve mentioned the specifics of our finances and budget to Bagel, it’s just needlessly stressed her out. If I lost a good chunk of money day-trading one day, it’s not like she had any way of helping to recover that money. She was helpless and this added information did nothing for her except ruin her day.  I always thought I was being a good life-partner by telling her everything.  But now I realize I was wrong.

On days when I’ve lost a ton of money and I’d tell Bagel about my poor results, she’d get super stressed out.  But then a few days or weeks later, I’d often make back all of the money!  And then I’d tell Bagel about my good days too.  I had thought that we were a team and so I should share with her, my failures as well as my triumphs.

But I now see the tremendous error of my ways.

By sharing my daily ups and downs with Bagel, I was needlessly taking her on my rollercoaster ride.  She often had trouble sleeping at night and poor appetite on days when I lost a ton of money day-trading.  When I reflect on this year, I see all of that was entirely unnecessary.

What I learned from Don Draper is that when you are the man of the house, your wife (or S/O, life-partner, etc) doesn’t actually want to know everything.  As the man, it is your duty to be the provider and primary caretaker.  (Or if you’re a house-hubby and the wife is the one who works, then the same would go for her.  Basically, I’m talking here about situations where one spouse works and the other stays at home as the homemaker.)  If you are the primary provider of a single-income household, it is simply your duty to provide comfort and security to your S/O.  You need to find a way to put food on the table and roof over your children’s heads.  And that’s it. There is no need and no reason to share all of the gory details on how the sausage is made.

You don’t need to share every single financial detail with your S/O.  Now, two caveats here:  First– if your S/O specifically asks, then sure– you can tell him/her the details. 

However, if they don’t ask, as the Main Provider of a single-income household, your job is to give your S/O a sense of stability and security.  Absolutely, make a monthly budget and expect everyone to stick to it.  But aside from that, there’s no need and no purpose to share daily details with your S/O.  The second caveat is– sure, if things really go sideways, you should tell your life-partner.  For example, Bagel and I have agreed that there is a certain number our household savings (that I day-trade with) should never fall below.  And if I ever fall under that number then I should automatically tell her.

Aside from these two caveats, a good S/O should just exist to be your life-partner’s rock.  Don Draper never shares any of his daily work shenanigans with Betty; he simply shoulders all of the troubles and burdens alone. That is his sole responsibility and duty as the Man of the House. Betty doesn’t care what Don does at Sterling Cooper; she just wants to be able to shop for groceries, take care of the kids, go horseback riding, hang out with and drink wine with friends, etc.  When you get home from a hard day’s work, you leave it at the door.  Your wife just wants a lovely husband, safety, and security.  That is what it means to be a man.

Humanity’s Biggest Brains – Humanity’s Final Stand

NOTE: This is an ongoing fictional story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fiction story back at the beginning of October 2020 and contribute ~500 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Interstice Two – Passage One

Davos, that year, was in full-on panic mode.  The Virus had spread out of control.  No country had been able to successfully fight it and win.  We humans were losing.  Mother Nature was winning.  Actually, “losing” might be putting it too generously.  Team Humanity was getting our assess kicked.  Most thoroughly, unequivocally, definitively.

By December, millions of people were dying every week.  In every country, across every continent, not a single soul was safe and there was no escape.  The Virus killed off men, women, and children all in equal force and indiscriminately; old and young; Black, White, Hispanic, Asian.

And to add insult to injury, at some point the Virus even mutated to where it started killing dogs.  Humans couldn’t even protect man’s best friend.  That’s how completely and utterly powerless we were.  Dogs.  Seriously.

We may have successfully fended off the first wave in the spring.  But we weren’t ready for the mutated form.  Virus: Version Two,  I guess you could call it.  This new strain that’d evolved was a legit, no-holds-barred, human-killing machine.  Every vaccine that Merk, Pfizer, Novartis, or Roche put out would be effective for maybe a few weeks.  But then Corona-V2 would rapidly adapt, rendering months of development and billions of dollars in R&D worthless, in a blink of any eye, just like that.

In January, things were looking grim.  Very, very grim.

So it was under these auspices that humanity decided to wage one final stand.  It’d be a meeting of our Biggest Brains, humanity’s very best, gathered around for one last-ditch effort to save the species.

Long the last bastion of the ultra-wealthy and people who consider themselves the “intellectual elite and erudite,” every year at the end of January, an international cadre of 3,000 participants from 110 countries gather in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the most pressing challenges and issues facing humanity.  The full-name of the invitation-only shindig is “The World Economic Forum,” a self-styled “Meeting of the Minds to Improve the State of the World.”  (That’s, without irony, literally the forum’s byline on all of its promotional materials each year.)  The event was founded by the German management consultant titan, Klaus Schwab, a man whose intellectual prowess ranged so widely that he obtained not one, but two, doctorates– one in Engineering from ETH Zurich; and the second in Economics from the University of Fribourg.1

Well, if Davos represented the best that humanity had to offer, then that January was most definitely not a good look for the human race.

On the first day of the forum, the world’s leaders convened in the canton of Prättigau, descending upon the small village of Landquart.  It was a sight to behold.  Helicopters swooped in over flocks of sheep across the rolling, idyllic Swiss countryside.  Ducks and wild geese scattered in every direction as the thumping of chopper rotors thundered overhead shattering the alpine silence.  Makeshift helipads had been specially constructed for Davos this year as all members had reasonably wanted to arrive individually.  No one had chartered Learjets as had been the custom in years prior; eight people to a Gulfstream was simply seven persons too many.

  1. The University of Fribourg in Fribourg, Switzerland is so old that its founding dates back to 1580– a year sufficiently ancient that it predates even the Gregorian calendar that we all use today (established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582).  The other neat fact about the university is that is, to date, the only bilingual university in the world that offers its full curricula in both French and German.

Donald J. Trump

Donald Trump becoming the 45th President of the United States has been written about endlessly.  Tens of thousands of trees have valiantly given their lives so masses of teeming humanity can read with bated breath the latest exploits our idiot Commander in Chief.  Much of the material that has been written about the Orange Cheeto has been overwhelmingly negative.  At this point, one doesn’t exactly need to reach very far, intellectually or otherwise, to write a hot take that’s critical of our very stable genius.

That’s why, today and today only, I’m going to work those empathic muscles of the mind and write a piece praising Donald J. Trump.  That’s right, there’s not going to be an ounce of negativity here, no Sir.  For today, and today only, we are a bastion of positivity and praise here in the Wobbleverse.  Nothing but compliments and singing of songs.

Okay, three positive things about the Donald J. Trump presidency are as follows.

First:  Donald J. Trump being coronated as the 45th President of these United States, to me, unequivocally proves that literally anyone can become President.  I could be President.  Literally, me.  There was a time when I thought being the leader of the free world and being the President of the most powerful country on earth, the United States of America, took skill and talent.  Or at least skill.  Now, I see that’s a complete and utter lie.  You apparently don’t need any qualifications to be the President of America.  Trump ascending to the throne has given legions of talentless children around the world hope that if they put their minds to it and work hard, that they do can become anything their little hearts and minds desire.  This is good. I think.

Second:  Trump brought legions of Americans who had entirely given up on American electoral politics out of the woodwork and to the voting booths.  For decades, American voters were declining every election cycle with an increasing number of citizens growing sick and disenchanted with the whole process.  People had grown so sick of the whole enterprise that they were deciding to just drop out of the democratic process entirely. Or they’d always been so jaded and unimpressed with the candidates that they’d never bothered to participate in the first place.  But the same way that the Obama candidacy inspired millions of first-time voters to exercise their sacred democratic voting rights, Trump becoming the Republican candidate in 2016 likewise inspired millions of older, uneducated white Americans who had never before in their lives voted, who couldn’t have found a voting booth if their lives had depended on it, a champion for whom to believe in for the first time in their lives.  For these people, the majority of whom uneducated and cynical, Trump represented an antiestablishment gladiator who championed “saying the quiet part aloud” and could “own the libs.”  In a democracy, we the people get the leaders we deserve.  And many hadn’t seen a candidate that that shared their values since the days of George Wallace.  But then came Trump!  Trump gave millions of previously voiceless Americans a newfound voice– finally, someone who shared their values and visions for American life moving into the 21st century!  For many Americans, Trump represented the answers to all of their prayers.  Jesus had finally delivered a champion who would fight for them and their values.

Third:  A Trump Presidency, assuming it continues for another four years, will show people that, “Huh– who you actually put in charge does matter.”  Politics has always been one of those thankless realms of American life that I’ve honestly never envied.  Sure, Presidents and elected officials get to go down in the history books and be recorded for all of posterity.  And there’s certainly an attractiveness there that I understand.  But being the leader of hundreds of millions is one of those gigs where when things go right, people just kind of assume they should.  And it’s really only when things really go sideways and hit the fan, that people sit up and notice who you are.

If we get eight years of a Trump Presidency, by the time he leaves office, a good chunk of the American populace will have needlessly died, the environment will have sustained even more irreversible damage, millions will be unemployed and tens of thousands of small businesses will have been shuttered and livelihoods lost.  Meanwhile, Trump will have named at least three Supreme Court Justices to lifetime appointments, disbanded the EPA, and God knows what else.  The Orange Cheeto will leave the Republic in such a shambolic state that all of the cynics and naysayers, people who their entire lives thought, “Nah, it doesn’t matter who’s in office; they’re all the same.” unequivically wrong.  Sure, we had to burn down half of America to convince them that government matters.  But sometimes, you’ve gotta burn the whole thing down to pave way for a more complete rebuild.  Else, you just get a zombie system that staggers on for decades that’s dying slowly but surely from a thousand cuts.

So in summary:  Thank you, Donald J. Trump– you did something I honestly thought no American President possibly ever could.  You taught us that anyone can become President, gave a voice to disenchanted millions who had given up on democracy, and showed us that whoever runs the government actually matters.   Well done, Sir, well done.   Truly, bravo.

Disposing My Old Mobile Phone

Disposing my old mobile phone is a simple matter of running a special app called “Nuclear Cleanse” that I’d obtained via root kit ages ago.  Most people, when they wish to erase the contents of their phone, perform a “factory reset” which they believe will securely erase all of their personal data from their device.  And to be fair, most of the time, for most people, “factory resetting” your phone accomplishes their desired objective.

But for a rarified few, if your name exists on a very short, state-authored list of undesirable people, then what performing a “factory reset” actually does is send up a big red flare in cyberspace telling authorities, “Hey! Here I am!” followed by the surreptitious beaming of all personal data you may have on your device off to some mothership in the cloud somewhere.

Furthermore, if you’ve ever wondered how “data recovery experts” down at the local strip mall, sandwiched between the Jamba Juice and the Kung Fu Bubble Tea place, are able to somehow recover that long-lost video file that Grandma accidentally shift-dragged to the recycle bin, here lies the secret: When you “delete” a file on your device, the file in fact isn’t really deleted at all.  Instead, the computer simply labels that memory address space on the disk as “unoccupied” and ready to be written over.  Then, the next time you record an hour-long video, the device “knows” to write to that address space.  The key here:  If you never record a new video, that old file that you “deleted” is never actually deleted; it’s physically still on the disk.  And thus can be recovered.

Thus, the “Nuclear Cleanse” app does exactly what you’d imagine it would:  Upon invocation, it overwrites every single existing byte in the memory of your device with some gibberish token of information.  The process takes exponentially longer than a “factory reset” but also has the nice feature of actually wiping all personal data from my device.  Technology is terrific, but you need to know how to use it.

Back in my hotel room, I boot up the new phone that Charlotte gave me and register it with my thumbprint biometric.  This also conveniently transfers over my hotel keycard over to the new phone.

In the movies, there’s always some ridiculous scene where the hero needs to get rid of his phone and then proceeds to  chuck his device into a lake or some other body of water.  On a long list of Hollywood travesties, that trope is definitely among the worst of the worst.  Electrical devices can be easily recovered from bodies of water.  And after the devices dry, they –surprise, surprise– usually turn on and work just fine.  If you ever need to discard your phone for some reason, please don’t hurl it into a lake.  That will do absolutely nothing.  Also:  It’s weird.  If you saw some random stranger throw a $2,000 iPhone into the ocean, wouldn’t you be suspicious?  Such shady behavior arouses nothing but unwanted attention.

No, after my old phone finishes its “nuclear cleansing,” I’ll likely sell it off at a pawn shop somewhere in Shanghai.  Truth be told, it’s a late-model Samsung and will likely still fetch a pretty penny.  Also, even after being wiped of all personal data, the phone –the moment it turns on– will still need to connect and register with services like GPS and NFC which immediately betrays its identity because each device connects to the global network with unique hardware identifiers that are burned into the phone’s firmware.  Pawning off the phone is both infinitely less suspicious and also has the added benefit of misdirection.  If the NSA or anyone ever wished to track me, they’re welcome to follow some Chinese teen as she galivants off across the Shanghai night city scene.  All the more power to them.

The Highest Gear

Desperation is a strong driver.  I sometimes think about J.K. Rowling when she was a single-mother, working in that coffee shop writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with baby Jessica sleeping in the carry cot beside her.  Divorced, Rowling slaved away on a children’s book for five years that she had no idea if anyone would like or even ever read.  I often wonder, what must have that been like?

It’s a well-studied phenomenon that only when we are backed into a corner with our backs up against the wall that we fulfill our true potential.  Only in our most desperate and hopeless hour, when all appears lost and that there’s no way forward, do we realize our true mettle.

While having a safety net may feel sane and reasonable, and is sane and reasonable, it also holds us back.  It makes sense, right?  If you’re operating with the knowledge that there is limited or no consequences for failure, then you can never quite hit that highest gear.  In fact, one reason –when you have the safety net– that you don’t hit that highest gear is because you don’t even reach for that highest gear.  To be clear, the highest gear, beyond the redline, is safely ensconced inside the “break-glass-if-emergency-box.”  There’s a reason that the shifter doesn’t normally go there and is behind lock and key.  It’s a level of performance, a flow state, that is holy.  It’s also one that’s driven by a certain amount of determination that can be only fueled by anxiety and a genuine sense of danger.

Sometimes, I think of the act of writing –especially, long form– as a Faustian trade.  You’re putting all of your heart and soul into a work which may never see the light of day.  And yet, you continue with the project, day after day, driven only by an unproven faith and delusions of grandeur.  Only a (very-potentially-tragic) misguided confidence keeps the entire enterprise afloat.  You literally won’t know, and can’t know, until the deed is done when the final word is written.  It’s legitimately a kind of insanity.

The Difference Between Dreamers & Doers

Dreams are a dime a dozen. The difference, of course, between Dreamers and Doers is execution. Dreamers jot down ideas by the truckloads in spiral-bound notebooks under the shade of bamboo shoots on beautiful autumn evenings. Dreamers are always imagining a better future from their comfortable, upholstered perch; they forever envision realms of the newly possible. A Doer is someone who starts in the same place but at some point grows so sufficiently frustrated, impatient, antsy, and restless that they simply need to act.

(At this point, it’s important to clarify: The need to act really isn’t so much a choice; but rather, it’s a compulsion. Not acting would be so unfathomably unbearable that non-action simply isn’t an option.)

From a thousand miles away, the vista is beautiful and breathtaking. But at the treeline, on the verge of that dark wood, it’s all terror.

Yet, guided by delusions of grandeur and fueled by unearned confidence, the Doer charges forth into the unknown. In the Doer’s mind, there is only conviction.

To some degree, a Doer is irresponsible. When a Doer embarks upon the Great Crusade it’s with only a vague notion of what the mission is. There is no exact plan, no precise blueprint. Instead, there exists only a foggy outline of what is to be accomplished. The Doer is equal parts daring and foolish, throwing caution to the wind in favor of action.

To be sure, plenty of Doers never make it to the other side. Hundreds of thousands fall somewhere in the great middle. That great expanse, the in-between, is littered with the corpses of millions who never make the distance. Some fall early; some fall late– but they are all casualties in making the attempt, felled chasing the green light.

A select few to make it to the other side. But then they still need to make it across the landmines. And survive the savage zombie wolves.

But is being torn viciously, in painstaking agony, limb from limb truly any worse than never having tried at all? Is it?