Do We Need Burger Chef-Style Family Suppers?

Just the thought of Mad Men split-season 7 finale brings tears to my eyes, in a good way. Not just the joyous Robert Morse ad-like song-and-dance moment, but Peggy’s authentic “family supper” pitch for Burger Chef. It hit close to home, as I relate to it when it comes to my own families — the one I grew up with and the one I have now.

The waterworks are partly due the nostalgia factor. Our dinner hour was just as Peggy described. The TV was about four feet from the kitchen table, where our family of six shared most of our meals. We often had dinner later than most families, around 7 or 7:30, as Mum hurried to finish cooking the meal, while they watched Walter Cronkite first. My dad, fresh from his train commute home, sat at the counter for cheese and crackers and a pre-dinner Manhattan (in the winter) or a gin and tonic (in the summer).

And guess what. Our dad, similar to Don Draper, was a WWII veteran and a mad man — a copywriter and creative director in ad biz — which was cut throat even in Philadelphia in the ‘70s. The ad man’s lifestyle isn’t unfamiliar to me.

Just like Peggy said in her Burger Chef pitch, Dad liked Frank Sinatra (and Edith Piaf and Liza Minelli) and the kids liked that loud rock music — from the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix for my older brothers and whatever was on top 40 a.m. radio for me. (Mum was more open-minded than dad and would sing more current tracks such as “Surfer Joe” by the Surfaris or The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” as she cleaned, cooked, or gardened.)

As Peggy also noted, the backdrop was the Vietnam war, along with other news reports — regarding Nixon, the moonlanding, and civil rights. (My parents were what one might label activists today; they protested the war, saved the environment, and fought nuclear energy through letters to politicians, the Philadephia papers, handing out flyers, and joining marches in Washington).

Between the news and primetime, we had a small window for talking, eating, and arguing (siblings! families!). Often, as we finished our cookies for dessert, my parents would turn on pre-approved primetime shows more for them than us (”Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” and “Hogan’s Heroes,” not “The Brady Bunch”). We rarely went out to eat as a family — I can only remember a few times when we had Chinese take-out or pizza.; And fast food? Forget about it. Saturday night cookouts hold the fondest memories, as we hung out with few distractions in the backyard for hours, as dad grilled chicken and made cocktails for any guests, and mum served cucumber salad. Then we roasted marshmallows. Summer.

Did we need family supper at Burger Chef, where there was “no laundry, no telephone, no TV”? Probably. A quiet, well-lit table somewhere (without the fast food) might have kept us all a little more engaged — and prevented my older teenage brothers from heading to their rooms immediately or my parents turning on the tube.

As for today, we, and I bet many families, could definitely use family supper at Burger Chef. During the week, A’s wonderful nanny usually cooks his dinner, and I get home for dessert and pre-bedtime activities. My husband usually works at least until 8, Sundays through Thursdays, so the three of us don’t sit down to dinner together as much as we’d like to. On Friday nights, none of us are working but we are usually driving and grabbing slices at a rest stop en route to our place in the Catskills.

And instead of having just a TV four feet away from our dining table in our tiny NYC apartment, we have screens — iPhones and iPads — at hand all the time. A doesn’t watch TV (or play Wii) too much (weekends only) and we try not use phones during dinner, but try is the operative word. I don’t think even Burger Chef, or Peggy, has a solution for that.

Photo: Wenn