Groupon, F*ck Off

There’s a line in one of my favorite Billy Joel songs, “Angry Young Man”, that reads “it’s a comfort to know his intentions are good.” That is where I am going to start regarding my opinion of the recent Groupon/Super Bowl ad controversy and Andrew Mason.

If you haven’t seen it or are unaware of the issue, deal-of-the-day website Groupon ran a series of ads that many viewers found offensive. The reason for the negative response is because the ads appear to mock serious social issues.

In response to the public outcry, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason posted a blog explaining the company’s reasoning for the ads.

As I mentioned earlier, Mason clearly explained the ads are meant to, “highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon.” Mason goes on to compare the campaign, created by ad firm Crispin Porter & Bogusky, to another CP+B Super bowl ad for Hulu. This is where Mason meets his colossal #FAIL point.

The Hulu ad is clearly a joke. It’s a very well conceived and brilliantly delivered, tongue-in-cheek look at TV consumption in America. The audience walks away from the ad knowing that Hulu is poking fun at both themselves and the viewers.

The new Groupon ads do not do that. They don’t even come close.

If you look at them collectively, it is possible to see a theme develop. However, for individuals seeing the ads for the first time, the impact is almost horrific. They come across as at the very least confusing and at their worst, downright insulting.

Mason’s failure was allowing CP+B to affect his voice as well as his vision. Groupon tried to be clever and witty with their ads and the juxtaposition they paint between serious issues and penny-pinching consumerism. What they failed to consider is that social awareness is not meant to be the subject of “Ha ha. Just kidding.” antics.

It’s ironic that a company that has succeeded by providing value to its customers failed to understand that value, in and of itself, exists because of emotion. Value is psychological, and without the emotion we place on a particular good or service, there is no such thing as value.

Social awareness and giving, in turn, is wholly emotional. Millions of people sacrifice their time, money, and at times their very own lives, for causes and efforts in which they deeply believe. Social good bleeds emotion, and it is not something that should be treated with flippant disregard, as was the case with the Groupon ad campaign.

Sure, Andrew Mason can look back and try to retrospectively justify his company’s decision as one of raising awareness for issues while poking fun at themselves. He can attempt to rationalize the campaign by claiming the ads are different and not about traditional self-promotion. Mason may even employ service recovery actions to make clear the ads are indeed about social awareness.

The fact remains, however, the decision to employ this ad campaign was to deliberately create buzz about his company, be it positive or negative. It was a $3 million* investment in creating brand awareness. It was a move designed for the benefit of Groupon at the expense of the millions of people who are emotionally invested in social good and social awareness.

With every action or decision, intention is important. Andrew Mason did not intend to offend his audience. But in a way, he really did.
*Source: http://www.superbowl-commercials.org/1071.html

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Sponsored by the Letter ‘F’

As I sat down to right this last blog for the month, my mind was inundated with alliteration. My mind was on the month of February, and all I could think about was words that begin with the letter ‘F’. Yes, that includes the ever versatile, never dull to say F-bomb.

So, in honor of the lovely month of February, here is a list of choice F-words that will hopefully recap the month that was, as well as set the tone for the month that will be.

Finish: I mentioned last night I would most likely not be posting blogs as routinely as I did in January. The 30-Day Writing Challenge was fun, and it was indeed a challenge. It allowed me to explore topics I had never considered, as well as find some cathartic moments to help me get over issues that still remained a bit unresolved. However, now that I’ve proven to myself that I can indeed block out time to write on a daily basis, I must be fair to myself and finish writing Volume IV of Lives. The short novel series I began writing in April of 2009 has been living in limbo for some time now. Part of it has been the deliberate hiatus of the project. Part of it has been deliberate avoidance on my part. With Volume III written (albeit unreleased), the story of Cate and Max needs its finality, and this is the month to do that.

Fortify: It’s important for me to review what Lee and I were able to accomplish with our 30-Day Writing Challenge and learn from it. In my case, not only were my eyes opened to new ideas and styles, I was also able to strengthen and reinforce some of the lessons I had learned in the six years I’ve been blogging. Mood has as much to do with writing as muse. It’s amazing how fickle my attitude can be, and what begins as a great plan to sit down and write gets tossed out the window because of a small incident that upsets me. This month reminded me that although it’s great to have a goal to write, you can’t be a slave to your writing. When it’s not there, it’s not there. And if you try to force it, you’re not being true to yourself as a writer or to your audience. Sometimes, it’s okay to just shrug your shoulders and say “fuck it”.

Foresee: One thing I truly enjoyed about the 30-Day Writing Challenge was having a list of topic ideas for each day. Mapping out about what it was I wanted to write resolved half the problems I used to have in terms of writing daily. Before, I’d sit down and think about what to write and I’d be stuck with nothing. With our ‘road map’, however, I would be able to think about the topic as I sat on conference calls. I’d be able to jot notes as I waited for Natalie’s soccer practice to finish. I’d be able to use my morning constitutional as productive time. (Over share?).

So, given the fine fellowship we were able to foster following our first listing of fascinating topics (I told you I had an alliteration avalanche), her is a list of topics and ideas for the month of February. I am not putting any dates to them and I am not listing them in any particular order. This is about looking at a topic and either being able to write about it or letting it steer your imagination in a direction that allows you to write about something else.

Since February is the month of love, several of the topics have love-themed qualities to them. Also, Lee received feedback on one of her posts suggesting the next set of topics be about what ‘we’ can do together. Finally, Lee and I both explored some dark and painful topics in our writing in January. We want this to month to be positive, light-hearted, and fun. Given all that, here’s the list (again, in no particular order).

Happy writing, everyone.

  • First Kiss
  • First Car
  • First Love
  • Childhood Crush
  • Favorites (Pet, Food, Restaurant, Vacation, TV Show, Actor/Actress, Athlete, Sports Team (Pro), Sports Team (College), Day of the Week, Season of the Year, Shirt, Relative, Book*, Song*, Movie*)
  • Describe Yourself as a Sixteen Years Old
  • Proudest Professional Moment
  • Guilty Pleasures
  • Neighbors / Community
  • Siblings or Cousin
  • Tackling a Home Improvement Projects
  • Hobbies
  • Causes you love/support
  • Common Courtesy
  • Common Sense
  • Misunderstood Song Lyrics
  • Your Role Model
  • Mission Work (i.e. could you leave it all to go serve/help others?)
  • Tolerance/Understanding (i.e. seeing an argument from the perspective of your adversary)
  • One Thing in the World You’d Like to Change

If you think of something you’d like to see added to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below of visit Lee’s site and leave a comment there. Thanks!

* I know these were covered in January, but there may be someone coming across this posting for the first time.

The Masonry of Motherhood

I’m back to writing following a brief hiatus. Camping with my son on Friday night prevented me from writing and publishing a post that evening. Sharing in dinner, laughter, and community with dear friends (not to mention a couple of bottles of wine and some Scotch) precluded my writing routine last night. So now that I had “the weekend off”, I’m here to write the second to last post of the month, and perhaps the last routine post for a while (you’ll have to tune in to Monday night’s post for details).

You’ve seen me write about my kids and also about my wife Lee. My family means so much to me it’s hard to put it into words sometimes, and it’s definitely a challenge to come up with new ways to describe the feelings I get when I think about my wife and my kids. Given all that, I am very remiss in the fact that I don’t write nearly enough about someone so equally special to me and that is such an important part in my life.

My mom is my constant. She is, in a way, the architect of who I am today. Where my dad was more the designer of my persona, I would say my mom was always focused on the engineering aspect of who I was. On top of a deep foundation of family and Catholic fundamentals, my mom placed brick after brick of life lessons, each reinforced with the mortar that was her love, as well as the unwavering rebar that was her strict discipline.

My mom was nothing if not consistent. She never caved to any puppy-dog-eyed please for exception or mercy. She never faltered in ensuring the rules that applied to everyone else also applied to me. It’s as if she measured every brick precisely, none greater than the last, none diminished by any sense of complacency. What made my mom truly remarkable in her masonry of motherhood was her ability to be meticulous. Style was not really important. For my mom, the substance of what she was making would serve to be the measure of value, respect, and integrity.

I love my mom and I truly enjoy her company. I wish we did not live so far apart with her in Miami and me in Tampa. I wish we had the opportunity to interact more and for my kids to be with their grandmother more often. All that being said, no one sets me off or pushes my buttons quite the way my mom does. The last several years have been an exercise in me learning to be more patient with her so as to ensure the limited time we do share is that of quality time. This is especially true given the very recent reminders that mortality is an eventuality, and I don’t want to waste time being upset at or bothered by my mother.

I hate to admit how little I’ve been able to show my mom the love and appreciation she deserves. At the very least we speak weekly and every conversation ends with an exchange of ‘I love you’. Yet, I know that’s not enough. It’s not enough to bank on a phone call. It’s not enough to really on Hallmark cards on Mother’s Day and her birthday. All of that doesn’t even begin to come close to being enough when I consider how my mom has always been there for me. Unwavering. Unassuming. Unbelievably constant.

I don’t know what the solution is in the long run. My life is here in Tampa, and until my kids graduate from high school (2019), my life will remain here in Tampa. I’ve talked to my mom about moving up here to be closer to her grandchildren, and we discussed the many pros and cons to that idea. Still, we each remain resigned to the fact we’ll see each other a handful of times per year and maintain the formal and cordial relationship of mother and son. Until I can figure out a way to change and improve this, I guess the best I can do is to live a life of value, respect, and integrity, and always give her a reason to be proud of what she created.

May my actions as a husband, a father, and a human being serve as a monument to her legacy as a mother.

Vocation: My Mission in Life

The dictionary defines the word ‘vocation’ as a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling. It can also be defined as a function or station in life to which one is called by God. Growing up Catholic, I heard this word a lot when I was in school. I think it was the Catholic Church’s not-so-subtle way of trying to recruit boys into becoming priests. “Normal people have careers, but those true to God know what their vocation is,” I recall Sister Mary Somethingorother telling me once. The way I figure it, if God wanted me to become a priest, He wouldn’t have created boobs.

Still, I believe in the concept of vocation. I believe we are all placed on Earth for a purpose; to play a specific role in His creation. I whole-heartedly believe God has blessed me with a divine task during my time here on Earth, but it has nothing at all to do with being a man of the cloth. Ironically, however, my vocation is one that still requires people to call me father. Two people to be exact.

There is no doubt in my mind my sole purpose in life is to be an exceptional dad. Not a good dad. Not a great dad. Not just an a’ite dad. An exceptional dad. A phenomenal dad. The best dad ever.

Granted, I know I can never be that. Like a perfect GPA in college, once you slip up, you can never get back to 4.0. It’s mathematically impossible. I believe my life’s journey and the transgressions I’ve experienced are akin to that, and those decisions will forever stain my resume as a dad. Nevertheless, I am resolved to make an effort every day and with everything I do to atone for the sins of my past. I am very fortunate my children were so young when my first wife and I split up, and their frame of reference continues to shift from a memory of mommy and daddy together to that of what our current situation reflects.

All that being said, I strive to be the best parent to my children I can possibly be. I like to think I don’t spoil them, yet there is not much which they lack in terms of the ‘things’ they have. By my standard as a kid growing up, my children are very rich. Still, I make sure they appreciate the value of money. I teach them to be respectable and honest, kind and unselfish. I do my best to lead by example; often times forgoing something I want to do in order to teach them the lesson of what is the right thing to do.

As they get older, I find I must give up some of the strict disciplinarian role in order to make room for the more patient and wise consultant. Gone are the days of very narrow limitations and binary choices that set the boundaries they knew as infants and toddlers. Now their choices are quite multiple, all with varying levels and parameters of depth, impact, and consequence. I find where before I would raise my voice and fall back on my trusted “because I say so” argument, I now break into mini-pep talks where the discipline is found in the lesson of the moment. Put another way, I’ve evolved from Nick Saban into Tony Dungy.

I say all this knowing I don’t do it alone. I’ve always said about my ex-wife that I would not want anyone else to be the mother of my children. She and I have always been on the same page when it comes to parenting, and I am so damn lucky that through all that happened, that aspect of our relationship never changed.

Being a dad is not always easy, but it is so incredibly rewarding. I feel it whenever I am complimented about my children. It’s a sense of validation and justification for the many trials and tribulations that come with being a parent. From a long term perspective, my vision is of two individuals who are pillars of their respective communities. Strong and intelligent leaders who are also humble and reverent human beings. That is what I want my kids to become, and that is what I feel it is my mission in life to produce. That is my contribution to my community and this planet. That is my vocation.

As a quick aside, my dad would have been seventy-seven years old today. I wish he were still around to see how beautiful, charming, witty, and fun his grandchildren have become. But I know he’s in Heaven looking down and smiling, and thankful that I never ended up becoming a priest.

From Grief to Grace

Today’s topic is supposed to be about something that was planned that did not turn out as expected. I don’t think I can do a better job than the one Lee did with her post tonight. Also, I’m not feeling that topic because I have something else weighing on my mind.

In the past year, I’ve had too many friends grieve the loss of a parent. I’ve also had another grieve the loss of a sibling. This sad and unfortunate trend continued this week as someone close to me lost his mother. It also pains me to say I have friends who are preparing for their loss as they have a parent who is ill or in hospice care.

In almost all of the instances mentioned above, cancer has been the common denominator in the passing of those individuals.

Every loss we experience is tragic. Infant or elder, expected or all of the sudden, death brands our soul with the lasting reminder of its eventuality. We mourn. We grieve. We try to make sense of it all. And in its own way, death unites us in the commonness of sorrow and pain.

There’s an extra layer added when the ones we love are lost due to that universal foe we call cancer. It’s hard enough to learn to accept death, but losing someone to cancer makes us feel cheated. We’re left feeling they were taken from us prematurely, and if not for cancer, they’d still be with us creating memories and sharing moments.

But as with all deaths, we, those who survive the ones who have passed, can carry their legacy and lives forward in how we choose to honor and remember them.

I never had the honor of meeting Jeffrey Block. He died at the age of 18 following a four year long battle with cancer. Still, he’s been the inspiration for a movement and a cause that has positively impacted the lives of thousands of people. His older brother chose to turn his grief and sorrow into a lasting tribute to his little brother, and formed a charity organization dedicated to the fight against pediatric cancer. The culmination of this tribute is found in the song Jeffrey’s brother wrote for him. To this day, I cannot listen to that song without my eyes welling with tears and my thoughts drifting to the memory of my father.

Grieving is a natural process. Feeling hurt, pain, and sometimes despair following the passing of a loved one is normal. Still, I like to think they’d want us to instead celebrate the life we shared with them and keep their memory alive by channeling that sense of loss into something positive.

You don’t have to go out and found a charity or write a beautiful song to honor a loved one. Instead, find solace in taking actions you know would make them proud. Find direction in the lessons you learned from them while they were still with us. Keep their spirit alive by enriching the spirit of others.

It’s when we turn grief into grace that we allow our loved ones to live forever.

“Running Through the Fields” by Ken Block

Well we shared a season
Running through the fields
We never had a reason
To be scared of things
That were so unreal
Making our own stories
Playing our own games
We never had no worries
Never thought things
Would ever change

But I’m missin’ you today –
Don’t know why you went away

Times I sat and wondered
Nights we sat and cried
I’m proud to be your brother
No one knows how hard we tried
To make it to tomorrow
For just another day
There’s never time to borrow
For things I’ll never get to say …

So many days I’m searchin’
So many nights I’m left alone
Sometimes the song of the wind
Well it’s — only the warning for the storm

Moments turn to hours
Months they turn to years
It’s different now without you
With your image crystal clear
The child was the teacher
A brother and a friend
A fragile little creature
Who’d do it all again and again

Well we shared a season
Running through the fields

You Wanna Do What?

Remember that song my Naughty by Nature called “You down with OCD”. Wait, what? That’s not what it’s called? That’s not what they were down with? Well, in my version it’s definitely OCD.

I don’t suffer from OCD, I relish in it. I embrace it. Being married to someone who lives – how shall I say this? – on the other end of the spectrum in terms of my comfort zone for order and tidiness can be a challenge. I guess that’s part of being in a relationship; being able to meet halfway.

But if it were strictly up to me, my house would probably look like a museum. I love perfectly arranged items. I love sorting and organizing. I get off on ninety degree angles. I like start-to-finish planning. If I could, I’d get a tattoo of a timeline on my arm. When it comes to law and order, the law is you must keep things in order.

Okay ….. I’m done with the euphemisms.

Now, imagine what my gut instinct was when Lee suggested, as we were planning a road trip to visit family in Miami, that we leave a day early and stop in Ft. Myers on the way. “It’ll give us the chance to do something different,” she said. “We’ve never really been, we can break up the drive down, and it’ll be fun.”

It was a really good idea and I agreed to it without much hesitation. I headed over to my laptop and pulled up a travel website. “What are you doing?” she asked me. I explained I was going to look up a hotel at which to stay in Ft. Myers and make a reservation. “We don’t need a reservation,” she quipped. “Let’s just get in the car and go. We’ll find a place to stay once we get there.”

I don’t know exactly how long it was, but I must have stared at her for about a minute and a half. It was just a blank stare, my brain unable to comprehend the words that came out of her mouth. I heard the faint voice of Gary Coleman in my head ask, “Whatchu talk’n ‘bout, Willis?”

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked. I explained to her that it sounded as if she said we didn’t need a reservation, and that we’d simply find a hotel when we got there. “That’s exactly what I said,” she retorted. It was then that the twitch that began in my eye escalated to full-on convulsions over my body.

How could this woman possibly suggest we just get in a car, drive to a different city, and stay the night without a reservation? Why would anyone do that? That’s the beauty of a reservation. You don’t have to worry about not having a place to stay. You don’t have to play out in your head the worst case scenario of sleeping in the car. What if there’s a convention and the only place available is $300 per night? My wife obviously hadn’t thought this through very well.

Stopping short of bitch slapping me back to her reality, Lee convinced me to “just have faith” and go with it. “You can’t plan everything,” she lectured me. I quietly disagreed.

We got in the car, drove off, and made it to Ft. Myers without incident. More importantly, we found a place to stay without incident. Well, there was that one little detail about our bathroom not being exactly clean which lead to the room being comp’d. That was cool.

In the end, we had a great time. Lee’s spontaneous idea and her coaxing me into giving randomness a try turned out to be quite the fun adventure. It also turned out to be a good learning experience for me as well. I learned to expand my comfort zone. I learned to place trust in the un-planned. I learned to let go of some of the obsessive and give into more of the compulsive in my life.

Life is rarely neat and tidy. Life almost never goes according to plan. I guess it is life’s tendency to exist in disorder that I need to embrace.

Forgive + Forget = No Regrets

In the wake of posting some pretty deep and dark entries about specific events in my life, it’s with open arms that I embrace tonight’s writing topic.

The subject of tonight’s entry is a truly spiritual moment in my life. I thought long and hard about this. I tried to recall a ‘eureka’ moment with God, one that set me on a new path of growth and spiritual happiness. However, the more I searched for that moment, the more I realized there wasn’t one. Well, not just one.

Instead, what I found was a series of moments in my life, specifically in the last several years, that have brought me closer to God and have allowed me to look at life with a completely different perspective. It’s very much a domino effect, where the first moment leads the way to the second, and so on. The following is a very brief recap of my journey with Christ that helped get me to where I am today.

It was an ordinary weekend in 2005 and I just happened to be awake early on a Sunday morning. Usually I would sleep in late following some drunken stupor the night before. 2005 was my ‘being single’ year, and I tried to cram my twenties, as well as everything I felt I had missed by being in a relationship at such a young age, into that year. That particular Sunday, however, I was up at around 7:00 AM.

As I lay in bed, I had a feeling in my chest. It was a calling from Him telling me I needed to get up and go to Mass. I was raised Catholic, but I had not been to Mass in a long time. I tried to ignore it. I tried to shake off the feeling inside me. But the more I did, the louder the voice was and the deeper the feeling that I needed to get up and just go.

As it turns out, that particular Sunday was the ministry fair at my church. At the end of Mass, the newly hired director of Youth Ministry made an appeal to all in the audience to donate their time and help out the fledgling program. I looked up towards God and told him, “Okay. I get the message,” and I registered to volunteer. It was that experience as a volunteer youth minister that allowed me to participate in a leadership retreat the following year. It was at that retreat where I had a second spiritual moment with God.

I had been struggling mightily with forgiveness. I was still bitter about what had happened to me in my pursuit of ‘true love’, and I was also very much still mad and ashamed at myself for what I did to my family and ex-wife. It was there, following a discussion about reconciliation with God, where I felt the strength to let it all go and release that burden I’d been carrying. Not only was I able to extend forgiveness to the person I felt had wronged me, I also learned at that moment, through God’s amazing grace and kindness, how to forgive myself.

This experience has come around full circle for me as I sat in the audience at Relevant Church in Tampa this morning. Our pastor, Paul Wirth, was talking about the snapshots in life that lead to regret. It was then that I realized exactly how powerful that moment at the retreat really was. You see, although there are many actions in my life which I regret having done, I don’t at all feel the heavy burden of regret. I know the reason for this is because God showed me how to forgive and, more importantly, how to accept His divine forgiveness.

To me, forgiveness is like a bolt cutter. This specific bolt cutter, however, requires two cuts in order to work properly. We use this tool to release ourselves from our sins, which are attached to us at the ankle like a dead weight. We use it again to let go of the times we’ve been wronged, which are shackled to us at the other ankle. This weight pulls us under and drowns us. We can’t cut just one and be released from what is weighing us down. Instead, Jesus makes the first cut to forgive us of our sins. He teaches us through example, and we must then take the bolt cutters and forgive those who have hurt us. Only then can we rise to the surface and truly take in God’s love like a deep breath of fresh air.

I like to think I have spontaneous moments of spirituality every day. Some are subtle and may take some time to reveal themselves to me. Others, however, hit my like a ton of bricks. Either way, I feel I am so lucky and so blessed to have the relationship I do with God.

He truly does work in mysterious ways. All we have to do is be willing to listen ….. and learn.