In my professional life, I am hired by large and small companies alike to uncover market insights designed to identify new opportunities for my clients be they product innovations, communication platforms, or in many cases, simply a better understanding of a group of consumers/shoppers. While the processes I use to identify these insights will vary based on the unique needs of each client, every engagement shares something in common; the process is always external. I check my biases at the door as I speak with consumers, analyze trends, and immerse myself into the business issues at hand. If I were to do otherwise (e.g. look inward instead of outward), my findings and recommendations would be based on, well, me and I can promise you this; my thoughts and opinions are not necessarily reflective of the market as a whole.
This is not to say that I am not an introspective person; quite the contrary actually. I consider my job as a marketing consultant more than a job or even a career; I consider it a vocation (mind you this is not the vocation my parents had hoped for as they always wanted a priest in the family). At the heart of this vocation is an innate curiosity that leads me to ask ‘why?’ until I am satisfied with an answer. While it is true that I apply this externally on behalf of my clients, I cannot help put employ this internally as well (I simply can’t turn it off when not put to use for my job). In fact, because my career calls me to travel frequently, I find myself with a significant amount of downtime that I choose fill by turning this “high powered perception” toward myself in a way that would appease even Clarice Starling.
I recently uncovered an insight into myself that changed the way I look at the world. This excavation into my own psyche was not something I completed overnight; rather it was a puzzle I pieced together over the course of many years. After countless hours on airplanes and in hotel bars I have uncovered probably the single most important insight into my own life; I have become my father. Consider the following:
We both graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Grandma Carlon School of Economics.
Our spouses would both consider us, to put it politely, frugal. When I was a kid growing up in Stamford, my father would only take me and my twin brother Jimmy to the movies if the movie we wanted to see was playing at the State Cinema. Why? It was the cheapest theater in town. Back then, the State only got a movie after it had been released for a few months and, as such, the tickets were sold at a discount. This alone would prove my point of frugality but there are two more pieces of evidence I would submit supporting my father’s penny-wise ways; we would stop off at Food Bag on Hope street to stock up on cans of soda and bags of popcorn that we would sneak into the movie theatre (“that’s how they get ya boys, on the concessions!”) and regardless of how old we were (or appeared) dad would try and pass us of as “children under 13” so he could save an additional dollar on the price of admission. One time he asked me to “bend down a bit” as we approached the box office because he himself doubted that I would qualify for the children’s rate while standing 5 feet 10 inches high. At that point it became clear to me why it was so important to him that I shave before leaving for the theatre.
I myself have adopted my own penny pinching strategies. When signing up our triplets for any extracurricular activity, I tend to start with the line, “It is great that you offer a buy two get one free discount” just to see where it might get me.
When dealing with our spouses, we are all talk and no action.
My mother and my wife are different in many ways yet they do share something in common; they have a thirst for change that is never fully quenched. Such a thirst is only fueled by HGTV; a cable network which I believe is to women what Playboy TV is to men.
My mother is always telling my father about all the projects she wants to do on their condo in Ft. Lauderdale and his answer to each request is as predictable as death and taxes, “no.” Just this morning, she was telling my father how she wanted a new bedroom set and I can affirm that the patriarch of the Carlon family responded with a vehement “No.” I can guarantee, however, that when I take my own brood down to visit next April, my parents, who have been married for almost 55 years, will be sleeping in a new bedroom set.
My kids will, no doubt, say the same thing about me. In the last year I have said “no” to hardwood floors, picture frame molding, new windows, crown molding, and a new bathroom. In that same period of time I considered having my daughters share a bedroom so that our contractor could have a place to sleep.
We both pick sides and stick to them.
My father and I are quick to defend a position and will argue it with our “opponents” until we are beating a dead horse. I once witnessed my father arguing over the morality of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a Catholic priest my mother invited to dinner. The argument was so heated that the priest left our home in haste and we quickly switched parishes.
I once got into an argument with a group of British Au Paris over Elvis being more influential than The Beatles in the history of Rock and Roll. Mind you, this was over drinks on my 21st birthday at Murphy’s Townhouse. The argument came to a sudden stop when their boyfriends showed up and convinced us to reconsider our point of view; we were stubborn and did not capitulate. It was closing time anyway, so we fled to the waiting arms of Port Chester.
I do not mean to suggest that I am a carbon copy of my father. While dad never met a Chardonnay he didn’t like, I am more of a Sauvignon Blanc man. Dad never misses an episode of The O’Reilly Factor while I am glued to The Colbert Report. However, enough similarities are present whereby I am tempted to go up to him and quote the Dark Father himself, “When I left you I was but a learner, now I am the master.”
This Father’s day, I would challenge each of you to consider the ways in which your father has had an impact on your life. Additionally, if you are a father, understand that your own behavior and attitudes just might be adopted by your offspring. Ask yourself if you want the behaviors you exhibit to be present in your own children’s lives and adjust accordingly.
Happy Father’s Day.