How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

The Cowardice of Conversationalists

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The Super Bowl was a bitter feud. We watched as two teams battled it out, yard by yard, to scrape together a hard-fought victory.

But the feud I’m referring to was between gameplay within me.

I’m not a huge sports guy. I watched for all the spectacular commercials, if I’m being honest, and one of them really shook me. Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen” was a manipulation of M. Night Shyamalan proportions. A little boy built up a narrative about all the challenges kids face in life, along their nostalgic journey toward adulthood and dreams fulfilled. But this little boy wouldn’t get to do those things. None of them. Because he had died.

Am I supposed to put a spoiler alert for a commercial?

This little mini Kevin Spacey was talking to us from the afterlife, sans rose petal scene from “American Beauty.” He crept up quietly from our parenting unconscious, from inside our parenting nightmares to try to make us quake inside. I felt betrayed by my own emotionality.

On the one hand, bravo to the filmmakers for making me feel something. You nailed the “creating a reaction” portion of the media checklist. But a huge double middle finger salute to Nationwide for coopting my love of my boys, and using that to, as they put it in a press release later: “Start a conversation.” What a “no-backsies” way of thinking.

Sure, you could say “it was meant to do that” or some similarly pithy justification, but that just seems like a magician’s technique. They make errors and angles become a performance of illusion. Nationwide will not save my child from being run over by a car. Further their statement of “starting a conversation” is downright ill-informed and poorly thought out. You want to start a conversation with me? Don’t insult my intellect. If your spot isn’t about selling your product’ as you said in your press release, Nationwide, then why drop $4.5 million on a 45 second commercial to tell me about your brand. If you can protect my children from drowning, drinking chemicals under a sink and every other eventuality out of my control then why call it insurance at all? You’re getting into the future forecasting biz.

A photo posted by Charlie Capen (@charliecapen) on

I enjoy being provoked by art more than most. I have a strange tolerance for art and media that works for that purpose. It’s a chance for art to instruct me about my boundaries and my safe thinking. But don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth. You want me to feel something? Fine, but you better be smart about how you deliver. You want me to buy something. You ought consult my reality as a father who would give up everything for his children, and leave the emotional tyranny for relatives who blame you every time your kids gets sick.

I can’t imagine how parents of children who’ve passed away must have felt watching that spot. Nationwide is on your side, right? Decidedly not. At the time of this writing the dislikes on their YouTube video are 2:1 in the negative column.

So, no, the conversation isn’t about protecting our children and putting that in the forefront of my mind, Nationwide. You’ve tried to sell us a bill of goods using our infinite love for our kids to talk about your product with little thought for the anger that can accompany that love when we feel threatened or hurt. “Dead kids! Buy insurance!” is a mantra of emotional imprisonment for parents. And you just reminded people of the bars that surround them.

Well done.


8 Responses to “The Cowardice of Conversationalists”

  1. Also, with this “conversation” being initiated by an insurance company, they are continuing the insulting implication that getting money somehow compensates for the loss of a loved one. As if “Sorry your child is dead, but hey, here’s money!” helps with anything.

  2. Andrew says:

    Add to the facg that Nationwide fired one of their employees recently because she would need time in the day to pump milk for her baby after coming back to work. Talk is cheap, Nationwide, your actions are speaking for you

  3. RRF says:

    I am the mother of a dead child, and I appreciated this commercial. I didn’t like it, and I cried after I saw it, but it made other people acknowledge my experience. Most of the time, people don’t want to talk about my dead daughter. They only pay attention to my living child. Parents of dead children don’t often get to talk about what happened to their kids, because most people we come into contact with don’t want to face what we’ve been through. We get that; we don’t want you to have to know what we’ve been through. But we feel that our experiences ARE ignored, that people ignore it because they don’t want to entertain the belief that it can happen to them. My own mother said, “How can this be? Dead children happen to other people.” I – and so many other parents – know that it’s not true. Now, for once, people have the chance to talk about it, and they complain about how it’s such a “downer,” how it’s just an advertising ploy. Maybe it wasn’t appropriate for the Super Bowl, but in my experience, it’s not something people talk about unless they’re confronted with it in this way. For lots of people, it’s just a commercial, and they’ll get over it. For me, it’s my life.

  4. Katlin says:

    The more I think about this commercial, the less it makes sense. What does insurance have to do with preventing accidents? Because I accidentally left my chemicals under the sink, because I looked away from my child bathing in the tub for 5 seconds, I should feel guilty for not having insurance? Insurance won’t prevent a child from having an accident. So, why would you tell me “Accidents are preventable, so you need our insurance.” The two don’t coincide.

  5. anonymous says:

    I read an article written by a mother who lost her child who was in favor of this ad. She said something like death is something her family and kids have to deal with and it shouldn’t be hushed (or something like that. That’s what I took away anyway.) And I think yeah it really really REALLY sucks that your family (and countless others) have to deal with that but why should my 8 year old nieces and nephews have to lose part of their childhood and be taught about death early.

  6. Virginia says:

    See, I watched that ad & turned to my husband & said, “Oh yeah, we need to bracket the TV or mount it on the wall. We should get on that.” So… it worked for me. It didn’t upset me, it just provided a strong reminder that we need to take this stuff seriously & get those protections in place.

  7. NewbDad says:

    This would have been a great commercial for getting the message out had it not ended with a ‘Buy our product’ message. If they really cared they would have produced and aired the commercial in conjunction with a child safety organization, like Save the Children, and let the organization take the lime light with their logo as only a foot note at the very end of the commercial.

  8. As an Australian, we don’t generally buy into the whole Super Bowl hype. Sure, the ads are cool, but generally not relevant to our needs as Australians. Nationwide, I’m guessing, offers health insurance? (Again, something we don’t need to worry about down here, universal healthcare ftw)
    I haven’t watched the ad. I know what its about, and I’ve seen the hype and hysteria behind it. I feel that I don’t need to watch the ad because of this, and to be honest, I really don’t want to. I imagine that I would have the same reaction Charlie had (even with a heads up about what is going to happen), as the father of an infant boy, the thought of losing him TERRIFIES me. To the people out there who have lost a child, how are you able to go on? I think the taboo behind this sort of thing is linked to the idea that nobody wants to think about this happening to their child.
    Start a conversation, sure. But not like this. Nationwide clearly paid $4.5 million to sell insurance. Plain and simple. I think this campaign will have a negative effect with the brand, with people conjuring up the emotion they felt from this spot whenever they see a Nationwide office or billboard. No amount of Mindy Kaling can undo that.

    -Jason (@tassiedad)

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