BRANDON — Hi! My name is Ben. I am 14. I Live in Tampa.
The teen is a sort of celebrity now. Cameras from the Today show invaded his Brandon home Tuesday. When he circles the house chanting "Op-rah, Op-rah," teasing about the possibilities, his parents hand him a mop.
Ben Gullett, affectionate, creative and electronically aged, didn't start with stars in his eyes. He just wanted to help his dad find a job.
He had a camcorder. He had a long-running laptop relationship with MySpace and YouTube. So, he wrote short, stilted sentences on poster boards. He stood for the camera with the signs, a somber Enya song acting as soundtrack.
This is a story… about Mark.
Mark Gullett, 46, spent the last nine years as a marketing executive with the Tampa Bay Lightning. His wife, Lisa, works in printing sales. Ben, their only child, is an eighth-grader at Nativity Catholic School.
Mark got me… a set of drums. I drum every day. Mark has a Stanley, a Stanley Cup Ring! Mark Likes to make fires. We make Smores.
The family moved here when Ben was born, leaving family up north. Here, they only have each other. They eat dinner together every night and talk around the fire on weekends. Sundays, his dad puts on jazz and Enya songs Ben calls "sappy."
Ben reads tbt*/Tampa Bay Times every morning at the kitchen table. He eats Cheerios and announces that he's lowering his cholesterol.
At 7:10 a.m., Mark drives Ben to school. For the 15-minute trip, they talk about the day ahead, about interesting stuff Ben saw in the paper.
Stuff like the economy.
For the past month, he told Ben how more and more Americans were losing jobs and struggling to find new ones. The information was a slow melt. Mark and Lisa didn't want to scare their son.
"It was just like baby steps in each conversation," said Ben. "It was just kind of a snowball down the hill."
Finally, they had to tell him — Mark's own job could be in trouble.
Mark works a lot. Well… He used to. "Re-structuring."
Ben asked if they could make a video to advertise Mark's skills to employers in case he did get laid off. Ben had filmed himself drumming before. He dabbled in arty photography, shooting flowers and sideways Coke cans. He knew what to do.
He was inspired by the INXS video for Mediate, where the lead singer flips cards strewn with messages. He thought it made sense to use one of his dad's sappy songs.
Mark helped Ben create the video. It distracted his son from the fear.
9 years with the Lightning. Marketing V.P. Now he needs me. and YOU! to help find a job. OK? he's smart, creative, hard-working but most importantly he is my Dad.
"When we first saw it, we almost cried," said Mark.
I Love you Dad.
Mark was officially laid off Thursday. He piled boxes with nine years of work in the living room. The Gulletts coped the best they could. The video was a bright spot. They sent it to friends and posted it on YouTube.
Within hours, they heard kind words from people. Within days, the video had an impressive 16,000 hits. Hundreds of e-mails poured in. Mark received several job leads and requests for interviews. He doesn't expect to be unemployed for too long.
PS… I hope this helps!
Tuesday, Mark drove Ben to school and they talked. NBC was due in their home later that day, but Mark wanted Ben to focus on school. Mark dropped Ben off.
In front of all his teenage friends, without fear or shame, he kissed his dad on the cheek.
Reach Stephanie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.