That Time of Year
Every year when Father’s Day rolls around, I get mixed emotions. Being a father is truly the greatest joy of my life, and this weekend will be my 18th as a father, but also my 9th without my father.
When I work with members of a family, I like to help them see things from each other’s points of view, and asking them to project forward or backward many years comes naturally to me, stimulating conversation through curiosity.
Asking a father to think back to when he was at his son’s current age will naturally shift his viewpoint.
Likewise, having a son project to when he will be his Dad’s age and imagine what that could be like, forces him to adopt a different mindset.
My Own Journey
For the first few decades of my life, I only saw Father’s Day from one perspective.
When our son was born, I developed a new appreciation for the third Sunday in June, as I was now a father too. Having my father still around then, I got to experience the “dual roles” of son and father.
I didn’t get to enjoy too many of those, unfortunately, as my father was struck down too soon by cancer, so now I am back to only one way of experiencing this special day.
This past week I was in Halifax for the Family Enterprise Exchange’s (FEX) Symposium, where there were plenty of father-son teams and stories.
(There were of course mothers and daughters too, but this is my Father’s Day blog and I’m a guy, so please excuse the gender slant this week.)
Whether it was a father and son on the stage, recounting the evolution of their relationship, or members of a family at my table during one of the sessions, I couldn’t help comparing what I was seeing and hearing to my own experiences.
It felt like most of the relationships I witnessed were healthier and more open than the one I had with my father, and much closer to what I feel like I’m living with my son (and daughter).
I can’t be sure of my biases here, but I think I’m being pretty objective.
Were these isolated examples of great family relationships?
Was my view of them skewed by their efforts to show “good behaviour” in public?
Was it a sign of the times that younger generations have got the father-son relationship figured out better?
I can’t be sure, but I do know that the fact that my Dad and I were in a family business together certainly DID have an effect on our relationship.
“We’re Not Gonna Do That”
I shared a fundamental story of ours many times during the FEX Symposium, one that I wish had turned out differently.
In the mid 1980’s my Dad had joined CAFÉ (Canadian Association of Family Enterprise, forerunner of FEX) while I was completing my Bachelor of Commerce studies at McGill.
Those studies were part of what I understood to be my “duty” as his only son: to fulfill my “destiny” as his successor.
One day he told me that many of the advisors who had spoken at CAFÉ events were very much against the idea of hiring your kids right out of school and straight into the family business.
I recall looking at him with a hopeful twinkle in my eye (which he clearly didn’t read the way I had hoped), waiting for the next line.
At that point he put his hand on my shoulder and “reassured” me with, “But we’re not gonna do that!”
Once again, he decided for we.
Wait, Why Not?
My hope is that modern day sons would have the courage to say, “Wait, why not?”
I really wish that I had, and if my son were faced with such a situation, I hope he would too. But I don’t plan on ever putting him in that kind of situation.
And for any other father-son team experiencing this question, please resist the temptation to taking this short cut to working in the family business.
Worth the Wait
If it’s right, it’ll be even more right, later.
Let your kids become their own selves first, outside their parents’ shadows.
It is worth it for them, and it will be for the business too.