I was recently in a meeting with a father and his three sons working on developing some reasonable expectations between them. Dad was in the process of transferring stock in the family business to his boys. Being that partners are much different than father/son or boss/employee, they needed to clearly define their expectations.  I started out with what I thought was a relatively benign question of the eldest son – “What do you like most about working with your dad?”  His answer led us down a path of discussion that I could not have orchestrated if I were a magician.

Son’s response was, “Well, this may sound weird, but what I like most about working with dad, is actually working with dad. The problem is that dad’s never here…and that’s been the story of my life.  Dad’s never here. I’m a young man and I’m smart. I’m smart enough to run this business, but I readily admit that the shadow that’s cast over this place is huge.” He pointed over his shoulder to a picture on the wall behind him proudly displaying his great-grandfather side by side with the great Henry Ford. He continued, “The shadow that’s cast over this place stretches back to Henry Ford and the gap of experience between my dad and me is immense.  I need dad to be here. I need his intuitive sense of business, but more than that I just need his presence.  But my current expectation based upon history is that he won’t be.” 

Whoa! When I removed the dagger from dad’s chest, we were able to open up the dialogue about how important dad’s presence was. I was proud of the son for his courage in addressing a deeply felt pain in his soul. And to dad’s credit, he took that charge and swallowed it.  Subsequently, they were able to define, in the context of dad’s move to semi-retirement, a schedule of meetings together that represented a reasonable and matched expectation of dad’s presence. I’m grateful for their conclusion and the process they went through to come to a solution.  But I gotta be honest – the history that led to this scene saddens me greatly! Dads, be available to your kids – they need you.

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