Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fathers & Sons- why don't they work together anymore?

Fathers & Sons- Why don't they walk the same career path anymore?
by Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach

Have you noticed how rare it is these days for a son to follow in the same career path as his father? Up until about fifty years ago most boys would take up the same career as their dad and granddad. Dads who were farmers taught their sons about the land, fathers who ran markets showed their boys how to manage a store. It was so common, that historically many last names are associated with the trade or vocation of the man in the family, (think of "Smith" from the craftsmen who may have been silver smiths, or black smiths for instance).

Today young men may go in dozens of career directions, but usually not in the same way as their father. Let's take a quick look at the major reasons why sons don't walk the same career path as their fathers.

Expectations can be a complex thing between fathers and sons

There was a time when you did what your dad expected you to do, whether you liked it or not. That approach may have worked for some, but created rebellion in others. Over the last generation the world changed a lot as has the connection between a dad passing along his profession to his son. Technology may have replaced the need for some closely held father/son family businesses, (like print shops or travel agencies), but broken relationships, poor communication and the power struggle over releasing control to the next generation of leadership has likely stopped far more father/son operations than all the low budget call centers overseas ever could.

Many family businesses aren't hurt by off shore competition, they are crushed by the failure between to communicate between generations.

What are the key elements behind these challenges to father/son businesses?

1) Bill Gates daddy didn't make microchips-

Today's culture often rewards the entrepreneur who launches out to break new ground more than those sticking close to home to follow in a fathers footprints. Bill Gates dad didn't make micro-chips, and Bruce Willis father didn't make action adventure movies. Technology has opened up new doors of opportunity for young men, which pulls them away from the traditional path mapped out by their fathers.

2) The cat really was in the cradle too long-

Some dads were too busy to teach their trade because they were working 80 hours a week to create greater educational opportunities for their sons, and to keep them busy with sports and special summer camps. Workaholic dads that were so busy keeping the wolf away from the door may have lost their son in the process. It doesn't mean that they can't have a good relationship, it just creates a greater likelihood that the son will choose a path similar to the men who actually were around to be a positive influence, (Think about the powerful example of Robert Kiyosaki as described in the book, "Rich dad, Poor dad.").

3. 'It's a Wonderful Life' is a movie, not a family business training film-

Consider the classic Christmas movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" where Jimmy Stewart's character resents having to stay behind and care for the family business while his brother leaves town to pursue a military career. In the movie you can put a happy ending on a grown son's desperate situation by ringing a bell for an angel who gets his wings saving him. In real life it's a lot harder because it often leads to the hard choice of protecting the father/son relationship, or preserving the profitability of the business.

Some sons or their wife and kids, actually resent the family business being 'forced on them' so they serve silently, but often allow bitterness to grow, while others do the opposite of their dads and push their sons in another direction without any guidance at all, just so they won't have the burden of having to carry the family business forward.

Memories are more important than money

Father/Son relationships can be complex. Communication is a major challenge and with the added pressure of trying to make a business profitable it can move from a paternal dynamic to simply becoming a profitable one. When money gets in the way of two generations connecting, cash flow can ruin the importance of just being together as a family. When that happens the business costs too much because staying close to make memories as a father and son is more valuable than just making money.

There are a lot of reasons why boys don't grow up to do the same work as their fathers these days, but if they can still stay close through the years it doesn't matter. Passing on a trade or career isn't as important as still being able to talk and stay close. If you are blessed enough to have a father who is living, and then doubly blessed to have a healthy relationship with your father, then he gave you something more valuable than the family farm, he gave you a legacy of knowing a man secure enough to allow you to choose your own path, and then hopefully to cheer as you pursued your own career dreams that may have been quite different than his.

If you didn't have that kind of relationship with your dad, then make sure that the generation behind you are given a shot at their dreams, even if it's different from yours. Every generation has a chance to make it a little better for the next. Technology and traditions may change, but wanting the best for your kids never does.

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About the author-
Dwight Bain is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice over 25 years with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. He is an author and member of the National Speakers Association who partners with media, major corporations and non-profit organizations to make a positive difference in our culture.