Hubler For Business Families

A Father's Legacy for Father's Day - Part One

Past performance can guarantee future results. Here's how a legacy develops through demonstration.

Key Takeaways:
  • Successful family business-owner fathers must be careful not to project their own dreams and life plans onto their children.
  • It is the child's decision, not the father's, whether he or she wants to work in the family business.
  • Remind your business-owner clients that successful fathers invest in their children by giving them the confidence to build their own dreams and by helping them discover their own gifts and life passions.

When talking about investments, one often hears "past performance is no guarantee of future results." One also hears that "our children are our investment in the future." Who can imagine a father who has no dreams for his child's success? Even before the moment they see their newborn baby - through the nursery glass or at the instant of birth - most fathers have already begun to imagine the success of their child and formulate their hopes for their child.

For fathers in a family-owned business, these hopes double-down because there is a business involved. Future possibilities are clearly in place. This is where a father must be able to discern the difference between his dreams and his children's dreams. He must be careful not to project his own dreams onto his children. He must not "live through his children."

For a new generation growing up in the family business, this implies a dichotomy. A father may or may not want a child to become part of the family business. Yet the growing child's wishes could be the opposite of, or certainly different from, what the father wants. So how can a father's past performance (or legacy) produce future results?

In my experience, successful fathers invest in their children by helping them build their own dreams. They help them discover their gifts, their passions in life, their confidence to act on their own. Whether or not a father wants his children to eventually work in the business, his selfless priority is to help each child follow his or her own intentions.

Personally, I was determined to give my children more opportunities than I had growing up. I don't suppose that makes me very different from most fathers. My own father was a sweet, kind and gentle person. He worked on the railroad and at the barbershop. We were, as they say, "of modest means."

My fondest memories of my dad are connected to his values and the things we did together. For example, he cut my hair when I was a small boy. Simple as this was, these haircuts became moments when I felt special and loved. They are part of his legacy to me. I certainly did not realize at the time that they were his investment in me, or that they would produce something in me.

I memorialized the barbershop experience in a poem.

Special Moments with Dad
All those stories about white hair and being called Cotton
The special moments in the barber chair - with green Jerri's Tonic
The Hotel Claude barber shop with all its stories of past heroes
The follow-up breakfasts at the bus which I now know as Mickey's Diner
The one-block walk to Applebaum's to get the week's groceries
Hearing about the years on the Rock Island Railroad and the four generations of our family that worked there
Having you hold me in your arms and singing Beautiful Dreamer
Feeling the pride of knowing that I was your son
- Tom Hubler, 1999
My father periodically took me along to the switchyards when he worked for the railroad, and I got to ride in the engine and the caboose. Imagine how thrilling for a small boy! During those times, my father introduced me to the "car men," who were workers employed in the lowest jobs at the yard; they also happened to be minorities. The way my father introduced me to the car men made me feel like I was meeting the president of the railroad. He treated them with dignity and respect. His actions taught me to do the same. That is his legacy, now in me.

These memories accumulated as small gifts - moments in passing - that became an extraordinary influence on how I approached minorities in my own life. I'm sure they helped lead me to my decision to adopt two African American infants.

And this marks a key point regarding legacy: How you are, not where you work, embeds an attitude in your child. Legacy seeds are planted in demonstrations.

Family legacy in action
Flash-forward to my adult years. One of my favorite family-business clients, a father I'll call George, did a terrific job of creating a legacy for his adult children and grandchildren. Every summer he held family meetings at his "hobby" farm. George and his wife, Nan, hosted their adult children and all their grandchildren. They orchestrated educational, business-related, and fun, emotional experiences at these gatherings. The adults would convene to discuss issues affecting their family business and the impact of wealth on themselves and their children (the business was quite successful). They brainstormed about how NOT to let wealth corrupt their family.

The family went beyond merely brainstorming about the impact of wealth. At these summer meetings, they included the grandchildren in brief, educational discussions about money and family values. Discussions like this were especially important because it helped the grandchildren internalize their family's values about money. The legacy included these ideas.

Nan was a camp counselor in college, and later in her life she invited several camp counselors to the extended family gathering to provide activities for the grandchildren. While the youngsters amused themselves with crafts, games and sporting activities, they were also building the esprit de corps of the family. These were activities that became legacy.

The summer family meetings also gave George and Nan the opportunity to have their nine grandchildren learn about their family's history. George and Nan shared stories and photographs from their youth. Their grandchildren sat in rapture, learning about their grandparents' early lives and adventures. These inviting presentations were memorialized on CDs. The adult children and grandchildren received copies so they could relive the experiences. These were stories that became part of their legacy.

One year, George and Nan combined the summer meeting with a trip to the family's business, which was 30 miles from the hobby farm. The family took a tour of the facilities and enjoyed lunch in the boardroom. George shared a presentation about the $1 million company he had started in his garage.

In this and many other ways, George played a major part in organizing and leading the annual summer family meetings. George and Nan were full partners in the process, but George's energy and enthusiasm prompted his adult children and grandchildren to want to participate. By being involved himself, George demonstrated what was important. And those demonstrations became the roots of his legacy. In my next installment, we'll look at how legacy flourishes in repetition.

Read Part Two - A Father's Legacy for Father's Day here.

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