Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters

by Shel Horowitz

If Dad is a typical entrepreneur-hard-driving, aggressive, and not interested in discussing feelings-can the children grow up with a clear sense of themselves, a willingness to tackle interpersonal problems within the family, and the necessary skills to continue the business?

That was only one of the many questions Edward Monte asked in his presentation to the Family Business Center, November 11 at the Inn at Northampton. Monte’s talk was entitled “Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters: Taking it Personally.”

Monte, a therapist and principal of Centra, PC, a New Jersey consulting firm, brought a psychological perspective, with a strong emphasis on feelings, vulnerabilities, and communication.

And despite three decades of feminism in the mainstream workplace, he believes that males and females are still trained very differently. A lot of this, Monte believes is because of the difference in modeling. Girls grow up with their female role model present in the house; most mothers are still the ones who do more of the childcare and housework, even if they work outside the home. So children grow up in the shadows of their mothers, but fathers are largely absent.

This is at least part of the reason-according to Monte-why girls tend to grow up faster and mature earlier: because their role model is present and visible. “Men have been gone from the home for over 100 years. Men make the money, drop it off at home, and go back out in the world.”

Despite this generalization, Monte identified several different types of parenting daughters, and predicted the outcome for each:

  • Fathers who are able to balance will raise healthy children.
  • Absent fathers result in needy daughters. Absent yet domineering fathers will raise daughters who are paralyzed, afraid to act.
  • Pampering dads raise arrogant sons and insecure daughters.
  • Passive dads have rebellious daughters.
  • Idealized fathers will find that their daughters are super-critical, always comparing other men to their fathers, and finding them lacking. They are enmeshed with their “perfect” fathers, and no other man “will ever be good enough.”

Daughters in a family business, who are involved with the business as young adults, will typically go through a period of estrangement from their mothers, according to Monte. Between 20 and 30, they will push Mom away and seek advice from Dad. “Mom, back away; your daughter will come home” after she’s sought guidance from-and a meaningful relationship with-her father.

Yet in the old days, family modeling was very different. Before the Industrial Revolution, Monte notes, men ran pretty much everything. They controlled the delivery of morality and values; the “emotional, moral, and spiritual life was funneled through Dad.”

Family businesses are often different; the children have a much clearer ideas of what their parents do at work, and as they age and join the business, they have the privilege of working closely with their parents, spending genuine time together.

Yet it still isn’t easy to overcome those communication barriers. For instance, getting a father to open up emotionally may take some time; it will be a gradual process, not an overnight change. “Touch your dad’s back as you pass his chair 100 times before you hug him.”

Though the stereotype is that mothers are typically in tune with emotional communication, Monte disagrees. In his view, women’s conversation may look more emotionally-based, in actuality, there’s often just as much shallowness in women’s conversation, even if the style emphasis feelings and the male style emphasizes accomplishments-it’s still often very difficult to get beyond a very superficial level. In other words, both mothers and fathers need prodding for deeper communication.

And when this communication finally happens, a lot can come to the surface. “If parents and kids are locked in a room, you can go from benign neglect to something wonderful.” Monte described his own experience caring for his father (a business owner) in his final illness. His father had sold the family store mistakenly believing the son’s stated lack of interest-and the younger Monte was crushed! He had believed the business would always be there. During the terminal illness, they had a chance to discuss this and many other issues, and by the time his father died, the two were very close.

It’s particularly important for family businesses to have these conversations, because many of the rules in the outside world don’t apply. For instance, in a non-family business, workers in their 40s are often coming into their prime, enjoying the trappings and responsibilities of power. But in a family business, a 45-year-old manager may still have to follow orders from the CEO-his or her 70-year-old father.

Also, most adult children are somewhat isolated from their families, often living in different parts of the country. But in a family business, the adult children may see at least one parent every day.

Monte provided a handout with two pages of “observations, thoughts, myths about family business-things to drive you nuts.” Some excerpts:

  • Fathers look forward to the day their sons and daughters can take over the family business-unfortunately often failing to realize that means they will no longer be running it themselves.
  • The power of the outside consultant in a family business is just simply that he/she is not part of that family.
  • Fathers assume if they produce, they have done enough; mothers assume if they nurture, they have done enough
  • The best way to bring a family business to its knees is to forget it’s a family first.
  • There are more CEOs in family business with lost personal dreams than in any other type of business.
  • The widow is the last person to be asked to take over the company, when most often she should be the first.
  • And, perhaps the most important observation, Family businesses succeed when the dreams of the subsequent generations are integrated with the dreams of the founders.