As my children have gotten older and more self-sufficient, I’ve seen them become more “objective” about the hard-earned advice I offer. They no longer hear my voice as if it were thunder on the mountaintop. As my role in their lives has become far less primary than it used to be, I’ve begun to think about my relationship with my own father – and how I felt about him when I was their age.
I always loved and respected my father, but as I grew up in the newer world of my own creation — my own young children, my incredibly hip friends, my co-coaches, my social scene — his knowledge and participation began to lag. He hadn’t lost any ground in his own world. At about my age now, he was still a highly respected businessman. He still had his group of loving friends and a new family. But my work in the entertainment industry was quite unrelated to his fascination with words and the law.
Our careers actually collided at one point. I had been working for a company that encountered some interesting legal problems, and I recommended that the owners call my dad for advice. After a few months as their off-site counsel, they brought him in-house. We would see each other in the halls. He came to be respected and even loved. I, as always, was proud to be his son. Aside from that, however, we stayed completely out of each other’s business — until the company needed to hire a new CFO.
Among the candidates was a young friend of mine. A real schmoozer who wore nice leather and talked regularly of his big game studio experience. My dad hated him. He thought he was slick, he thought he was dishonest, and he didn’t like the way he did business. I, on the other hand, thought my dad was “old fashioned” and didn’t understand the complexities of structuring a business in our industry. Imagine that: my father, Harvard Law School grad and business counselor to titans, couldn’t understand how to run an entertainment oriented business.
As it turned out, my father’s time-tested instinct was right. Within a year, despite his efforts to organize and reorganize the business, it went belly up. The investors lost their cash, the “fast talker” moved on to deceive others, and my dad retired – more convinced than ever that “show business” was not for him.
I’m writing this because I know I still have good insights for my children. I know there is benefit to sharing my life experience with them, and even more so when they have children of their own. I also know I’ll have to slip them my wisdom without seeming didactic or bossy – because nowadays they only really “listen” to about twenty-five percent of what I say.
I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m just honoring the passage of time and recognizing that I am now the “old guy.” They are the new, improved, self-sufficient versions of their mother and me.
This, I suppose, is the double-edged sword of parenting. On one hand, we take great pride in the people we have brought to our community. On the other hand, as our sons and daughters effortlessly assimilate, we feel the loss as they become immersed in their own lives.
We will offer advice.
We will guide as necessary.
We will be here to listen. And we will remember that, for us, parenting is now mostly a spectator sport.