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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Warning: Too Much Bevel Will Cause The Point To Score Deeply Into The Wood Without Being Able To Crumble Out The Waste!

by Ira Bryck, director of the UMassAmherst Family Business Center

It has been said the only thing more overrated than natural childbirth is owning your own business. Proven by the shared howl of parent and owner/manager: "What was I thinking!!?"

Yet both would claim, like the old Peace Corps slogan, that theirs is "the hardest job you'll ever love."

In becoming a father, I hadn't the vaguest clue what I was bargaining for. I held babies maybe twice before I held my own. And though I was "Uncle Ira" to many of my friends' children, plus taught (K-6 all blended in a 70's free school), navigating the unrelenting whitewater of parent-child challenges does seem like rocket science to me.

But I wouldn't trade it for any other adventure, pleasure, or fortune. In no other situation do I feel more simultaneously tested, rewarded, appreciated, misunderstood, accepted, rejected, fine the way I am, and never good enough.

My mission is clear: absolute dedication to these beings, who are who they are from some mystical mixture of genetic programming and social influence, both of which are somewhat my doing and beyond my control. I am devoted to the task of providing all that (I hope) goes into the manufacture of responsible, productive, happy, ambitious, conscientious Adult Children of the Universe, if it's not too much to ask.

Who among us is qualified to raise such an Even Greater Generation? We are the flawed offspring of flawed ancestors, no matter how loved and provided for. With loving gratitude to our own parents, we try to fall far enough from the tree, and roll a bit further, to be less crazed, and increase the brain and heart power of our successors.

What a job!! Mama said there'd be days it's more relaxing to go to work. There I stand a better chance of getting my head around the tasks at hand. I'm no workaholic, but I can understand why some people would rather hang out at the office, avoiding the elusive goal of Earthly repopulation. I know several who are less intimidated by millionth of an inch tolerances at the shop than helping with math, cleaning messes ranging from diapers to dented fenders and egos, and being guide before pal.

Especially when there is that favorite child, the one whose messes are somewhat more predictable, less noxious; that offshoot known as the family business. Which often gets the quantity time that yields quality time, the return on investment of blood, hopes, sweat, dreams and tears. Though studies disagree on the increased time spent with our children (somewhere between +20% over the 1980s and 15 minutes more per week than the 1950s) there's widespread whining/bragging that our work week has inflated from 40 hours to reports of 60-100.

When I was a new initiate to fathering, I read books ranging from "How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk" to "Raising Your Child to Be a Mensch" (the highest praise in Yiddish: a decent, caring person). The first book prescribed exact techniques of dialogue that I have, after 16 years of on the job training, only sometimes accidentally stumbled on, in my attempts to be fair, respectful, decent, caring- hey, a mensch! The second one claims that parents who do that enough will succeed. Both might agree with grandma's advice: "Put down the book and pick up the baby!"

After sitting through 9+ years of family business seminars, I'm wondering if that's good advice for business owners: "Put down the book and mind your business." Like most things, yes and no; it's a balance.

To sharpen the saw, you may need to take time to read the grinder instructions; grinding stones can also ruin saws.

Freud said the two crucial needs of successful adults are work and love (they hadn't invented play yet). He neglected to explain how to love your work; or how to work at increasing your love. At least for me (and everyone I've ever known) deriving significant satisfaction from either family or vocation takes intentional, methodical introspection (where am I going?), preparation (how do I get there?) and execution (step on the gas).

You can't have quality time without quantity. Or smell roses without planting roses (or at least, leaving the plant). And if you want your kids to join the business, it helps if they want to spend quantity time with you.

Ira Bryck is director of the UMassAmherst Family Business Center, a learning community for business owning families in Western New England. Ira is the author of of the autobiographical family business play, A Tough Nut to Crack.

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