Generational Conflict

It has been my experience over the years that most business partnerships end in bitter failures. When you compound people’s selfishness, with their egos, and mix in financial ambiguities, usually at some point all parties end up leaving the table feeling short changed. Factor in confusing generational relationship, and it is almost always a bad idea for family members to go into business together. Such was the relationship with my dad and my grandfather, during the early days of Sid.

My kids grew up in our family business. I still have images in my mind of wheeling my GRACO pack in play into an apartment with my GRACO paint gun, and thinking it was quite natural to have that smiling little child peering over the top of his crib as we worked. Around the kid’s tender age of two I would stick a screwdriver in their hand and have them pull off the light switch plates as we prepped for painting an apartment. Yes, they all got shocked one time, and then they got better at what they were doing. My kids grew up with adult realities. I have few regrets about that time. It gave us a lot of quality time together. Often we just all worked too hard, but the relationships were real.

Through trial and error as I am going through the empty nest years, I am thankful that we realized that it would be good for us to release our children to find their vocations without having to carry on the family business or trade. I often tell my kids that there is no pressure to do our business, at fifty-one I am still not sure that I like what I do for a living. Benjamin and Jeremiah’s current career uses many of the skills they developed while working for us, but I always want their business to be their business. Their success and failures are the results of their choices. They should make all the profit, and they pay for all their mistakes. I view all my children as success. I could go on for pages singing their praises, but they need to establish their own sphere in life, and conquer their own battles.

My dad’s business relationship with his father was a complete disaster. Grandpa has been dead for thirty years, and it is painful to recount the story. My dad who is now eighty-two recounts every injury with a tirade that is blinding in intensity. It is my intention to pass this blog on to my family and friends to chronicle major events in my life. It is cathartic, but not easy to turn over this stone.

Grandpa was a larger than life person. He built a massive company from the ground up by the determination in his heart, and the sweat of his brow. The bottom line over the span of decades was a success. The risks were real, and the potential for reward was great. Most successful people I know are usually driven beyond belief. The result is that they get things done, but they drive the people closest to them into the ground.

My dad’s rants often are centered on the fact that he was often neglected by his father for the sake of the business. Dad grew up in tents on the job site usually in some remote corner of Arizona. Their school house could be loaded up on a flatbed truck and hauled to the job site. Dad was kind of a kill-joy with us about hunting, or camping. He said that he grew up in the wild, and it wasn’t anything he liked to do for fun. My grandma left my uncle for close to a year with her family, because it was inconvenient for him to be on the job. I do not doubt for a second that they loved their kids, but it was always obvious that the job took first priority over their relationships. Dad has told me so many times that I can’t begin to count that Grandpa left him by a river by himself when he was about eleven to go meet with an engineer about the inspection on a job. Grandpa got in an argument with the engineer and left him alone from sunup to sundown alone in the woods. The times were different, but the story is consistent with what I knew of Grandpa.

Their business relationship was a bad mix of personality extremes, and unrealistic expectations. Grandpa paid my dad well. Dad went into the ministry in 1968. He has rarely worked for wages that met our needs, and has lived until now off the money he made during his time with my grandpa, and the inheritance he received from them. The problem for the self-esteem of a child of success is that he always feels like he was set up for success by his dad. The reality is that the child often is never exposed to the risk that goes with every job. Factor in the natural friction that exists between a father and a son and it usually becomes a relationship born of pain.

My grandpa owned a ranch as well as a construction company. Dad managed the ranch for a while, under a verbal deal with Grandpa that he would inherit the ranch when he was gone. The ranch was 64 square miles big and isolated on the back side of a mountain in remote desert. My mom was a social creature and she absolutely hated the isolation of the ranch. In the fifty-two years of their marriage, it was the only major venture that she wasn’t all –in with Dad.

The tax laws of that day often allowed you to expense the loss of one business against the profit of another to expunge liabilities. Sometimes Grandpa would be playing the books from one company to the other. He would order a dozer from the construction company to do a bunch of unnecessary grading on the ranch. The result is that he would end up with a big invoice to expunge the profit of another business. Grandpa would then come in and look at the books of the ranch and then ask why it was losing so much money.
At different times I think Grandpa promised the construction company, and the ranch to both of his kids in exchange for their labor at helping it to get out of a hard time. Grandpa was kind of arbitrary in his business plan. Keeping up with his demands was difficult. Dad never really had to experience the pain of a business that was failing. I don’t think he lived with the proper sensitivity to the bottom line.

The bitterness of this relationship haunted my family for years. My grandfather lay in bed for most of the last ten years of his life. We would go out to Arizona once a year, and at some point the rage in Dad’s magma pool would erupt into the annual volcano. Dad would scream a tirade of bitterness at the way he was treated at an old man with a twisted body who could do nothing to erase his history of screams at his own son. The chickens had come home to roost, and it was awful. All of us would sit there and just cringe asking in our hearts for this to stop. It is the family legacy we seem to pass down from generation to generation. It is time for it to stop in my generation.

About the time I was three, Dad was finished working with my Grandpa directly as an employee. Dad bought a truck mounted drill rig and worked for himself. Even then Grandma and Grandpa still wouldn’t let him take all they risk. They would give him contracts doing unnecessary work with the drill rig. To this day Dad never sees this as them looking out for him. He still goes on tirades about the uselessness of the work without seeing that this was a smothering attempt to subsidize his success. Dad managed to get work for himself independent of them, but they were always a back-up and he was never allowed to truly risk his own neck for his own reward.

In the background my dad always had a heart as big as Texas for the ministry. His generosity and passion as a layman was remarkable. God was dealing with him about the call to preach at the same time he was boring holes into the landscape of Arizona. I still remember watching Dad in his coveralls covered with Arizona dust as the plumes of the pneumatic tornado tore into the ground. It was consistent with the turmoil in Dad’s soul, and then a miracle happened.

God sent an angel to allow the bolt holding all the internal mechanics of the drill rig to vibrate loose. The end plate blew off the drill and all the small expensive parts shot down the hole Dad was drilling. Dad’s later attempts to retrieve the parts with a magnet were unsuccessful. My dad called my mom out to a Rinky-Dink motel in Winkleman, Arizona. Dad told Mom that night that he told the Lord if he would get him out of this mess he would go preach. Our lives would never be the same.


One thought on “Generational Conflict

  1. patti2u says:

    Enjoyed reading this Sid…. and looking forward to reading more…

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