Most of you reading this business column will be surprised to find a column about love. When one works with families as an avocation, especially those in family businesses, you would be surprised at what you run across.
As an educator, I know the issues we don’t discuss are likely to be the ones that cause us the most trouble. Issues get filled with emotion, statements are made and chasms are formed.
As an example, I live in a home where a previous owner had a daughter. They were Protestant and she married a Catholic. They died while still owning the home and she refused to step foot in the house as they had so alienated her for her choice. When we moved into the home, you could tell the home was empty, as it had been devoid of love – family love – for many years. Sadly, this family was not alone in that schism. In those days, a “mixed marriage” was when one of your family members married someone of a different religion. As I grew up, that phrase was used to describe people who married someone of a different race. And today? Perhaps the phrase should be passé.
Six years ago, I moved my daughter into her college dorm. She made the choice of colleges largely due to athletics and partially to get away from Mom and Dad. Okay, Dad. Sometimes we are too alike, but I digress. When I moved her in to Seattle University, I was surprised by the pictures on the dorm hall doors. Adam Lambert. Melissa Etheridge. Elton John. Freddie Mercury. I asked her if this was some sort of musical floor. She laughed and said, “No Dad, this is the ‘tolerance floor.’” “And what are we tolerating?” I asked. “This is the homosexual floor, Dad.”
Stupefied, I asked if she was telling me something. She said, “yes.” She said she needed to be more tolerant of others with different opinions than her own, so she took up this opportunity. Then she asked, “Would it make a difference?” Quickly, I gathered myself and said, “no.” It was a question that stuck with me for a long time.
Recently, my wife and I were dining with some friends. They recounted a painful family situation in which a marriage was taking place and they were not invited. The devoutly Christian family had answered the above question differently than I did and excluded this lesbian couple from the ceremony. They excluded family because they disagreed with who the family member fell in love with.
This is a common theme in family businesses. The next generation chooses a spouse of a different religion, color, nationality or yes, someone of the same gender. The choice does not go over well, sides are drawn and alienation takes place. Even if that next generation is more than capable of taking over the family business, the choice dooms them to separation from the family and the family to separate from them. Is this what we want? As the owner of the company and the head of the family, do we want alienation and separation on our watch? What if the answer to my daughter’s question would have been “yes.” Yes, if you are gay, you can’t be my daughter. If you are gay, my love for you will change. Ask yourself, before the cock crows twice and you are confronted with the same question, “What would your child need to do for you to stop loving him or her?”
My answer was simple. Nothing. I love her and her two brothers unconditionally. She is moving back to Milwaukee after six years away. I am very happy about her decision. She is bringing her boyfriend home with her, too – and yes, they are going to live together. And no, I am not happy about THAT decision. We had a talk and she knows my mind on the subject, but am I going to disown and alienate her because of a choice I disagree with? I like the guy, but even if I didn’t, I would still love her.
My suspicion is that someone will object to this column. Expectations are that some will say I am a sympathizer, while others that I suffer from some phobia. The truth is, I am tired of all the separation in our society, all the anger and venom which polarize us. My message is a simple one. Love your children, be they in business with you or otherwise, unconditionally. n
-David Borst, Ed.D., is executive director and chief operating officer of the Family Business Legacy Institute, a regional resource hub for family business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.