Fathers and Sons . . .

You don’t raise heroes, you raise sons.  And if you treat them like sons, they’ll turn out to be heroes, even if it’s just in your own eyes.  ~Walter M. Schirra, Sr.

A friend of ours is having problems with his 18-year-old son.  Not only is he not being a very good member of the family at the moment, but he is highly aggressive and constantly wants to fight his father, probably to show that he should be treated as a man and not a boy!  My wife says its overactive teenage testosterone and the proverbial “right of passage” that teenage boys face.  I think she is partly right, hormones do weird things to teenagers.  In my day the phrase was “he’s been substituted for a space alien” and I guess that was true for me.

But there is something else going on between fathers and sons that I guess we will never quite understand. Maybe I should watch Disney’s The Lion King again! For example, my father had five children, the first four of them boys. During the 50’s when we were all young, my father was working plus going to school at the same time in order to get a Master’s Degree in Education.  I rarely saw him and when I did, he was either tired or pre-occupied.  As I look back on it, not the best role model for head of the family, but certainly for work ethic.

I had a strange relationship with my dad so I can sympathise with my fried and the current troubles with his teenager.  Between the years 1976 and 1986 my father and I never spoke or even tried to communicate.  To him I was a failure and to me he was a narrow-minded critic.   As you can see, it was not our “finest hours”.

I was a failure in his eyes because I gave up my Ph.D. degree (he always wanted a Ph.D. in the family) and switched to being a business entrepreneur. Not the normal thing to do in 1976 (but a more respected choice now a days). To me he was a narrow-minded critic because he only believed in one way, formal education, as the path to success.  For me to leave Harvard with only a Master’s Degree and then to give up on a Ph.D. degree was to him, unthinkably stupid.  He saw a Ph.D. as a ticket to success.  I guess I saw it differently.

My father died at the age of 80 but I am glad to say that the last few years of his life we were closer than we had ever been.  He realised that I had built a successful global company and I guess he finally understood that success can come from hard work and not just a Ph.D. degree.  I realised, sadly too late in life, that he was a very talented and witty guy who had done a hero’s job at raising a family of five children on an educator’s meagre salary.

By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong.  ~Charles Wadsworth

A wise man once said we do the best we can with the level of understanding and awareness we have at the time.  That was certainly true of my dad and I.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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8 Responses to Fathers and Sons . . .

  1. Steve Borek says:

    I read the Wadsworth quote years ago and absolutely love it. In fact, I used it last night when I shared it with a taxi cab driver.

    I also tell my clients, and most recently my daughter, people are doing the best they can at the time.

    Thanks for sharing John.


  2. Moving post John. We all have a Father story. Some of us just not ready yet to bring it. Thanks for sharing your story.


  3. mimijk says:

    I read this through tears John…touching and honest and true. We raise our sons and they do become heroes – although sometimes I think they grow up in spite of us, not because of us..:-)


    • Mimi: I think we are still in the process of growing, hopefully growing up as well. I am blessed that I found your blog sight. Thanks for being a part of my journey.


      • mimijk says:

        So true – I’m still far more in touch with my inner child than my adult if I’m really honest with myself..:-) I love your blog John, and will be starting your book later today. I am honored to be on this path with you – albeit virtually!


      • Mimi: I am keen to make novel writing a late career (retirement) move so if you like my novel and story please tell your friends. A recommendation for you would be worth an Olympic gold medal. Happy reading. By the way, why are you up so early?


      • mimijk says:

        It’s a habit I haven’t lost from all my years working for a global firm. I’m always up early – that’s when I used to have my calls with Asia and would grab a conversation with someone in Europe before heading into the office. But at least now I can write a little, have some coffee and not have to drive into Washington DC every morning!
        I will definitely share my delight with your book to my friends – in fact I just joined GoodReads on facebook, so I have a new vehicle for spreading the word..


  4. Raunak says:

    what a wonderful post John…if only we learn from our dads we would go through life with a lot fewer mistakes…but I guess laws of nature force us to overlook our parents’ lives as a lesson.


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