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Edition 220 – Loss

Very early last Wednesday morning, in the pitch black of the pre-dawn, I had a premonition about my father. I somehow found myself at his front door, him holding it open. Whether it was a dream or that sort of in-limbo state, it was short and somewhat odd as we have not spoken for a very long time.

Six hours later, I was on the phone to my sister. My father had been taken to hospital by ambulance around 6am, with my sister telling me he was not expected to last the day. Late last Wednesday night, he passed away aged 74.

I’m going to shock you for a moment and tell you that whilst I’m still somewhat processing the news, I’m not in mourning. The reason we had not spoken for so long was that our last conversation, more than two decades ago, involved him making unspeakably violent threats against me and my own young family. He was an emotionally, mentally and physically aggressive person who bullied me incessantly. More than once did I attend school with the physical traces of his parenting technique, only to be told as I left the front door to suggest, to anyone who asked, that it was my own clumsiness that created the battle scars.

At the age of almost 30, I’d decided that I’d had enough and finally stood up to him and called him out on his appalling behaviour. A controlling personality, he didn’t appreciate his alleged authority being challenged and I made the choice for the personal safety and welfare of my own family to cease contact with him.

He tried just once to make contact by phone, on my 50th birthday. However, given the history of the last phone conversation we had, I rejected his advances, for genuine fear that it would end up exactly where it did last time. At no other time, did he offer to reach out, send a letter or even post a birthday card to either of my two sons, that between them constituted two-thirds of his grandchildren compliment. He met Callum once. He never met Fraser. What he never realised is that it is he who suffered the greatest loss by not being a part of their lives.

Ironically, perhaps, the work that I’m now most engaged in is with family businesses, ironic in the sense that my own family upbringing as a child was quite messed up. Thankfully, I met Trish and realised what it was like to be part of a caring, loving family and together, we created our own.

Over the years of working with so many family businesses, I’ve enjoyed working with and observing the dynamics of the family relationships that are at play. Being a son, and the father only of sons, the strongest images and fondest memories continue to be of the relationships amongst the family businesses that I have worked with and continue to work with.

Like the father and son who might go toe-to-toe in a management meeting on a particular issue, only to depart each day, to their respective homes, with a peck on the cheek and a warm embrace that, evidently, has been something that has always been shared between them.

Like the father and son who were remarkably similar in their personality styles and professional calling that, in our quarterly management meetings, over copious quantities of baked delights, would help each other in their quest to grow their business by taking a moment to reflect in the mirror that, perhaps the advice for each other was also the advice for themselves.

Like the three sons who, without fail, stand and warmly greet their mother when she enters the room in one of our management meetings, a deference to good manners and utmost respect that has been, clearly, a part of their upbringing. To this day, those three sons continue to work in the business, as does Dad.

Like the youngest son who has successfully taken over the reins of the family business established by his parents almost 40 years ago and continues to take the mickey out of his father during our meetings. Yet, he honours and respects them not only with his words and his genuine care and love for them, but works hard to ensure they continue to enjoy the fruits of the labours of those very early years when the work was intense and the hours were long.

Like the only son and child, who flew the coop to travel the world, landed a gig in a foreign land with a friend of his father’s, only to have the epiphany that, if in this foreign land, a father and son can create a successful family business together, that maybe he could help his own father to build his family business upon his return to Australia. Almost 30 years later, he’s still there, Dad is still working and the business is successful.

It is from these and so many other families that I have learned so much and observed the love and closeness that makes families tick and family businesses successful. To each and every one of you, I thank you for the privilege of being invited into your own families and your lives.

Take a moment to think about your own family and what they mean to you, whether they are inside or outside your family business. Quite often, there is a very positive connection between warm, loving and respectful relationships amongst the individual family members, and success in family business.