When I was 17, I quit my first job as a janitor to go full time in my speaker-building business. Then, “full time” really just meant after school and weekends.
For the rest of high school, my money came from the business I ran out of mom & dad’s garage.
I went to a local stereo shop, “Sound Dimensions” and pitched the owner on carrying my line of speakers in his retail store. After he told me what the markups had to be and what “2% / Net 30 / 1.5% per Month” terms meant, we shook hands. As a manufacturer of audio equipment, I now had my first dealer.
At the time, my dad was in the hospital. He was losing a battle with cancer.
But that day I was excited and dark clouds seemed far away. I drove over to the hospital, found him in an upbeat mood. He completely LIT UP when I told him about my deal with Marv.
He was so proud, he was bragging to all his co-workers who came in to visit him about #1 son, 17 year old entrepreneur.
Dad didn’t really understand me – I was spacy and imaginative, what I now understand as “entrepreneurially lazy” – always looking for some way to short-cut dumb jobs.
My dad grew up on a farm, working the land from boyhood, and he’d not been shy about voicing his concerns that #1 son (me) was lazy.
After that day visiting him at this hospital, I was never again afraid that I might be lazy.
As I recall he succumbed to the disease about six weeks later.
***It was not until many years later that I realized how important dad’s approval was in fueling my confidence for the future.***
America has a peculiar deficiency in that we have no official “rite of passage” for declaring boys to be men.
Many cultures have some kind of ceremony – for example the Jewish Bar Mitzvah. But I never had anything like that; most folks don’t. There’s no point where someone comes out and says “OK, you’re a man now. You have permission to enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of manhood, and join the adult world.”
Instead we have “teen years” which is a no-mans land of quasi-responsibility that extends from age 13 to the mid 30’s. (Did you know that the word teenager didn’t even exist before the 1930’s? Did you know the very concept of the teen years is a recent, artificial construction of the 20th century? But I digress…)
This is disastrous. More to the point, many men privately question their manhood. They go through life feeling like dad never really approved of them. Some guys have never heard their dad say “Hey son, I’m really really proud of who you are.”
There are few things sons need to hear more from their dads than that. Sure, we all heard it from mom, but that’s not the same. The connection between father and a son is unique, dad’s blessing is coveted. A mom is no substitute for a dad, any more than a father is a substitute for a mother. Kids need both.
This turns a lot of psychologically unhealthy, neurotic, insecure men out into the world. Some become workaholics; others troll the expressway in a haze of lethargy each day, blankly following the license plate ahead.
Men are motivated to impress their father, but for some it’s impossible. Maybe he’s never going to be impressed, maybe he’s not even alive. They go through life with an insatiable craving for approval they’re not even conscious of.
If I just described you, this hardly qualifies a fix-your-inner-child newsletter. But surely it’s worth asking yourself if some misplaced motivation like this, some elusive insecurity could invisibly motivate you, perhaps drive you but with no sense of direction.
Or maybe Dad told you you’d never amount to anything, and a string a failures is a symptom of a crippled belief system.
Having said all that, if you have a son, never ever forget that he desperately craves your approval. Not just knowing that you approve of certain things he does, but that you approve of him as a man and as a human being. That he has your blessing to go out into the big wide world and succeed.
He needs few things from you more than that.
I’m not your dad, but I still bless you in your struggle for the legal tender; to do something great with your life instead of being just a wage slave.
To all the kids who call you dad, I give you just one assignment: Give them your blessing today. They desire it with every fiber of their being.