Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Do Parents Know Best When it Comes to Our Life Choices?


When I was younger way before starting any kind of work I thought that it must be fun to work with your parents. No strict rules, you feel “backed”, and being fired is not really an option. Then as I matured I began noticing that a large number of males, and some females, who end up doing it are never too happy, unless they are either replicas of their fathers and/or they are relatively well-off so the son, or daughter, will get to inherit the fortune just by taking on the role of the subordinate of the dad until that day comes. But other than that from the real life examples I have observed throughout my life, usually there is not much passion or fulfilment involved.

My own reasoning why many guys working for their fathers are not particularly happy is that it’s highly unlikely that you happen to be born with a passion towards the very same job, career, or industry as your father. Coincidence! 

Different Shades of Passion is a recent exposé of mine about how unique we all are.

The thing is, the son of a doctor or a carpenter probably knows more about medicine and carpentry than his peers of the same age. The same can be said in case the father runs a family business. Just because the son grows up in an environment in which the job, career, or industry are surrounding them. Even when they don’t know the details, at least they are aware of the general knowledge.

Oftentimes, they are also encouraged — and pressured — by the father, or the entire family, to follow in dad’s footsteps. In fact, some fathers choose their son’s career path the day they are born, which adds a significant amount of pressure to the equation.

One example I recall regarding this pressure is an old acquaintance of mine whom I met once in Canada where I was residing for a few years. He was a doctor doing his Masters at the University of Toronto and he wanted to live in Canada rather than go back to Cairo to take over his dad’s clinic, which probably belonged to the grandfather. “I’d rather be a superintendent or a security guard here than being a doctor in Egypt,” he confessed to me. Obviously his father wanted him back because “who else would take over the family’s clinic?” He did go back to Egypt and his dad passed away a couple of years later.

This was one example out of many. I actually know a significant number of people who had to abandon their dreams in order to please their parents. I know they would have been shining with happiness if it weren’t for the parents’ rigid control.

As such, many young ones come to mistakenly believe that they share the same passion as their fathers, leading them to pursue a similar field. The reality, however, is that due to our diversity and uniqueness as human being this is rarely ever the case. Beside being easily influenced, when you’re young you haven’t had time to know what you really want to do in life. So you go for the job or career suggested by the parents, only to realise later that passion is lacking and that this was not your path. Sometimes this realisation only comes much later in life, which could be a tad too late to do something about it; though it is never impossible. 

I remember when I was 19 I told my parents that I wanted to become a photographer for National Geographic. The response wasn’t really enthusiastic and I was told that photography was great… as a hobby. And I believed them.
 It took me ten years to reach the conclusion that whatever corporate path I had taken wasn’t meant for me. It then took some guts to do something about that realisation, which eventually led me to take art, and writing in particular, as a vocation. But to find my calling I had to leave my comfort zone behind and move towards the unknown.

However, as I reflect now on everything and look at the Big Picture, I am left with zero regrets. I am actually grateful I went through what I did. Because I’m aware that knowing what you don’t want is a significant step towards what you do what; that before finding who you authentically are at the core you get to know who you aren’t. Despite being drawn to photography as a teenager, I did not know with certainty that I would like to sincerely get into the Arts. I had to move to the other side of the world to find it out.

Besides, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my experiences. Indeed, nothing gives a man more credibility than saying “I have been there”. For experience can never be studied or bought and that’s why it is the mother of all wisdom. Who Are We? is an earlier existential exposé in which I’m discussing the question in length.

Now, just like everything in this dual universe there are two sides to every issue. Working for your family is no different. I’m saying ‘family’ but what I really mean is father since the situation is more common — even though there are girls, and boys, who work for their mothers. Let us start with the drawbacks.

 Note that what I’m focusing on herein is not those who share similar fields, but those who work directly with or for their father, such as a son becoming a dentist like his father and ending up sharing his clinic — or factory — before possibly taking it over.

Whether you mean it or not, spending one third of your day, five or six days a week with anyone will  certainly affect your relationship with them. When it’s your own father, the father-son relationship is affected on a whole different level. One reason this is the case is because the two know each other too well, so things cannot help but get personal sometimes, including during disagreements. And taking things personally and ‘work’ do to usually work well together. 

Working together often ends up by building tension between the father and son. Because of their special relationship, the tension usually transcends the office setting and can stay well into their normal life, negatively affecting the natural bonding between them. Whether they are sharing the dinner table with the rest of the family or a car ride, normal chats can easily turn to business discussions. Imagine having your business partner or “right-hand” — who also happens to be your son — right in front of your face in the office as well as outside it. While for the father, who’s usually the senior boss, this could be fine; for the son it may not be that much fun as it affects him differently, possibly standing in their way of being able to totally disconnect outside of work. 

Another drawback of working for your family is that in some cases it could be a one-way ticket. Once you have started it seems like there is turning back. The more time passes, the more the father trusts and counts on their offspring. Bit by bit, if all goes well, he gives them more responsibility and authority. If the son dared to leave, mayhem will ensue. Some of them actually stay stuck out of feeling of obligation and sympathy. But because it is against their will you can always sense a certain degree of resentment.

One more disadvantage is that you sometimes have to double your efforts. Especially if there are other colleagues, a working son is looked upon as someone who had it easy. “He’s here because of his dad” and not because of how good he is or his qualifications. Even if he is good, things like that are bound to be said behind closed doors. So to fill in the shoe, they must work harder to show that they are worth the job.


Psychologically speaking, when kids mature they come to realise that their father is not the Superman they used to think he is. But he is, in fact, a fallible human being who can make mistakes just like everybody else; also that he can sometimes be wrong. The mistakes can either be out of ignorance, such as Not to swim or shower for an hour after a meal. Or out of fear, like “Your head is heavier than your body” so that kids don’t look out from balconies — while in reality the head constitutes only about 8 percent from the body mass. But generally, the lies and mistakes are often made out of goodwill.

More examples can be found on Debunking Myths We Were Exposed To While Growing Up.

That said, as the son sees through the father’s mistakes and lies — even the white ones — he begins to assert his own identity and challenges their authority and knowledge. A battle between their male egos takes place. Depending on both of their characters, sometimes the friction is more subtle while other times it develops further into full-blown fights. 

Consider young male lions at two or three years of age and how they are kicked out of the pride once they mature. Other than the evolutionary reason for that, it happens because it’s time for the male, sometimes also female, to wander on their own and become a nomad, away from the territory of the family — the father.  When in our human world you end up working for the King of the Jungle, you likely miss the opportunity to grow through life and to make it on you own so that one day you, too, become the King of your own Jungle. 

What Nomad Lions Can Teach Us About Growing Through Life is another piece about how without wandering like nomads, we lack the necessary strength and tools needed to endure a novel life away from the family. 

With psychology in mind, let me take the opportunity and get back to lying to share a useful parenting tip with you. You see, most children live in a black-and-white reality. So when they’ll one day find out the parent lied to them about a certain subject, and they will, the deception will automatically lead them to assume that you lied to them about everything else. For instance, “marijuana is a gateway drug”. Meaning, once you smoke those Js, heroin will eventually follow. Anyone who reads now knows that this is utter malarkey. When the kids come to realise that they have been lied to about marijuana, they will assume that you likewise lied about heroin being a deadly drug.

The same can be said about the little white lies I mentioned earlier, like
Not to swim or shower for an hour after a meal. For it doesn’t matter how big or small the lie is, the fact that they have been lied to is what matters. This can easily backfire, for it does more harm on the long run than being honest in the first place. If you are a parent, try to stay true as much as possible to minimise the damage. Don’t insult their intelligence. 

To be fair and not square, working for a narcissistic father with ego issues, or an obsessive or a selfish one is way different than a cool and/or supportive father. This leads us to another example showing the other side of the coin and the benefits of working for the family, which is the case of a fortunate minority — or so I hold. 

I had a friend with me in University who wasn’t the studious type and who was confused about what to choose as a major. One day I had a talk with him, which was followed by him declaring Psychology. What I told him was simple: “Aren’t you going to take over your dad’s factory? Then choose whatever major you find easy.” Eventually, he did just that; he would even choose the same classes as me so he can copy my notes and have someone to study with and explain to him.

As soon as he graduated he became the general manager of the factory while his father was the CEO. Of course in his case no job interview was needed. He was also getting paid quite well. Just because his father was much older, and a nice guy, so my buddy had the flexibility to work however he pleased. Currently, I think, he is managing everything and I dare saying that he wouldn’t have it any other way. Note that this is an example of a well-to-do family, and for my buddy it had worked perfectly.

That said, for some people working for or with the family is the best thing to do. Taking over the family business seems like the rational decision. You’re making good money, you’re stable and secure, and you have all the flexibility one could ever ask for. Naturally, this combination leads to a happy life. What else would one need.

Another advantage of working for your family is a high sense of commitment and accountability.  When you know you own, or partly own, a business you cannot help but to give your all, which is beneficial to you as well as to the business. Naturally, there is also more trust between family members, which, again, is beneficial for both parties. In addition, if the father-son relationship happens to be a healthy one, working together means less pressure.

Regarding parenting, one of the grave problems of having controlling parents is that the children grow up believing they are dependent on that control. This interference handicaps them and renders them weak. Without wandering, at least for some time, and especially if the parents are the controlling type, the cubs never get to be Kings of the Jungle worthy of the title.

Sometimes I meet people in their 20s and 30s who seem as though they never got out of that phase when as children your parents needed to push you around to do things. Meaning, by themselves they wouldn’t do whatever it is and always tend to procrastinate — constantly waiting for that push. Without the push, they seem to lack orientation, they get startled and may never start moving. This is the state of mind you reach as a consequence of living under your parents’ submission for too long. You remain immature and insecure.

The reality is, everything changes for the better the day you start treating your parents as human beings and not as a source of authority. Be grateful for the life they gave you. Love and respect them but don’t spend your life trying to please them, for you will never end up happy if you did. Echoing with Frank Zappa’s nugget of truth: “If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti have also said the same: “It is very easy to conform to what your society or your parents and teachers tell you. That is a safe and easy way of existing; but that is not living. To live is to find out for yourself what is true.

The other way around is also true; for the parent to befriend they children will always be healthier to the relationship, especially as they both grow older. Truly, strict, overly controlling parents embody what bullshit actually means. Because they are capable of ruining their children’ lives, and in many instances they do. 

In brief, sons and daughters should be left the choice to pursue whatever they wish without much interference and without any emotional blackmail from the parents. They could be guided, but the final choice about what to do in their lives should be theirs and their alone. Simply because it’s their unique journey, and they need to learn how to be independent and how take responsibility for their own decisions. 

Again, it’s their experience and not the parents’. And in that regards and to answer the question raised herein, parents rarely ever know best when it comes to their kids’ life choices. Not because there is something wrong with them, but because no one knows themselves better than themselves.

Forcing an offspring to work for their parents or to pursue a certain career they have chosen for them is a selfish act. It may be convenient for the parent as it may be their idea of a life, but it is not necessarily the same for the young ones. As I argued, the drawbacks usually outweigh the benefits. Yet, for some people it works perfectly and that’s because we are all different. At the very end, finding our own passionate calling is the only way for us to excel and reach our full potential in life. And no one can find it for us. 

“Nobody can build the bridge for you to walk across the river of life, no one but you yourself alone. There are, to be sure, countless paths and bridges and demi-gods which would carry you across this river; but only at the cost of yourself; you would pawn yourself and lose. There is in the world only one way, on which nobody can go, except you: where does it lead? Do not ask, go along with it.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche


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