No one ever said having kids is easy. Trust me, as a father, I’m well aware of that. But what nobody tells you is that all those difficult parts of child-rearing—the sleepless nights, the endless demands on your time, the tantrums—while certainly trying, pale in comparison to the single hardest thing a parent can experience: the day you have to tell your son it’ll be a few years before you can promote him from VP to president.
Nothing—nothing—can prepare you for that moment.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I always knew that moment would come. Did that make it any easier? No way. Because when those teak double doors swing open and your secretary leads your child—the company’s Vice President of Finance—into your office, well, the sinking feeling in your heart is almost impossible to describe unless you’ve been there yourself. And as you smile and nod while he excitedly tells you about his upcoming heli-skiing trip in the Chilean Andes, it’s hard to pay attention, because you know what’s coming next and you’re dying inside.
Even though you know it’s the right thing to do, you also know he had his little heart set on the promotion, and patronizing him or dancing around it will only make it that much worse.
The best way to break it to him is like ripping off a Band-Aid—just do it quickly and get it over with. Sit him right down on that Italian leather couch, look him in the eye, and say, “Son, your tenure as head of the company’s commercial investment operations will have to wait.” Simple and direct. Because even though you know it’s the right thing to do, you also know he had his little heart set on the promotion, and patronizing him or dancing around it will only make it that much worse. But the thing he can’t understand in that moment is how much it hurts you too, when those words come out of your mouth and you have to look on as his hopes and dreams are crushed right in front of you. Here you are, telling someone you love and have watched grow up for the past 24 years that he’s not ready to run a multi-million-dollar company.
You just feel like the most horrible person in the world.
Of course, you’ll increase his bonus dramatically; that goes without saying. You’ll tell him over and over how difficult this decision was to make, naturally. But you already know that’s just not going to cut it. All he wants is to be bumped up to president and get a hefty share of equity, and nothing else will do. But you can only act in the way you think is best for him and hope that one day he’ll understand.
If someday you find yourself in the same heart-wrenching situation, keep in mind that you’re going to have to give him a little time to be disappointed, particularly as it sinks in that he’s not going to get the thing he’s wanted more than anything in the whole world since you last promoted him 10 months ago. But don’t let this affect your decision. It’s important for children to learn that they can’t have everything they want right when they want it. And even though every fiber of your being wants to give him whatever he desires—which you will, eventually—this is just not the right time.
The unpleasant fact of the matter is, if he gets used to having these major promotions handed to him immediately, he’ll come to expect them. A few of my friends in similar positions told me that they made this mistake with their children and always regretted it, particularly after their ungrateful sons conspired with the board of directors to push them out of their businesses.
So, really all you can do in this situation is stick to your guns while trying to take the sting out of it as best you can. Sure, he may say he hates you and that you’re the worst dad ever, but he’ll just jet off to the villa in Turks and Caicos for a couple weeks and it will all blow over. But when he starts pouting and stomping his feet on the marble floors, his face all red with rage—it’s going to be very hard to maintain your resolve and not cave in and give him what he wants.
After all, there’s only so much a parent can stand to watch his child suffer.