I’m reading a biography of Walt Disney. Interestingly, Walt’s father did not exactly encourage his dreams. The author describes a conversation between father and son when Walt was in his late teens and just getting started on his career:
“That evening after dinner, Walt’s father called him into the living room for a serious discussion. “Walter,” Elias said, “I have a job for you at the jelly factory. It pays twenty-five dollars a week.”
“Dad,” Walt replied, “I don’t want to work at the jelly factory. I want to be an artist.”
“You can’t make a living drawing pictures,” Elias said. “You need a real job.”
And that was just one small moment of a theme in their relationship, a pattern of Elias Disney trying to impose his version of reality on his son regardless of Walt’s interests and inclinations. Walt Disney’s father was stern, harsh even, with all of his children. His personality seems in many ways the opposite of the personality of Walt. Those who knew Walt universally acclaimed his personality as optimistic and kind and fun-loving, and it’s certainly possible that he crafted his persona, consciously or not, in opposition to his father’s.
But Disney, obviously, defied his father’s expectations for his career more than even he could possibly have imagined. Maybe his father’s opposition helped fuel Walt’s ambition. Maybe Walt was that much more persistent and committed because of the resistance he knew he would face from his father.
I don’t want to be that kind of father, though. I would like to think I will encourage the dreams of my children when they begin to wade through the dilemmas of building a career. My kids should get their obstacles elsewhere. Not from me.
Maybe, though, my fears will turn me into a wet-blanket of an old man who pushes my kids to the safe option rather than the one with the chance for awesome. We want security for our children. I know that is what motivates so much parental meddling and micromanagement of their adult children’s lives. Working with college students I see this frequently and posted this previously:
I heard a commencement speaker last year say that your parents do not want what is best for you. They want what is good for you. They want you to be safe, secure, successful, and have all your needs met. But what’s best for you might be risk and struggle and failure, key components on any path to mastery and awesomeness. Respect your parents, but lead your own life. And know that one day you might be that parent wanting what is just good for your child. And that’s okay. Parents are wired by evolution to protect their babies. Of course, the way you live your life will inform your children more than anything you say to them.
If, like Walt Disney, you face opposition to your path within your own family, you can be like Walt, and move yourself to action in spite of the resistance. Walt was not directly disrespectful to his father. He was just determined to go it alone if he had to, and he did. Turn your obstacles into fuel.