Why did I Choose to Work with My Father for Twenty Years?

I am around 12 years old, sitting in my father’s apartment.   It is late at night, but like Scherezade, he is keeping me awake with stories. They are not stories of princesses or witches. They are stories about his business.  In spite of that, they are magic to me.

I am 22 and my father is offering me a job at his public relations firm. I don’t want to take it. I have plans to live out the graduate fantasy of backpacking in Europe.  He firmly tells me that he will not hold the job open for me.

I am 23, standing awkwardly in a nursing home with my father and grandfather. Though his father doesn’t seem to understand, my father tells him that I am now in PR. Just like the two of them.

I am 24 and furious because my father is pulling me off my favorite account to make room for another client that is struggling. He reminds me that my job is to serve the company.

I am 27 and stewing at a subway stop.  I believe that my father isn’t recognizing my contributions versus another employee. He never wavers in his approach towards either of us.

I am 28, extremely concerned that our client has called for an unexpected meeting. Perhaps they intend to terminate their relationship with our firm? My father listens patiently to my doomsday scenarios as we walk to the hotel. We knock on the door, which swings open to reveal a surprise. Instead of my client, my future husband is on bended knee with an engagement ring. My father gives me a mischievous smile and walks away.

I am 29, quaking in my boots in an office lobby, frightened about running a major two day client meeting.  He quietly repeats one of his favorite pieces of advice: “grace before pressure.” I take a deep breath.

I am 31, in the middle of my first maternity leave. My father calls to ask if I will take on an extremely tough client personality when I return. He tells me I may the only one who can fix the situation. (I couldn’t, as it turns out)

I am 32, sitting in a management team meeting while our company struggles to set course during the dot com bust. We’re not sure how hard we’ll be hit financially. My father passionately advocates that our only and best choice is to continue over-servicing our critical clients.

I am 34, sitting in a restaurant to say goodbye to a dear colleague who is moving on to a new job. My father plays host, making a toast that knits us together and honors our friend’s accomplishments.

I am 38, writing a to-do list when my father strides through my office door with a huge grin on his face.  A former client has reappeared many years later, with the belief that my father and I can help his new firm.

I am 39, standing in our New York office as we tell our employees that we will not lay off anyone, despite the recession. My father reassures the staff that people are the company’s most important asset.

I am 40, giving a speech about social media measurement. My father sits in the audience, silently supporting. Later, we discuss how we can respond to the new business leads.

I am 41, sitting in the Princeton club with my father discussing his semi-retirement on April 1. Despite confidence in my own leadership, I feel bereft. After a few thoughtful reminders from him about what we’ve achieved together, I feel invigorated about my own future.

I am at my father’s retirement party. As I look around the room, it’s filled with people who have also benefited from his lessons…and his stories.  I feel very proud. Proud of the wonderful company he built, proud of the clients he transformed and, most importantly to him, proud of the exceptional people that he hired and taught how to fly.

As I fast forward to when I’m 42…or 56…or 84, I see the professional he’s helped me (and so many others) to become. I’ll be deeply grateful for that for the rest of my career.

But, in the end, what’s always mattered most to me is getting to have John Bliss as my Dad.

To reach Elizabeth:

Phone:  212.840.0017
Email: elizabeth@blisspr.com
Twitter: @elizabethsosnow
LinkedIn: Elizabeth Sosnow