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Joining the Family Business

My son Brendan graduated from a Jesuit university in 2009, ready to take on the world.  He’d planned to come back to New York, get a job in advertising, and eventually go back to graduate school. But with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, a minor in advertising, and a raging recession that has made the lot of the Class of 2009 particularly gruesome,  it quickly became clear that wasn’t going to happen. The prospects were slim for jobs in whatever field he chose. So while his friends got jobs as babysitters and bartenders, he decided (purely as a temporary measure) to work in his dad’s thriving private investigation firm.  Since it didn’t offer enough income for him to move out of the house, we gladly welcomed Brendan back to his old room, and promised him three squares a day. And a grand experiment began.

Right from the beginning I was skeptical. Coming home after being away and living independently for four years is difficult at best. Living with your boss? Well, that seemed just about impossible.  There’s something about discussing subpoenas over pork chops at dinner that didn’t seem right.  And what if he made a mistake at work? Would I be hearing about it at home?  It seemed unfair to mix family work with home life. Yet I knew that they don’t call it a “family business” for no reason. Millions have survived working for their moms and dads. And besides, it wasn’t up to me.

Far from merely surviving, Brendan has thrived.  The job has given Brendan and my husband, Jim, a chance at a relationship they never had. It’s made Jim proud, and Brendan even prouder when he does well. And I’ve gotten to watch as he’s matured from college student to graduate to full-on adult professional.

 My only input has been to make sure my husband treats his newest employee like all his other workers. That is, make sure he’s working hard, hold him accountable for his work, and give him the same opportunities – but not better opportunities – than everyone else at the firm. And occasionally, I urge my husband to give Brendan at raise, and I urge Brendan to ask for one.  He’s saving for rent, after all

Rosemary Beirne is a teacher and an editor on Long Island.

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