Fathers, Daughters, and Careers

I suppose this would be the perfect time to write a “year in review” post but, instead, I’m going to elaborate on my thoughts about Kathy Caprino’s post “7 Ways Your Father Affected Your Career.”

I read Kathy’s post back on December 23, when it was published by Forbes, Inc. I made a hasty comment at the time but knew I wanted to come back to it. The post had seven points. I’ve included each one here (in bold) along with a concise paraphrase (unbolded) and my thoughts (in italics).

1. Who You Associate With ( “girls with uninvolved dads tend to go through puberty at least five months earlier than other girls“) For my experience, this doesn’t correlate. My dad was overseas a good bit due to being in the Navy, but he wasn’t uninvolved. The fact that I went through puberty very early probably is purely biological. The people I associated with could hardly be deemed “rebellious, acting older than they were” or anything else destructive. This one didn’t seem to mirror my experience.

2. Speaking Your Opinion (“when a father encouraged his daughter to express her opinions growing up, she would generally become more confident at expressing her opinions in school and throughout her life”) I wouldn’t necessarily attribute issues I have as an adult expressing my opinion solely to my father. At 49, it doesn’t really matter (ultimately) why I have had challenges with this and hopefully a round of therapy in my early 20s helped me make peace with my childhood influences. On the other hand, I have been compulsively telling people that my “Word of the Year” for 2014 is “freedom” as in “freedom from being so #*$&#)*@# deferential to everyone.” It’s easier for me to write my opinion than to say it. I can’t blame my dad for that. I can work on improving.

3. The Career You Choose My dad was in the Navy; my mom was a housewife who spoke nostalgically of her working days. I don’t think my dad’s choices directly influenced mine. I sure did want to be Mary Tyler Moore tossing that hat in the intersection, though. When I didn’t want to be a stay at home mom. I think I am destined to discover that career choices can change and evolve even as you approach 50.

4. Your Ambition and Competitiveness (“are fathers at least partially responsible as key influencers re: women’s ambition and competitiveness”?) Hmmmm……I think about this a lot and have never given voice to it in my blog (or, really, much of anywhere!). I am ambitious and competitive BUT my concern is that as an only child who got a LOT of praise for pretty much anything, I have an overinflated sense of my “specialness.” I’m not saying this to be amusing …. I like nothing more than a good competition and earning rewards fair and square. Having entered kindergarten at 4 and always been told “aw so smart for so young” it became easy to crave being the exception rather than the “hard worker.”

5. How You Interact With Men (“Without an involved father, the challenge of interacting with men, particularly in the workplace, can be challenging at best (and debilitating at worst) for some women.”) Cue ominous portentious music here. This doesn’t have to do so much with my father’s involvement or lack thereof. Maybe more of the only child thing or maybe just because I am wired the way I am. I’ll never be “one of the boys” but that’s exactly what I craved sometimes (when I didn’t want to be the treasured princess (hey no one said this had to make sense!). I do love love love having men for friends. But that’s different than being able to shoot the sh*t around the water cooler (thereby gaining an “in” into office hierarchies). On the other hand, for the past 19 years I’ve worked in an office that is about 90% female so maybe I am in an unusual environment to start with.

6. How You Are Mentored By Men (nurturing by a dad of a daughter (vs a son) is much easier because of the lack of testosterone) This one I struggle with — but to be fair I have struggled with very authoritative women too. I also can’t name many true mentors, especially male mentors, in my professional history. Maybe this is a gap I need to fill.

7. Your Leadership Style (“How your father interacted, particularly with you, and also with your mother and other authority figures in your family life set an example for how leadership works or doesn’t.”) This one is a tougher nut to crack. Did my parents influence my leadership style? Was I always meant to be the way I am regardless? If anything, a southern childhood of “be polite” messages probably didn’t help in any way but again I am captain of my own destiny, right?

Having worked through all of the questions, in a way I think my original response to Kathy, hastily tapped out, still encapsulates the core of my response:

It is thought provoking; I don’t think I am going to be able to dash a quick comment off in the comment box on your blog! You can never change the pros and cons of your parents’ styles (in this case, father …) as I’m sure my own children will prove on their own therapists’ couches someday. If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing retrospectively, though, I think I would wish for a bit more messaging along the lines of “sometimes you have to push back, often you can do that diplomatically but there are some times that won’t be possible. Have courage in those times and don’t back down.”



What are your thoughts on the topic? Share them here or directly on Kathy’s blog.


Notes About Work, For My Teenager

When my daughter began what I considered her first “real” job (non-babysitting, 20 hours a week, “traditional” office environment), I’ve immediately began thinking a lot about my hopes for her as a member of the workforce. When she’s 52 and looking back on the career choices she has made, will she be happy?

What follows is a mixture of reflections based on my experience.

First Jobs

Connect With Whatever Makes Your Heart Sing

A friend of mine said once, “I work to fund my pastimes.” I get that, and occasionally over my career have thought, “I should have just done [insert very lucrative even if very unpleasant occupation], made a bunch of money, and then had flexibility in my 40s. The thing is, is it worth doing something you don’t love for ten years? five? two?

Ask Questions, More Than Once If You Need To

My mom started work very young (since she had fibbed about her age to get into kindergarten!). When she talks about her years working in Lake City, she really seems to have relished it. I remember her talking about the first time she took dictation (i.e., using shorthand to write down the boss’s words), and she got out to her typewriter and realized that she had failed to comprehend most of it. She went back in to her supervisor and admitted that she needed a “do-over.” I can only imagine the gumption it took for a young woman in the 1950s professional environment to tell her male boss that she needed to start over. I heard her echo in my voice when my daughter and I were discussing a project at work, when I said, “it’s okay to ask if you don’t ‘get it.'”

The Team Matters

I don’t know what kind of workplace my daughter will have ten or twenty years from now. Will she be working remotely, from her laptop? Will she be traipsing the earth? Something tells me she won’t be in a traditional office or cubby. Regardless of where or how she works, I hope she has a team she loves being a part of. No team is perfect, and good teams can “turn bad” with a change in leadership or organizational mission. But whether it’s writing code, caring for patients, teaching children, or digging ditches, if the team you’re a part of is not generally happy to be moving toward a common mission, and supporting one another along the way, you’re playing for an emotional loss.


Time and again the choices you make will come down to your values, personally and professionally. You have values as an individual: they help you draw the line between what you will do and what you won’t do. You will be faced with ethical choices (is it okay to backdate an invoice one day but not okay to completely fabricate an invoice that never existed?). You will be faced with choices to lead in the workplace (are you going to laugh at a joke that is told at the expense of another? are you going to seek out someone who has great potential but just needs a bit of encouragement and help them?). Most importantly, you will be faced with figuring out where it all fits in to your life as an individual.


You may decide not to have a family. You may decide to get married but not have kids. You may decide to have one child or six. I will always struggle with the image I portrayed to you when you were younger of what “working” meant: acting stressed; pulling up to the daycare screaming that my boss was going to be mad if I was late so GET OUT OF THE CAR AND GET MOVING!

I suppose it would have been false to pretend that work is a daisy path of pleasantries but I hope by my choices I haven’t snuffed out your optimism that you can find a place that challenges you and gives you the flexibility to have whatever configuration of family life you end up with. (But if you find yourself screaming at your kids to GET OUT OF THE CAR AND GET MOVING! I really encourage an intervention! It’s not worth the stress…for anyone involved.)

In Closing

I know it’s stressful to go to school all morning, to get changed into professional clothes, and then to be immersed in the world of human resources all afternoon. It must be like drinking from a fire hose. It makes me think ahead to some morning 10 years down the road, 15, 20 —- as you approach retirement. Will you wake up, on balance, excited for the day, knowing you are doing something that you feel competent at, among people you care about, where the little drudgework things that accompany all jobs are far outweighed by the joy of channeling your talents toward a fulfilling purpose?

I’ve used the quote below before (in this post), but it still sums up my wish for you:

When you live your passion, there is no line dividing what you do and who you are.  They are one. – Leigh Caraccioli


Editor’s Note: I originally write this post four years ago, in October 2013. My daughter is no longer a teenager, but I left the original title in place (time flies….).