Bridging the Generation Gap With Mutual Understanding
THE PROBLEM: WHEN GENERATIONS FACE OFF ON SUCCESSION ISSUES, CAN THEY AT LEAST START WITH MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING?
SUBMITTED BY A.M., VIA EMAIL
Your article in Successful Farming magazine’s February issue (p. 24) left me with some questions. I would have liked seeing what the father and uncle had to say on their own behalf. I know how the son feels and hope the best for him, but I will lose sleep over what the other side is thinking, as sometimes there are two sides of the story.
When I was 40, I was extremely fortunate to have a machinery salesman, a banker, (who I was not even doing business with), and a lawyer breathing down my neck advising me that I should protect myself.
In the end, when I finally left, it was still too late, but the outcome could have been far worse if I hadn’t listened. Still, I wonder what my elders were thinking while they failed to plan.
The column A.M. refers to focused on the situation of a young man who finally left his family’s farm when his father and uncles not only told him that he couldn’t take over the farm, but also said they’d never once even considered the idea.
What, indeed, were those older men thinking?
The son/nephew assumed their long-term plan was for him to take over running the operation, since he was the only one in his generation interested in the farm.
We can’t know their real thoughts, but long experience yields painfully acquired wisdom that can give us some clues about “Old Guy” thinking. Here are six insights.
1. I’m not as old as you seem to think I am. I’m a little slower, maybe, and have more wrinkles, but I get up every morning looking forward to my day. All this talk about taking more time off and needing to relax is your idea – not mine. It’s insulting, so drop it.
2. Even if I am older, I’ve just started to have fun. I spent a lot of years working for your Grandpa, which was OK. In the few years since he passed, I’m finally doing things my own way. Why would I want to give that up so soon just because you’re impatient?
3. I earned what I have, now shouldn’t you? I understand the estate tax and that the best thing to do, tax-wise, is to pass everything to the next generation. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do. Are you really ready for it? Have you worked even a little bit hard enough to know yourself and to appreciate the value of this farm?
4. New is not naturally better. Farmers are made by hard work, and great farmers are built by hard experience. You have a good education (much better than mine) and I respect you for that, but book tools only work well after they’re broken in on the ground.