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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.
5. You don’t seem to understand the fact that you’re not the
only member of the family. It’s easy for you to know what’s good for you. I
have to figure out what’s good for Mom and me, for your siblings, your aunt,
uncle, and cousins, and for the farm. Have you given me any practical ideas
that will work for everyone?
6. You never really said you wanted the farm. Looks to me
like you’re waiting for me to come to you and offer it. Even worse, sometimes
you seem to assume it’s yours. I’ve yet to hear you say, “Dad, tell me what I
have to do to be the next operator of this farm.”
None of these attitudes, nor those of the younger
generation, justify failure to plan transition. It might help start the process
if each side could admit that the other has a valid point of view.