— Looking for lessons
For the past six months I have been dating a woman I am seriously considering marrying. She is an accomplished pianist, and I spend many evenings at her house listening to her play while I read. I thought it would be nice if I also learned to play. My girlfriend has offered to teach me, but she wants to charge me for the lessons. (She is not a professional piano teacher.) Beyond my visceral negative response, I haven’t been able to construct a cogent argument that explains why I object to her request for payment.
Could it be that you see yourself as her future husband and not as her paying pupil? You may be wondering — as I am — if after you are married your new wife will charge you for doing household laundry, stocking the fridge or for making dinner?
Your girlfriend’s suggestion that you pay her for her time implies any number of things, none of which reflect well on her. Before your relationship goes any further, I suggest you consider the following philosophical issues: Can your girlfriend distinguish between a personal and a professional relationship? (You may want to ask her to define the difference.) Will she want to keep separate residences after you tie the knot? Is your girlfriend always keeping score? (Does breakfast in bed for you one morning mean breakfast in bed for her the next?)
All the alarm bells are ringing at this end. Proceed with caution.
* * *
I own a business that I inherited from my father. I have three children: Two of them have chosen other careers, and the third has thrown in his lot with me. The problem is that he appears to have no business acumen, and I would rather sell the company than see him run it into the ground. On the other hand, if I am retired, or dead, does it really matter what happens to the business? Should I avoid any confrontation and let things continue as they are?
— Down the line, down the drain
I recognize that to you the family business may be synonymous in your heart and mind with your father and his hard work. But don’t confuse what is best for his business and what is best for your son. Whether you are retired or deceased, your job is still to be the very best parent that you can, which means doing everything to make sure that your son succeeds in life. What happens to the business after you are done is a matter of ego; what happens to your son is your legacy.
Talk to your son openly and honestly about your concerns, and set concrete business goals that leave no room for interpretation. If he meets his goals then perhaps it is time for you to acknowledge you may have misjudged him. If not, it is time for him to recognize that his strengths may lie elsewhere. Sell the business and split the profits three ways. Your other two children will not be “penalized” by your son’s inability to manage their share of your business, and you can feel easy about having done what is best for your son. If he goes into another business with his inheritance — and loses it — it is no longer on your head.
Finally, how many times do I have to say it? Families should not be compromised by family businesses. This one is up there with “do unto others…” Still we spend our lives defying it.
Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at wendy@ forward.com.