The two brothers, Steve and Earl, were sitting together in a downtown bar. Both had knocked back rather quickly several shots, with not a lot of words spoken in between. It had been a long time since they had done anything like this, the two of them being alone together. Usually when they were in the same room, it was at rather large family get-togethers in which they only exchanged a few polite words before parting company. They were clearly nervous now. The waiter could see that each time he brought them their drinks.
Then Steve spoke, “So dad’s about to retire as head of our so-called ‘family business’. I reckon that this might just be the opportunity that you have long been looking for.”
Earl then responded in kind. “That’s funny. I thought that you would be the one that would see this as a long-awaited opportunity to be the ‘big man’ in the family.” Again words were met with silence.
They knew that this issue would be resolved in a short time. Their father had ‘summoned’ them, as they both put it, to meet him there. They only knew that he was planning to retire soon. Nothing more. Was he going to say that he would pick someone who had been working there a long time, someone who wasn’t family? The company had been run by the family for three generations.
As young men fresh out of a business program at the same college, both Steve and Carl had worked for their father, with aspirations to climb ever higher up the family corporate ladder. Then, after five years, both of them left the company with a week of the other, both of them surprised by the action of the other, as was particularly their father. It was a few weeks before he would talk to both of them again. There was a “WHY” on his face that he would never speak.
Both brothers got hired by different companies, not knowing that their father had found out from their sister who they were applying for jobs with, and had written strong recommendations in their favour.
But that was twenty years ago. Steve and Earl had both become moderately successful in their work, and would make their father aware of the minor triumphs that they had had whenever they were in his company. He barely listened. Quite frankly, he seemed more interested in talking to his grandchildren in family get-togethers. Maybe one of them could take over the family business in years to come, since his sons had ‘abandoned him’ as he often thought it. His eldest grandchild, Angie, Steve’s girl was 18 years old, and worked part-time at the business when she wasn’t at school, and she did so quite well. She could have a future there, unlike his sons.
Meanwhile Back in the Bar: The Two Brothers Continue to Talk
“So Steve, what did you mean by my taking over the business? Dad doesn’t talk to me, and he certainly would not hand down the business to me. He believes me to be useless and a wastrel.”
“That’s funny, Earl, he has said pretty much the very same about me.”
Both looked stunned, and it wasn’t the alcohol causing it. Then, Earl spoke up again. “Okay, remember when we were still working for dad. Our desks were on the ‘privileged position of being on either side of his office, having a window wall like he had. It was on a Friday afternoon in June 2010, just before quitting time. It was about a week before I quit. I heard something that day that almost physically pushed me out the door.”
Then Steve said, “What do you mean you heard something that almost physically pushed you out the door? If it was the day I think it was, the exact same thing happened to me…. with the same result.”
Again the two men were silent, except to say to the approaching waiter that they wanted another shot of whisky – doubles, neat.
Then Earl spoke what the two men were both thinking, “I heard the words, ‘I have a son that is no good for anything. He couldn’t run a lemonade stand, let alone a business. I would as soon sell the business as give it to him.”
“I heard the same thing. Was he talking to you? I thought that he was talking about me.”
Confusion covered their faces.
Then Their Father Walked into the Bar
Then their father walked into the bar. The bartender gave him a nod, as he was one of his regular customers, and pointed to the table where the man’s boys were sitting. The two men had had a conversation on the topic of this meeting.
“Well boys, here you are. Here we are”, he said, stating the obvious. “What are we going to do about the leadership of the company? Steve, your daughter Angie would be good, but she is a generation away from the job. I want family of the right age, experience and ability, so I want one or both of you guys.”
The brothers were in shock, yet again. This did not sound like the father that they thought they knew at all. Steve spoke first. “The two of us both have a memory, near the end of the time that we worked for you and the company. We both heard you say , ‘I have a son that is no good for anything. He couldn’t run a lemonade stand, let alone a business. I would as soon sell the business as give it to him.’”
Their father, Ralph by name, first cleared his throat, like he was preparing for a speech on a stage. Then he laughed, more a chin-some chuckle than anything else. “So that is why you two left. I could never understand that. I wasn’t talking about either or both of you two. I was speaking to my secretary, using my best imitation of your grandfather’s loud voice. He had said those words in his office, when talking to his secretary, when I was just about to talk to him. I first thought, like you guys did, that he was talking about me. I soon discovered that he wanted me to replace him when he retired, and that my brother, your uncle Frank, was no good for the job.
So what or who will it be boys. I’m ready to listen.”
Steve pointed at his brother, and Earl repeated the gesture.
“Well dad”, said Steve. We figure that it would take the two of us to do the work that you do, so we will share the top spot. Now Earl, shall we share the job, or do you want to play rock, paper, scissors for the job?”