Soriano: The consequences of being an absentee father (mother)

Soriano: The consequences of being an absentee father (mother)

Let me share the case of a prominent family that approached me many years ago. For confidentiality purposes, there is no mention of the family name nor country where they operate. The group was classified as an ultrahigh net worth (UHNW) family operating in Asia. The wealth of the family then was estimated at US$5 billion. The founder had a 34-year-old eccentric and rambunctious child. He was known as a “party animal” and was fond of hosting parties. His father would tell me that he was the male equivalent of Paris Hilton when it comes to drinking and partying. He wasn’t doing anything illegal, but for many years starting when he was still a teenager, the parents would always bail him out every time he got into fistfights during weekend parties. He was also caught several times drinking underage, further embarrassing his influential parents in front of local media.

After graduating from a local university, he interned in the family business. In less than six months on the job, his father fired him for reporting to work intoxicated. Feeling hopeless and unloved, he packed his bags and moved overseas. His parents were hopeful that he will change for the better in unfamiliar territory but ended up falling in love with a British national working in the financial sector. It was a “whirlwind kind of romance” added the father and after a few months, the couple decided to tie the knot. To avoid a media frenzy, the family agreed that the wedding take place in Spain. It was kept a secret and only close friends and relatives attended the intimate gathering. And just when the parents thought their son would finally settle and live a normal life away from the glitz and glamour in their home country, the marriage went downhill.

Less than a year later, he filed for divorce and asked his parents that he wanted to go home and promised to change. His exasperated father remarked, “It is easier to run a conglomerate with thousands of executives, but it is far more difficult managing an offspring.”

Why did this happen? Was this solely the parent’s fault? Or was it the son’s own doing?

Every child craves for parental love

During the last three years, my team handled dozens of so-called “black sheep” family members. In the course of our findings, 80 percent of those interviewed claimed that as scions of influential and powerful parents, they often suffer from extreme pressure to live up to success. Almost all of them vented that the lack of parental love was the overarching issue of why they acted differently. Psychologists we worked with correlated this dysfunctional behavior with having absentee fathers (or mothers). Examples that these children expressed were mostly childhood traumas like parents skipping their school activities, memorable events like graduation, theater performances, musical or ballet recitals, sports tournaments etc. in exchange for work. In short, these children were one in saying that the love language at home, 24/7, was all about money and never any form of parental love. Some of those we evaluated were probably exaggerating but many were authentic and sincere in expressing their sadness. Some were even grimacing while recalling their difficult childhood.

Another observation worth mentioning was that business owners with a “black sheep” offspring may have suffered from a traumatic event with their parents themselves as manifested when several of the “black sheep” children stated that they got embroiled with their fathers in a series of major clashes immediately after they joined the business. They shared how their fathers “became unreasonable, aggressive and hard-driving both at home and in the workplace, creating a lot of pressure on these children to be like their fathers.”

And of course, what added to the burden was the fact that the entire family was always exposed to the public eye. Knowing that the family’s behavior was being watched by the community where they operated, many children and relatives end up getting into trouble.


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