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Family Factories

My father gets a faraway look in his eye that’s unmistakeable.  As his craggy face turns towards the horizon and his eyes seek out the glint of snow-capped peaks, we all know what he is thinking.  Mountain tops have always had that magnetic effect on him.

The feature story in a Readers Digest began with the above quote.  It was a most interesting article about Edmund Hillary written by his son Peter Hillary, called ‘Adventures with My Dad’.

Peter Hillary tells the story of being a rather reclusive child with strong interests in pressing flowers, writing poems and bird-watching.  He tells how at the age of ten years his dad and Mingma, his Sherpa mountain guide, took him climbing on his first mountain.  They tied a rope to him as they crossed the steep snow slopes of a high mountain in the South Island of New Zealand.  Peter was tied between his dad and Mingma and whenever he fell or lost his footing on the slope they would ‘haul on the rope and bungy him back up into the steps from where I had fallen’.  Peter learned that his father would always look after him. He had learnt ‘a real lesson in trust and security’.

Peter Hillary points out that he was affected by his dad’s love for adventure and the great outdoors.  Many have accused him of needing to compete or measure up in some way to his dad.  But for Peter it is simpler than that.

I think that families are like factories: some manufacture lawyers, while others produce landscape gardeners.  The Hillary family is a limited production mountaineering establishment.

I think Peter Hillary’s viewpoint on this is both interesting and liberating for us all.  The reality of our lives is that we have all been deeply affected by our parents and particularly by our fathers.  My own father’s background of first violinist in an orchestra taught me to love good music.  Although not classically trained I did become a reasonably serious rock / blues / roots guitarist / songwriter and a very average, or should I say pathetic singer. The likes of Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler give me hope.  They made it with less than perfect voices.  I am still waiting to be discovered, which may take some time.

Now my own children all play and write music.  My two eldest boys played in a band called BENT, a hard core band that was so loud it could peel paint.  They won numerous awards and band competitions including a Music-Oz Listeners’ Choice. More recently these two sons teamed up with their two younger brothers to form Carry On. Why You Running? is one song that shows their melodic side. My youngest child is studying music full time at the Australian Institute of Music. So the cycle is complete, or is it just beginning?

What am I saying?  ‘Like father like son’ is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but quite possibly embraced.  One key is not for us as fathers to force our children, but allow them to find their own expression and level.  Another key is to become better fathers ourselves, for the sake of our children.   ‘Rage against the Machine’ or ‘Korn’ is not the kind of music I will ever get excited about, but it is a genuine sound that was and is current for my sons’ generation.  Our children will always reflect us, but at the same time we must allow them the space to find out who they are as well, reflecting their own personalities.


Think about your dad and how he has influenced you.  Look at the positives and negatives.  Accentuate the positives and reduce the negatives.  Do a stock take this week on what sort of family factory you are running.  Do you need to make some changes in yourself?  How can you better yourself?  Your family factory needs to be the best it can possibly be, and that has a lot to do with you.

Yours for great family factories

Warwick Marsh

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