Monday, January 10, 2022

One of the great advantages of being a failure is...

...that it takes a lot of pressure of one's children.

Some cope with prominent parents (that is, parents who are not failures) better than others, of course.

Sir Winston Churchill was long overshadowed by his father, Lord Randolph. Some historians view Winston's career as a series of maneuvers to establish himself as a statesman in his own right, separate and apart from his by-then-long-dead father. As a father himself, Winston was as indulgent as his own father had been aloof. But Winston's son, Randolph, never quite escaped his father's shadow.

It helps to explain why they both drank. A lot.

In a very small way, I had a famous father. My dad was in law, not politics. But, in his field, he was recognized as a leading expert. And, going into the law, as I did, I was to those who knew my father readily pigeonholed. I was my father's son. But my father practiced in a very narrow specialty.

I did not engage in the same specialty as my father. And there are a lot of lawyers in Chicago. There were a lot of lawyers even then. So, with one entertaining exception I won't go into now, I didn't get a lot of "are you related to..." questions -- and when I did, it was more of a general inquiry than anything.

Time passed, and I built my own reputation. I published a number of articles under my own name in a legal publication. Then, one night, at a holiday party, a judge, before whom I regularly appeared, sidled up to my father, and asked, in seeming innocence, "Say... are you Curmudgeon's father?" He knew damn good and well that he was talking to my father. But my dad was thrilled to tell me about it. And proud, I think. As if I were now the one casting the shadow.

As if.

Successful people cast shadows. Failures do not.

Consider the aforementioned articles, for instance. They earned me not one penny of income. Lawyers in Chicago are expected to share their experise with their brothers and sisters for the good of the profession (and the benefit of the entity publishing). (And this was before the days of MCLE -- so I didn't even get the minimal credit for continuing education hours that might be available now for those efforts.)

The hope was that being a published legal author would bring clients (waving healthy retainer checks) to my doorstep. Now I can't say for certain that none of these articles ever helped generate a client. I did more than 100 of them, but I shared the byline for almost all of those published during the first six years that I was writing them with one of my firm's named partners. I do not say he did not participate in these articles. Sometimes he told me what case to highlight and what our 'take' on it was to be. Some months he merely read what I wrote before I submitted the articles; I think there were many months where he did not read the articles until they appeared in print.

Maybe, in those early years, perhaps, my co-author got some business from one of these articles. If he had, he would not have told me about it. Lest I get a big head about it or something.

But I doubt the articles did generate any real clients and I base this assertion on the fact that, when I went out on my own, I was given the opportunity to continue writing the articles. Some months I did two articles. I think there was a month I did three. Truth be told, I didn't have a lot else to do in those days.

As each new article appeared, I would carefully cut it out and photocopy it (I can lay out a page very nicely, thank you) and send it off to a whole bunch of propsective clients (clients of my old firm, persons with whom I had worked on a regular basis for years). I spent all sorts of money I didn't have on postage. And from this I got... bubkus. No fat retainer checks. Not even checks that bounced. No clients. No business. Once, during my first year on my own, at a women's bar association reception, I had the opportunity to introduce my Older Daughter to the first female justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. Older Daughter, then still in junior high, was with me because it was Take Your Daughter to Work Day and I thought this reception, at least, might make up for the eight hours she had spent watching me twiddle my thumbs. The Supreme Court justice was there as one of the evening's honorees. There was a receiving line; that's where the introduction was made. The justice was very kind. As I introduced myself and my daughter, she pretended to recognize me. "Ah, yes," she said, "you write those articles." We were quickly moved down the line, of course, but Older Daughter finally had something to write about in the school assignment she was expected to complete about her adventures with me that day.

So maybe not a complete failure. Some rain falls on the driest deserts, too, with the apparent exception of portions of the Atacama, but the odd sprinkle here or there never relieves the permanent drought.

My consistent pattern of failure has made it easy for my children to establish themselves as persons in their own right. I think they're all an interesting bunch.

None of them followed me into the law, of course. Why would they?

Still, I sometimes wish I'd been a little more successful -- if only because then my sage advice as the family patriarch might carry some actual weight with those independent, unshadowed kids. There are situations upcoming in which that might be helpful....


Anonymous said...

From the quality of your writing, I know you are being excessively modest. I'm a formerly practicing lawyer, heavy emphasis on "formerly," and I am quite sure you are an asset to the profession and anything but a failure.

The Curmudgeon said...

Thank you, Anon. That is very kind of you to say. My bank accounts say something different... but I suppose bank accounts can't read. I'm glad you stopped by.