Father Knows Best

Image by nongpimmy

Image by nongpimmy

Though he spent a lot of my childhood hard at work on the football fields of Santa Barbara City College–calling plays, not mowing the lawn–and a lot of my adulthood on the golf course, playing poker, or retired on the couch–in deep snoring thought–my father still manages to provide his children and grandchildren with a lot of hard-earned, sensible advice.

While most fathers offer cliched wisdom about how they walked miles to school in the snow, or earned just pennies an hour for backbreaking labor, my Dad is nothing if not an original.

One of his favorite expressions is, “pain is your friend.” Thanks to my Dad this sage advice (good for skinned knees and bloody noses, bad for PMS) gets lobbed around our household almost daily. Ask any of my son’s soccer, basketball, chess or baseball teammates and coaches, and they will tell you that this is Koss’s favorite phrase. As the fortunate–or unfortunate–recipient of two generations worth of pent up Dinaberg testosterone, Koss now gets the advantage of Coach Bob’s advice on a regular basis.

Growing up with a football coach father, my mom, sister and I would often reflect on what a good thing it was that we didn’t have any boys in our family. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my sister and I both married guys who prefer golf, swimming and channel surfing to any sport where they might actually get hit.

Luckily for Grandpa Bob, Koss, his only male grandchild, loves to wrestle, tackle and play rough. Thanks to Gramps, Koss has embraced the idea of “pain is your friend” wholeheartedly. This is a good thing because as an only child, he needs all the friends he can get.

“Developmental tasks” are another favorite Dad-ism. With pain as our friend, if we couldn’t manage to play through it, we could always learn from it. Anything we didn’t want to do–like paint the sundeck or tar the roof–was a “developmental task” in Dad’s mind. Same thing with anything we wanted to do but couldn’t–like going to a parent-free party because “everyone else was going”–they all became “developmental tasks” for my sister Pam and I to learn from.

When I went through my own labor and delivery, I repeated both of these adages to myself, Dad, and I’m sorry to report that pain was most certainly NOT my friend, and my “developmental task” was to learn that I should have demanded an epidural at least two weeks before delivery.

I don’t think I ever realized it at the time, but those themes of learning from things that are painful or out of your control have played a big part in my life.

Time has a sneaky way of rewriting history.

Legend has it that the first thing my Dad said to my mom when he saw me at birth was: “Don’t worry, honey. We’ll buy her pretty clothes and develop her personality.”

Granted, this was 1963, I had a forceps-dented forehead, and the only labor fathers participated in those days was pacing the hospital halls and handing out cigars, so seeing this very un-Gerber-baby-like creature might have been a bit of a shock.

Why he repeats the story every birthday is another matter–yet here I am, sharing my pain with my friends. Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

Share your father’s wisdom with email. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.
Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 13, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Charles Caldwell

United Way’s Charles Caldwell has a lead role in the Power of Partnership Initiative for Santa Barbara, an ambitious, collaborative effort involving many community organizations. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)

United Way’s Charles Caldwell has a lead role in the Power of Partnership Initiative for Santa Barbara, an ambitious, collaborative effort involving many community organizations. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)

With a business card that touts his credentials as “Master of Mythology, Captain of Results,” it’s no surprise that United Way‘s Charles Caldwell has been tasked with heading up one of Santa Barbara’s “most ambitious and audacious” planning efforts to date.

Leslie Dinaberg: Can you explain what the Power of Partnership Initiative is?

Charles Caldwell: The Power of Partnership Initiative is a collaborative effort by many different organizations to see if we can create a long-term plan for children, seniors and families. Is there a way to work where we can come together and we can find some agreement and prioritize some of the most important things for us to focus on as we move down the road?

… For most organizations and individuals who work in the field, the future looks a little daunting or it looks challenging for a variety of different reasons. Less and less dollars … plus the very nature of the issues that are affecting children, families and seniors are growing more and more complex. Once upon a time you could have a single need or a single issue and then there would be one group that could fill that need and the child and the family would get back up on its feet and be ready to go. However, most of the systems we have in place were really built at a time of a more homogenous society where there weren’t the same kinds of needs as we have now.

LD: That’s an interesting way of looking at it.

CC: Our system as a whole has had some difficulty in being able to adapt and to focus on those changing needs, even though there have been Herculean efforts to do so.

… As funding is getting tighter … the pie is getting cut thinner, so as that happens, how is our community supposed to maintain its basic infrastructure and adapt to the changing future?

LD: So you initially addressed these issues as part of United Way’s internal planning with nonprofits and other stakeholders?

CC: Right. What they said is, “We think there needs to be some system for planning as a way of doing and we need a neutral facilitator who is helping with our strategic planning process.” … They said, “Somebody needs to get all these groups together so we can communicate as we look towards the future.”

And we said, “Who should do that?” The first person said, “United Way,” and then the next person said, “Yeah, United Way should do that,” and the next person said, “Yeah, United Way should do that.”

I was sitting in the back of the room with our president/CEO, Paul Didier, and we both looked up astonished because we weren’t holding these to jump into some giant community process.

… I get to the family session, very similar conversation. … Seniors same thing. So we went to our board and spoke to them, and they said, again, we weren’t looking to take this on, but it’s very interesting, go out and talk to community leaders, see what they think.

… It turned out, person after person–Bill Cirone, Brian Sarvis and Ron Werft– said, “this sounds like something our community really needs, what can I do to help?” We kept meeting with people and they kept saying the same thing. We met with Salud Carbajal, and Marty Blum and Paul Cordeiro down in Carpinteria and again and again they said, “this is audacious, this is challenging, but we need it in some way for approaching the future.”

LD: It sounds like an echo of what we’ve been hearing for years about the need to work together, but to actually take on the project is something else entirely.

CC: What became apparent from the beginning was that we needed to have a different kind of plan. We began to do research around the county … What began to become to become clear was that we needed to focus on a future plan that would be aspirational, that would be based on building on our community’s strengths rather than looking at what are the greatest needs, what are the greatest deficits, what are the gap based issues that we have to deal with.

…. United Way will pull the community together, but this is not a United Way plan, this is a community plan. To make that happen there had to be other funders and foundations who were willing to join in … pretty soon the Orfalea Fund came on board, the Santa Barbara Foundation, Hutton Foundation, the Bower Foundation, some of the real kind of proactive, great community foundations stepped up and said, “yeah, that’s great, let’s do this.”

LD: And one of the ways people can give their input is through filling out the community survey at http://www.partnershipsb.org/index.php?pr=Survey.

CC: Yes. And as we have that vision, we have those goals, then we begin to prioritize those goals and to develop strategies to achieve those goals, not over the next couple of years, but over ten years.

LD: It sounds really challenging.

CC: My conviction, as we’ve crafted this and we’ve talked to different individuals, is that the people out there, as well as the ones who work in the field, really want to believe that we can make measurable improvements on some of these issues.

Hopefully most people already know that there are so many wonderful different organizations and individuals that are just doing a tremendous amount of work in our community and that’s part of what makes our community so wonderful. … Yet literally billions of dollars are spent in the county, between private and public sources, to impact the lives of people and they do.

However when you step back and look at the broader picture, almost nobody that we’ve talked to has said that the basic conditions in our community are better than they were five-ten-15 years ago. What I have heard from individuals is if we’re doing all this activity, if we’re spending all this money, we’re impacting all these people and we’ve got the results to show that we’re doing it, all these groups do, and yet you look around and we’re not measurably improving some of these issues.

We need to rethink how we’re going about this–and that’s a little bit where we’re at.

LD: Has there been any discussion that this may entail some sacrifice?

CC: There has. I think that you’ve really put your finger on one of the greatest challenges for this initiative, which is can our community lift its viewpoint to those children and families or seniors and families that are out there and say what is the best thing for them? … People who work in the field said, “we understand that this is challenging and if we were able to do this, that there are some threats inherent to this. But you have to understand that those threats are already there. That funding is already being sliced thinner and thinner and thinner.”

… So it is absolutely a challenge and we as a community will be able to meet that challenge in direct relationship to the emphasis that we place on improving the lives of those people out there.

LD: That makes a lot of sense. This program is really interesting, but I also want to talk to you about yourself. Have you always worked in the nonprofit world?

CC: No, when I first came here I worked at the Earthling Bookshop; I was one of the managers of the Earthling Bookshop for about six, seven years.

LD: I miss the Earthling.

CC: I know. It still brings a sigh and a tear to almost everyone I talk to. And partly just for their feelings and partly for our changing community and that was an emblem in a sense of what Santa Barbara used to kind of hold a little bit more.

LD: What else do you do when you’re not working?

CC: A lot of my time is spent either through work or helping out with my mom, Doris, who is 82. She lives in town and she’s been living independently even after a heart attack and stroke. … I’ve been helping her out with a wide variety of needs. Outside of that, I have a close-knit group of friends that I’ve known for most of my time here.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

CC: Passionate, original and authentic.

LD: If you could be invisible anywhere in Santa Barbara, what would you do?

CC: Go right up on stage at the bowl when one of my favorite bands or singers is performing…like Tony Bennett, Steely Dan, or the Raconteurs.

Vital Stats: Charles Caldwell

Born: August 19, 1963, in South Pasadena.

Family: Mother and brother both live in Santa Barbara.

Professional Accomplishments: Manager, Earthling Bookstore; Marketing Consultant, New York Times; Director of Special Projects, United Way.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the ideas that have shaped our worldview, by Richard Tarnas

Little-Known Fact: “I love to go fly-fishing in Montana!”

Originally published in Noozhawk on June 10, 2008. Click here to read the story on that site.

Shiny happy people

sohp-logoI joined a secret society a couple of years ago. It’s taken me a while to write about it because, well, shush …it’s a secret society. Don’t tell anyone.

Plus I’m a little bit embarrassed or maybe just ambivalent about the whole thing. This is hard for me to confess, but I think I’m one of those shiny, happy people you sometimes hear about.

It all started when I ran across a news story about a group that was petitioning governors to establish a “National Admit You’re Happy Day.” At first I thought it was a joke. The group called itself “The Secret Society of Happy People.”

My initial snicker quickly snowballed into howls of laughter as I imagined Minnie Mouse and the munchkins gathered at secret society meetings. Did woodland creatures dress them all up in their Sunday best? Did animated birds make them cupcakes and chirpily clean up after the meetings were over?

Surely my co-workers thought I was certifiable, as I was laughing too hard to explain to them why I was laughing.

Still, my gut instinct told me that these people were on to something. After all, I was laughing at the mere mention of their name, so that had already made me happier. Not only that, my colleagues were laughing at me laughing–without even knowing what I was laughing about. This whole happiness thing was infectious.

I considered signing up for the society right then and there, but felt sort of embarrassed. Somewhere between Mr. Smith going to Washington and Mr. Stewart joking daily about Washington, just talking about being happy became kind of uncool. With the exceptions of wedding, funerals, graduations and Hallmark commercials, it’s become hipper to complain than to admit that you’re happy.

I have a twisted, ambivalent reaction to most overly cheerful, seemingly happy, people. I just don’t trust them. As William Feather put it, “One of the indictments of civilizations is that happiness and intelligence are so rarely found in the same person.”

It’s hard not to be cynical about happiness. Just look at pop culture’s obsession with brooding rock stars and drug addicted model-actress-whatevers, or comedy, which is so often laughter generated at the expense of others. Then there’s the post-9/11 reality we live in, where being happy sometimes seems, well, downright inappropriate.

But still, that ray of happiness keeps poking through.

Though I may mock the people who speak with more exclamation points than vowels (one more example of laughter generated at the expense of others), for the most part I am, I admit, generally happy.

I just I’m just one of the people who choose to see the glass as half full–and fill it to the brim whenever possible, provided there’s any wine left.

Maybe it was because the notion of “The Secret Society of Happy People” gave me the giggles, or maybe I just wanted to get a column out of it, but starting on that fateful day, I took the “Happy Challenge” to write down something that made me happy each day.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard. Sure, the words “chocolate,” “Margarita,” and “bedtime,” came up pretty frequently, but not as frequently as my husband’s and son’s names–which was kind of a relief. Also making the happy list was girls night out, living near the beach, free parking, great friends who don’t care how late–or how often–I call, nonfat lattes, editors that pay $1 a word (not this one, unfortunately), having my parents and sister live nearby (and not just for the free and frequent babysitting), book club, remembering to back up my computer, voicemail, hummingbirds, and whole host of other things that add up to a general feeling of contentment.

Contentment. Not ecstasy, or rapture, or bliss, but happiness, just the same. So even if our Governor hasn’t signed off on “National Admit You’re Happy Day“–yet–they can add my endorsement to the list.

Are there any other secretly happy people out there? Write to email . For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 6, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Sue Adams

Sue Adams (courtesy photo)

Sue Adams (courtesy photo)

Since moving to Santa Barbara in 1957 to attend UCSB, Sue Adams has made her mark on our town in a myriad of different ways. Whether fighting for the rights of the homeless, advocating for the preservation of historic landmarks or working to get discounted healthcare for the poor, Adams pours her passion and remarkable energy into everything she does.

Leslie Dinaberg: Your husband Sam had a 34-year career as a track and field coach at UCSB. What was that like?

Sue Adams: He was gone weekends and didn’t get home till seven at night because of the team’s efforts, endeavors, training, so I pretty much had control of the household. … Our daughter Wendy was born with a lot of physical anomalies. What people would call a handicap, for her they were just challenges and she had probably about nine serious things wrong, including cleft lip and palate, kidneys that wouldn’t work, a heart that was defective, a huge series of things that we had to be in the hospital a lot to reconstruct.

And so Wendy was in fact the bionic woman, she was just an amazing individual …our second child was born about 15 months later, and his name is John and he and Wendy were best friends. And continued to take care of each other all of their young adult lives until Wendy passed away when she was 34.

LD: Wow. And now you’re a caregiver for your husband, who has Alzheimer’s. How do you manage to still do so much volunteer work?

SA: I think that it’s really important that I continue to say yes because I think I will then have something left.

…I like my balance as far as community giving, being a preservationist, being concerned about the beauty of this community and preserving it, the growth and how it grows and also the social causes. Trying to keep this community balanced, from being grasping and greedy to giving back as much as people can give. I think this is the reason why this community has thrived.

LD: Now you’re involved with the Courthouse Legacy Foundation and Save the Missions, what else?

SA: In the preservation world, I’m always a member of Citizens Planning Association…I’m also a member of the Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission for the County (HLAC). I’ve been in that for years, struggling to keep landmarks from being demolished. …. So that part is one hat and the other hat is the social justice hat and that is what are we doing about our homeless. … I think we need to be a little bit more brotherly and sisterly towards those that are compromised. … I’m the Board of Casa Esperanza and truly believe in funding those institutions that are getting people back on their feet. To know that within the last month 64 people were taken out of homelessness and put into housing makes my day.

LD: That’s great.

SA: That is great. … Giving credit where credit is due is what my real theme is. It’s not me, it’s never me, it’s knowing the people who know how to get the job done. That’s who I am, is I know who to call. I know who to call, and that’s basically what this community is all about, it’s volunteerism. People who actually roll up their sleeves and do their work. … Along with that is the St. Cecilia Society, which is one of my fondest passions, and that is one of the oldest charities in Santa Barbara.

LD: And that’s healthcare?

SA: Providing payment for healthcare. Saint Cecilia was the patron saint of music … the women who founded the St. Cecilia Society had marvelous musical talent. … They all came to Santa Barbara as a result of the forming of Cottage Hospital and the Sansum Clinic … (they were the wives of the doctors) and they all loved music and they got together and would jam. … So they decided to have fundraisers. … And then they provided money for a bed at Cottage Hospital for the poor. That was how they began…and that tradition continues.

LD: That’s such a nice history.

SA: It’s wonderful. To be a part of that is absolutely wonderful. The humanitarianism of that is that when you make a phone call to a provider …and say, “I understand that you have a bill in collections that is $7,000. I would like to negotiate with you and pay the balance on that account. Would you consider a discount of 40%?” And they are saying are you out of your mind? … And about two days later they call me back and say you’ve got it for 50% off.

LD: Wow, that’s amazing.

SA: Isn’t that wonderful? Now it doesn’t happen all the, but it does happen with a lot of other people in the medical community. …We leverage our money a great deal by telling people how wonderful they can be.

LD: That’s great. And are volunteers making those kinds of phone calls?

SA: I make that call, but the board is the one who decides, they determine how many people we can help a month.

LD: Are you able to do that part of your volunteer work from home when you’re here with Sam? I would imagine you do have a fair number of meetings out of the house.

SA: Well at board meetings, Sam has become a fixture. … I do a lot of work for them and if those people cannot handle Sam in the room then there’s something wrong. They need to be aware of the fact that people are compromised and they are part of your community just as much as everybody else is.

LD: How active is he able to be?

SA: Every day I insist that we take a walk. …. It’s very important to keep him moving and … he needs to be dressed and bathed and his food prepared. He wouldn’t be able to get in and out of bed without support, so I’m very needed.

LD: I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted you to be devoting yourself 100%.

SA: …Sam grew up with that ethic that nothing was as important as taking care of the house and his needs. He was an anachronism. … When I started my business back in 1978 (the Footnote shoe store) the dynamics of our family went crashing because Sam was furious that I was competing, that I had another life.

… One of the reasons why I needed to go to work was because we had tremendous medical bills with Wendy. She was in the hospital with probably 50 different surgeries.

LD: How long did you have the store?

SA: The Goleta store was 15 years and then we ended up in the Santa Barbara store and so that was really 19 years.

It was wonderful. I loved it. It was so great. I just really enjoyed it. People never forget it too.

LD: So did you sell the Footnote or close it?

SA: They say after the loss of a child, that you should stay in business or do what you’re doing for at least a year. … I stayed in business for a year, but Wendy, in the last month before her death she said, “Mom, retail is wonderful but it’s starting to tell on you. Get into something else. Do something else. Find another thing to do. You are loving being a part of something bigger.” That time I was part of the Coalition to Provide Support and Shelter to Santa Barbara’s Homeless, that was the precursor to Casa Esperanza, and so she said, “You really do well with that, mom.”

LD: That’s interesting that your daughter sort of nudged you in that direction.

SA: Yes, she definitely nudged me in that direction. I think you can count money for just so long and think that most often you’re not affected by the bottom line financial aspects of life and I’m a dreamer, I am who I am because I am a woman of dreams and to be grounded by money is not necessarily a good place for me. It is for many because they can handle it better than I, but I didn’t want to be focused only on money. It’s not good for my soul.

LD: Other than your book clubs, is there anything that you do that is really just for you?

SA: Gardening. Natural beauty reduces me to tears and if I can help promote it in my own backyard it’s an environment that gives me great pleasure

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

SA: Shy, insecure, and needing to help.

LD: It’s interesting to me that you describe yourself as shy but you’re pounding down the doors of insurance companies for other people.

SA: You can be courageous for others. But I still have to catch my breath right before I start talking.

Vital Stats: Sue Adams

Born: Oakland, CA, November 29, 1938

Family: Husband Sam, daughter Wendy (deceased), son John, daughter-in-law Aster and granddaughters Kaiya (age 4) and Mateya (age 2).

Civic Involvement: Pearl Chase Society; Courthouse Legacy Foundation; Citizens Planning Association; Save the Missions; Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission for the County; Casa Esperanza; St. Cecilia Society; CAMA; Community Kitchen.

Professional Accomplishments: Steno pool at UCSB; Preschool Teacher at El Montecito Early School; Owner of the Footnote shoe store.

Little-Known Fact: “In my next life, I would love to be a great dancer. I haven’t been given that this lifetime and I guess what I’m doing is dancing the best I can in another way.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on June 2, 2008. Click here to read the article on that site.

Over the Fence: The Friendster Next Door

Story in Upwardly Mobile MagazineIt’s summertime and the living is easy. The beer is perfectly chilled, the steaks are on the grill and you’re admiring the sunset with your loved one. All of a sudden your neighbor screeches to a stop, rock music blaring, and starts unloading kegs, chips and fireworks from his car–for the fourth time that week.

Neighbors: love them or hate them, you have no choice but to deal with them, especially in close quarters like a mobile home park. Here are some strategies to help minimize conflicts with your neighbors and make your summertime go just a little bit easier.

The key to a stress-free summer is anticipating problems before they happen.

  •  Introduce Yourself

You’d be surprised how many people don’t know their neighbors these days. Don’t wait until you have a problem to meet the people next door. Bring over a bottle of wine or some fresh strawberries from the Farmers Market and just say hello. Even if a problem has already occurred, try to get to know them at least a little before making a complaint.

  •  Be a Good Communicator

Keep your neighbors informed before you do something that might affect them, like hosting a big party or getting a new dog. Informing your neighbors ahead of time allows them to make plans or tell you how your project will affect them. And getting their input in advance lets you act in a way that will help avoid problems. Also, if your neighbor does something that you like, tell them you noticed the yard work or the new paint job. It will be easier to talk later when they do something that you don’t like.

  • Follow the Golden Rule

Treat your neighbors the way you would like to be treated. Be considerate about noise from vehicles, tools, stereos, group activities, and pets. Don’t forget to consider the view from your neighbor’s yard. Those extra car parts in your driveway may not bother you, but your neighbor may not like looking at them.

What to do if there is a problem.

  • Track It

Note the date, what occurs, and anything else that you think might be helpful. It’s possible that the problem (such as late night noise) may not occur as often as you think it does. In any event, clear documentation will help you talk to your neighbor and help make your case to the police or the courts if it comes to that.

  • Your Neighbors Can’t Resolve a Problem if They Don’t Know About It

It is often the case that neighbors are not aware that their actions are negatively affecting others. Nine times out of ten, people are willing to make changes if you approach them respectfully to work out a solution.

  • Assume the Best

If your neighbor does something that irritates you, don’t assume that it was done on purpose; instead operate under the assumption that the neighbor doesn’t know their 3 a.m. hot tub party kept you awake.

  •  Don’t Let Your Irritation Fester–Focus on the Issue at Hand

By communicating early in a calm and pleasant manner, you take a big step toward resolving the problem. Don’t wait until a minor irritation becomes a major issue and makes it difficult to discuss. Separating the person from the problem will allow you take care of the problem while maintaining your relationship with your neighbor.

  •  Stay Calm and Listen Thoughtfully

You don’t have to agree with them or justify your behavior, but if you can listen and not react defensively, then their anger will likely subside and there is a good chance of working things out. Try to understand how your neighbor feels about an issue and why. For example, people can become very defensive when they think their pets–or their children–are being maligned. Understanding their position will increase the likelihood of a solution that works for you both.

  • Take a Break

If you need to, take a break to calm down and think about what you and your neighbor have discussed. Arrange a time to finish the conversation later. Don’t try to problem solve when you are having a heated discussion.

  •  Communicate Constructively

Always keep in mind that talking things over directly is the best way to handle problems, and avoid going to law enforcement or the courts. Turning to outsiders to resolve your neighbor issues should only be a last resort.

Originally published in Upwardly Mobile Magazine on June 1, 2008. Click here to read online in the magazine.

Keeping it in the Family

Alyce and Janelle Parsons Give Traditional Apprenticeship a Woman’s Touch

Entrepreneurial genes run deep in the Parsons family. “All of the kids got our MBAs at the dinner table,” says Janelle Parsons.

“And that is literal, we weren’t the kind of family that left our jobs at the door. We just worked it out at the dinner table every night,” laughs Alyce Parsons, President and Chief Operating Officer of Parsons Group Inc., a Santa Barbara-based company, which owns and manages independent and assisted-living communities around the country.

Janelle–the oldest of Alyce’s four children and her only daughter– manages Parsons Group’s three properties in Texas and oversees marketing for the company, which also includes a property in Arizona, as well as the nonprofit Garden Court in downtown Santa Barbara, the nonprofit Friendship Manor in Goleta, and The Gables of Ojai, a swanky retirement community nestled in the foothills of the Santa Ynez mountains.

Alyce says her daughter was destined to go into business. “Janelle didn’t play with dolls, she played office. She said, ‘No dolls, give me a tablet!'” When Janelle was in sixth grade she opened a candy store at the Carrillo Hotel, a low-income senior housing project, which the Parsons owned until it was demolished and replaced by Hotel Andalucia in downtown Santa Barbara (now Canary Hotel).

“When all four kids lived at home we’d have a family meeting every morning. We called it ‘Logistics.’ Janelle would chair the meeting, figuring out who was going to be where when,” says Alyce.

Alyce says she views her business relationship with Janelle as similar to men that have traditionally had sons as apprentices. “I happen to be her mother and she happens to be my daughter but the dynamics of the relationship are very similar in the sense that I have a responsibility to my business to produce an employee that has the skills necessary to do the job. From a business perspective I have to be able to be a leader to Janelle, I have to be a mentor to her. I have to be developing her as an employee to take on a pretty big responsibility. Guys have been doing that since the beginning of time.”

“The family rule is you have to prove yourself outside of the company in order to be invited in,” says Janelle, who worked elsewhere for six years before her mom invited her in, “after she saw I could do it somewhere else.”

“I just feel privileged to be able to be a woman in that position to be able to give her really the skills at a pretty high level. I mean we’re a $24 million company. … It’s not pretend, it’s real and to be able to do that for my daughter, it’s so exciting to be able to share it with her,” says Alyce. “Not only from a professional standpoint but also from a work standpoint. I mean she grew up with me being a fulltime worker woman. So she knows how to do that too.”

While Janelle and her husband Kevin Nimmons don’t have children, they plan to have them someday. When they do, “I’m going to work,” she says. “My mom worked the whole time when we were growing up and we’re not worse for the wear because of it. It worked out really well because we all are part of the business because of it, so I feel like I can do that too.”

The Parsons have managed to combine business with family very successfully. Janelle’s father Bob (Alyce’s husband) runs the real estate development side of the business and her brother Blake will come on board this year.

” I think that if you go into a family business you just have to be prepared to work twice as hard as everybody else because there is that stigma, you’re the daughter, there’s a lot of stuff that goes with that, so you need to prove to everyone that you’re there because of what you can offer the company, not because of who you are,” says Janelle.

The younger Parsons sons, Gavin and Cameron, are still in college, but Alyce says they may be interested in coming on board someday and she wants them to be prepared. “I want everybody to at least understand the business because at this point, they’re stockholders. They need to be able to make intelligent long-term decisions as stockholders, so they need to know the business from that perspective. Whether or not they contribute professionally is really up to them. They may or may not have the skill set.”

Even when they’re not working side by side in their Victoria Street office, Alyce and Janelle talk several times a day. And yes, sometimes they do disagree.

“Janelle has her way of telling me, ‘Look I’ve had enough of that subject, drop it,'” laughs Alyce. “Then that’s followed sometimes by tears and then we go into mother daughter mode.”

Janelle says the hardest part is having a bad day at work. Normally you might call your mom to vent about work. “…You hear your mom’s voice and then you immediately start crying because it’s your mom and then you think gosh, I shouldn’t be crying in front of you.”

Switching between work and family mode can be pretty funny sometimes. “She’ll call me and say, ‘you haven’t been my mom for a week now. Will you just be my mom? Can we just talk?'” says Alyce.

Janelle says it’s a balancing act. “There are a few different hats that my mom and have to have the whole time. So it’s mom, I need you to be my mom right now. Mom I need you to be my mentor. Mom can you be my boss? And we preempt everything with those labels and we’ve learned the balance and the dance, I guess, that it is to work together.”

While the Parsons women are all work when they need to be, they also manage to fit in some play. “Sometimes when we go on the road we’ll be a little bit deviant and we’ll plan a shopping trip,” says Alyce. “We love shopping at the Galleria in Houston so we’ll go a half day early and shop for the afternoon. I don’t think men do that.”

Originally published in Coastal Woman on June 1, 2008.