Nov. 25, 2020

51 Eric Naaman on dancing the stepfather-dance

51 Eric Naaman on dancing the stepfather-dance

“How do I become part of this child’s life, without alienating the father, but still in the sense we need to become a family?” Eric Naaman on DADicated.com

Eric Naaman, who grew up in war-torn Lebanon, is a leading entrepreneur, and loving stepdad to 12 year old Francois. He studied in the US, and is a successful entrepreneur now living in Canada.

In the session Eric shares about his upbringing in Lebanon, resilient family units, the unique role of a step-dad, and how to build a relationship with a child that’s not your own. Eric shares how he has approached discipline and influence, when to take a step back, and his relationship with Frank’s father. He has amazing insights into how to turn a difficult situation into something very positive.

The most powerful takeaways for me as a dad were:

  1. As a step-dad don’t try to replace or disparage the father; never take away glory from him
  2. Be supportive of all your child’s endeavours
  3. I should always be working at the relationship with my wife and kids.
  4. Ask them about their dreams, share yours.

“Embrace our separate journeys. These journeys are at the root of our individuality but sharing in them is the cornerstone of life as a family.” Eric Naaman on DADicated.com

Visit www.dadicated.com to book Philipp as a keynote speaker on “Empowering Dads & Facilitating Family Success”.

GUEST (guest): Eric Naaman

Links:

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Transcript

“The best advice I can give myself as a stepdad is to embrace our separate journeys. These journeys are at the root of our individuality but sharing in them is the cornerstone of life as a family.” 

PH

Stepdad is a unique role in the family matrix. Eric was married for 6 years before getting divorced. He then met someone else who had a 7-year-old, now his child. H calls Eric by his first name. Challenges. Used to be a photographer. When digital era came, time for change ad bought a business.

In 2010 he acquired Damotech. Rock safety company – engineering services related to warehouse racking. Approach is a consultative one. 

EN

I was born in Lebanon. Childhood was happy at home. Affected by the ravages of war. When I turned 11, we left Lebanon several times. My father worked for companies outside of Lebanon and travel became difficult, so we lived in Holland and Cyprus and then when I was 16 I studied in the US. 

War – my parents did a fantastic job of trying to shield us of being scarred by living in a dangerous environment. I have memories of missing school, going into shelters, seeing people injured, having school in someone’s home. My parents were always reassuring and present. Survived well. Better than a lot of cases where others were not so lucky. 

PH

How does the war affect families?

EN

It ends up splitting up families very frequently. Fathers need to leave to provide for their family. Kids and family live in Lebanon without father. It creates situations of stress because you don’t have the governmental support and ability to provide in a safe and stable environment. 

PH

It creates a fatherless society. Huge impacts.

EN

On the positive, Lebanese people are resilient and the family unit is a strong one. We find ways to recreate the family environment with close family (grandparents, cousins, uncles, brothers). Food and family.

I studied in the US and then went to Canada where my parents had established themselves in Montreal. I had an interest in photography before acquiring Damentech. 

PH

He does not have kids. He is a stepdad. What is your view on that? Scary. Take over the role of the dad but you have no rights as a father. 

EN

The name of my stepson is Francois, but I affectionately call him Frank. Frank’s dad is very much present. Cleo and I have split custody with his father. Frank spends a week at his father and a week with us. It was a tough transition to have a young person around and to a certain extent, controls our life in a way. Your activity revolves around that child. Educate, teach, learn, grow. It was daunting at the beginning. You trying to have a relationship with this child that is not your son but at the same time you have no authority and are not making major decisions as it pertains to education, or his way of being, as opposed to be a defector dad. The question is how do I become part of this child’s life, without alienating the father, but still in the sense we need to become a family? 

My approach at the very beginning of my relationship with Frank was just to be his friend, not take any decisions. If I had an observation or a comment I would go through Cleo. A lot of times I had to bite my tongue. For the sake of them developing a friendship and trust. I was interested in what he was interested in. I let him be, gave him his space. We became friends over time first.  

So, we are busy as a couple for one week and busy as parents for one week. We have set up our schedules and life around that. Cleo does the gazelle methodology scaling up. She is a hypergrowth coach and we are sensitive to the fact that Frank is with us or not, and we plan accordingly. It makes the time we do spend together that much more intense. 

PH 

How do you manage to have a professional relationship with the father? 

EN

I used the same principle as with Francois in the beginning. I let the father have all the space that he needed and let Cleo manage the relationship with Frank’s dad. Little by little I would see him when we would switch over on a Friday and we would have a small conversation. It is a friendly relationship but not a close relationship. What I found important was to not disparage Francois’ father because he loves him and is a good, present father. I did not want to replace him or take any of his glory. I realise that I have a distinct role in the play which is more one of support and encouragement than it is of fatherhood. For us, our lifestyle is different from his father’s, so he gets to experience two different worlds. I share with Frank about my work and the life of an entrepreneur. I am an open book. And so is Cleo. We have interesting conversations with him which I know has influence. When he was 12, he said he wants to start a business – grass cutting. I said I would support him. Frank grew a lot through the process and discovered a lot – it was a micro version of a real operation. We saw huge growth over the summer. Frank gives portions of his earnings to reforestation. Frank’s goal was to buy a computer tower for gaming. 

Corona – at school he is part of the hockey school programme. It continues within bubbles of making sure they are protected but playing hockey for the city has been stopped. Public schools closed with Corona. From March to September Frank didn’t go to school he was at home which is a long time. 

PH

How has your upbringing / culture influenced you as the man in the father figure role? Can you compare it to cultural differences in Canada?

EN

I lived most of my life in Canada but have had a lot of Lebanese in me mostly related to family, hospitality, generosity, friendship values which are really strong. I went to a school in Lebanon that was very closed knit group of friends that are still some of my best friends today. Friendship is extremely important so I have tried to instil those values in Francois. That aspect of my life I share very intently with Frank so that he takes these values and lives them. He is a very emotionally intelligent child and does understand the value of it and he picks nice friends. The other aspect is of course the food. I bring a lot of Lebanese traditions into the household which makes him happy. This international influence that he has (Cleo and I travel a lot) exposes him to a lot of cultures.

Franois and Cleo teach me a lot as well – she is half Italian, half French Canadian. Francois goes to school here, so his friends are French Canadian. They joke about my accent and Lebanese reflexes. 

PH

Let’s come back to the Stepfather role – do you think it is more difficult as a stepfather to have an influence? But ultimately you do have a say. Do you think it is more difficult to discipline?

EN

It is more difficult. The child is aware that you are not his dad and that he has a dad that disciplines him. I am the additional dad in the equation. It took me a long time to start influencing his education in the sense that it is not polite to do this, this is dangerous, etc. I tried to be more of a teacher of positive things as opposed to doing discipline. But today, if something bothers me, or I feel there is an opportunity to educate or give positive feedback, today I help myself no problem because the trust is established. Over time, I believe Frank will grow to appreciate his presence because I am very supportive of all of Frank’s endeavours. I embrace the differences in our journey. My temptation would be that XYZ is better for Frank but not his dad and don’t want to stifle his individuality and personality. I interject where appropriate. If the subject is serious enough, then I will go through Cleo still. 

PH

As a stepdad, you need to avoid that you are just a new partner to the mom. You have to work with empathy, support, tread carefully, because it is easier for you to get fired. 

EN

I don’t want to just be the partner to his mother. I want my own relationship with him, and I have to work at it, just like I work at it with his mother. Frank and I bond over ping pong. 

PH

Embrace the idea that the child chooses you as a father figure. 

EN

When we plan vacations, I am really happy when Francois is with us and it is the 3 of us going somewhere. It feels like a family. I have a close relationship with him and his mother. I try as much as I can to be an influence for change, for positive feedback, for him to grow, I keep sharing my dreams with Frank and I ask Frank about his dreams. We don’t have to discipline him with school because he is a good student. The fact that he is a good student allows me to be a bit more free with manoeuvre. No major problems with the child which makes the process smoother. I try to understand what Frank is going through, what he wants, to stay close with him.

PH

I read an article from Harvard Institute on families, it doesn’t matter how families are made up. They look at families from same sex couples, adoptions, IVF, stepparents, etc. Families thrive when the culture in the family is embracing, and it depends on the society or surroundings of the community that the family sits in. 

EN

Cleo mentions often that Frank is exposed to 2 different lifestyles. 2 busy entrepreneurs. And his father is a bit more slower pace. He has 2 stepsisters. Completely different experience. Happy about that and we also encourage Frank to live in these 2 different environments so that he can experience a lot of different things in life and can recognise them and adopt them when he is growing up. Frank is well adjusted to the fact that he has 2 homes. In our home he is an only child. In his father’s home he is one of three. His stepsisters are 20 and 17 so he is exposed to the teenage years. 

PH

You have managed to turn a difficult situation into something very positive. 

EN

I credit a lot to Cleo. She and Frank have a very open relationship. How you tell a child things is a life lesson. We live in an age of one protecting children, and instant gratification for children. That is why I don’t let him win. I want Frank to win and he will have a right of passage where he will win. 

PH

This has been super inspirational for me. Very valuable. Being a father by choice from the view of your children is a powerful way to look at it. Parents can be fired. 

Eric Naaman

Born in Beirut to an engineer and a caterer, Eric immigrated to Canada at the age of 21 along with his immediate family, after a happy childhood that was somewhat complicated by the ravages of war.

Following studies in mechanical engineering, Eric was attracted to the arts and decided to pursue a career in commercial photography, which he successfully undertook for a period of 20 years. The variety of subject matters and the challenges of expressing sometimes complex concepts, in a visual manner were challenges that kept things interesting and helped him grow as an artist.

It was not till the advent of the digital boom and the poor adaptation of the market to the evolution of technology, that Eric started having doubts about the viability of his future in the photography industry. Eric decided at that moment that he would look for a product of his own to promote, since he had done so for so many of his clients.

After 3 years and 15 due diligences Eric landed on his current company, Damotech, which is the largest warehouse rack safety company in North America, acquiring it in 2010. The journey has been an exciting one, with 10 years of consecutive growth serving 225 of the fortune 500 companies, the building of a LEED certified 43,000 Sq Ft facility and the creation division that sells engineering services specifically focused on warehouse safety.

Eric thinks of himself as a CPO as opposed to CEO. The letter P stands for purpose, people and profit. Eric’s reason for being an entrepreneur is to inspire self-achievement through an exceptional work experience and this approach has been a cornerstone of his entrepreneurial journey.