Work Is All in the Family in Some S.D. Businesses

Times Staff Writer

For Herb and Mary Schoenfeld of National City, there was never a question. Kids would work in the family business. The work needed to be done.

Don McQuiston harbored more intangible desires.

"Children are only what their parents teach them," said McQuiston, a partner in one of the county's leading design firms, McQuiston and Daughter of Del Mar. "If I've gained any knowledge, I had to pass it on."

Harry Rudolph was more inclined to think like the Schoenfelds. As owner of a La Jolla landmark, Harry's Coffee Shop on Girard Avenue, he too needed the work done. Why not hire the most accessible crew--his own nine children, ranging in age from 26 to 7?

The Schoenfelds run an auction business in a barn-like building on East 8th Street. Two of the children are professional auctioneers, and all but one still works with the parents. That isn't the case with the Rudolphs. A funny thing happened on the way to one more omelet, one more cleanup of an oozing ketchup spill: The kids decided the restaurant biz just wasn't their cup of coffee.

Parents Efforts Applauded

William R. Coulson, a psychology professor at United States International University, applauds the efforts of such parents to introduce children to work--their work, their passions and loves. It isn't done nearly enough nowadays, Coulson says, and as a result, kids often turn elsewhere for education and amusement.

They turn, he said, to the streets.

"Too much interest in a child's freedom," he said, sitting in the living room of his rambling La Jolla home, "means they become vulnerable to everyone else with an interest in their being free. Drug dealers, whomever. There are plenty of people out there who'll gladly show them the way."

Pop psychology has brainwashed the modern parent, Coulson said, to believe that a child exposed to a parent's work is somehow in danger of being harmed.

"A father has to kind of close his ears anymore," he said, "to pass along what he loves to his child. One writer I know said she was shocked to hear recently from her daughter's Scout leader that the girl had a talent for writing. The mother's thought was, 'My God, what have I done wrong? My daughter's following in my footsteps--I'll probably give her a complex.' She had to rationalize by telling herself her mother had shown her an interest in writing, so there was probably nothing wrong.

"The danger anymore is not exploitation but under exploitation. We won't exploit our children enough, and in being self-conscious about exploiting too much will fail to give them enough--namely, the things we love."

Coulson, a tall, gangly man with wire-rim glasses, a quick laugh and gentle professor's manner, has seven children between the ages of 28 and 18. So far none has shown even a passing interest in psychology, but all are imbued with one of the parents' great loves--music. Two are professional musicians.

As Coulson talked proudly of his kids, a well-worn Mozart record scratched on in the background. Mozart is one of a number of Coulson heroes "and a great example of what I'm talking about." Leopold Mozart was only a so-so composer. By introducing his son, Wolfgang Amadeus, to the craft he loved, his son became an artist--maybe the best of all time. Johann Sebastian Bach is another example of a composer who turned a houseful of children into music makers.

For years now the papa-led Coulson Family Jazz Band has played at sporting events. Once they even showed up on "The Gong Show" and escaped being gonged. Coulson doesn't think the attention hurt at all.

Proud Joe Montana

"For every person harmed by his parents giving him too much attention," he said, "I'm sure 10 others are thankful their parents showed them something, and showed them well. I'm sure Joe Montana's proud of the way his father pushed him." (Montana, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers and hero of Super Bowl XIX, credits his father's tireless teaching as a reason for success.)

Coulson said unabashedly that he wants to write a book called "How to Exploit Your Kids for Fun and Profit." He also fantasizes about having a bumper sticker that reads, "I Stage Mothers."

The problem nowadays, he says, is that children don't even know what their parents do. They might be able to say, "Dad's a physicist," but when asked, "What does your father do?," will invariably reply, "Sits on the couch and drinks beer." Coulson knows--he's heard them say it in therapy.

Coulson applauds the Soviets for having "factory days" in which students observe mom and pop in work settings. There is nothing wrong, he said, with telling a child that manual labor is OK and not something to laugh at.

He knows of no such effort in this country and abhors the reaction of politicians in Oceanside when Suzanne Foucault, the city manager, decided to bring her baby to work. Their reactions say a lot, he said, about "how far we've stumbled" in turning children off to the work of parents.

Some Disagree

Not everyone agrees with Coulson. Some think his stage-mother tendencies are overbearing--and one person disagreed sharply.

"It's certainly fine to introduce your children to your work," said Russell Gold, a clinical psychologist based in Hillcrest and who is immediate past president of the Academy of San Diego Psychologists. "First of all, it gives your child a chance to see you in a way that he or she may not get to see you otherwise.

"However, introducing them to your work, having them understand what you do when you leave each day, is much different from trying to force that occupation on a child. To do that, you're beginning to place expectations on the child with which he or she is not yet ready to cope.

"It also may limit a child's expression of his own particular skills, talents or interests by trying to force a particular line. A child may be talented or skilled in ways the parent is not."

Gold said parents should give children a big field in which to explore, contending that maybe then their choices will be enhanced and that parents will be less inclined to "fit a square peg into a round hole."

Coulson sees parental influence more in terms of giving a kid an instrument, then having the instrument teach the kids. He mentioned piano lessons.

"First the child is overwhelmed by all that needs to be done," he said. "All those scales . . . but then the instrument teaches the child."

He sees football as having been the instrument that catapulted Super Bowl quarterbacks Montana and Dan Marino to stardom--over the modest gridiron abilities of fathers who taught them well. He sees music as being the instrument that pushed rock stars Dan Fogelberg and Jackson Browne ahead of their fathers, who at best were marginal musicians. Coulson sees nothing wrong with "the Mozart Syndrome," or following in Mommy's (or Daddy's) footsteps.

He sees it all as the making of greatness.

Some parents view it more pragmatically. Those interviewed for this article say without reservation their first aim was to teach their children the value of work. One way of doing that was to introduce their kids to their own line of work--their own talent--in hopes that the child would curry his or her own interest. If it happened to be the same as the parent's, that made the teaching even better. Most drew a big distinction between showing the child how and forcing him or her to mimic a parent's way. They tended to view following in footsteps as a bonus, not a demand.

Don McQuiston, for example, thinks family businesses are one of the best ways for children to learn, then master a trade. (It's also, he said with a laugh, a huge help to a dad.)

McQuiston, 52, is a bearded, erudite man who loves sailing and appreciates fine art. He isn't threatened by a child--in this case, a daughter--working alongside. He also doesn't mind the protege's being more talented (in some ways) than he is.

"He's the best partner I could have," said Debra McQuiston, 31, who's worked with her father 12 years. "He wants me to be even better than he was. We push each other extra hard, because we feel like we can. People who don't know each other as well might not choose to do that."

The McQuistons sometimes have "soul-searching disagreements" for which the product, she said, never suffers. Primarily, they design and publish books. The National Park Service is a major client. Big books with stunning art work are just part of a dazzling repertoire.

McQuiston feels too many children nowadays lack an identity and are struggling to find one anywhere they can. Rather than tell children kid about work, why not show them, he asks. He points to John Steinbeck as one sage who understood what McQuiston calls the American preoccupation with parents wanting their children to excel--to go beyond their own endeavors.

Americans ought to stop feeling guilty, McQuiston said, for what some people find "natural--real natural."

Herb Schoenfeld agrees. A tall, barrel-chested man with flying hair and thick glasses, Schoenfeld is a character--a fatherly type who appreciates the unpredictability of children as much as he does their hidden talents. He likes telling the story about his then-6-year-old son charming a swap meet during a rainstorm.

"Umbwellas for sale, umbwellas for sale," the boy sang out. Whether tickled by the mispronunciation or tired of getting drenched (or both), the crowd snapped up all the umbwellas in an hour.

The Schoenfeld clan is full of such tales. Working together has been the one thing to pull the family together, the father said. Like McQuiston, Schoenfeld doesn't mind the offspring's outperforming the parent.

"My son Michael runs circles around me," he said in a booming auctioneer's voice. "And none of us has ever been to school on it. He's seen us do it, and we ain't great. But somehow, he is."

The Schoenfelds have three boys and three girls, ages 19 to 30. They've hung a shingle in National City since 1973 but worked the swap meets for years before that. Schoenfeld, 50 (his partner and wife, Mary, is 47), feels a few fickle parents are afraid to let kids work with them, for fear of the kids' taking over. His kids are so close to their parents that three (ages 24, 21 and 19) still live at home.

"One of our girls got married, moved to South Carolina," he said. "Got a job on her own, worked a week and left it. She didn't realize working for somebody else is as hectic as it was for us--maybe worse. Working with us, though, taught her the nature of work. We've got another girl who works for a guy downtown. He says she's the best employee. I like to think good teachin' made her that way."

Harry Rudolph likes to think his kids also have benefited from years of good teaching. He doesn't see the "psychology" of Coulson and others. His kids work for what he called a simple, pragmatic reason.

"If they want extra spending money, they've got to work for it. It's as simple as that," he said.

Rudolph worked in a restaurant when he was young; his father ran a diner in New York City. The son has had the same La Jolla location now for 24 years. Working with the public has taught him--and the children--many of the lessons of life, he said.

"They don't know a stranger," he said. "They know how to deal with the public. The oldest boy went to medical school, and I know his dealings with the public have been enhanced by having worked here. In the medical profession, as in the restaurant business, it's one crisis after another."

Rudolph's daughter Susie, 16, is aware of such crises. Susie has poured coffee and waited tables in the restaurant since she was an eighth-grader. (She's now a junior at La Jolla High.)

Working has made her more responsible, she said. She's spilled orange juice and hot chocolate on herself and others and taken orders that irate eaters expect in 15 minutes or else--and it better be good. She's met the hodgepodge of characters who make up the clientele of a coffee shop long on talk, good food and history.

Knows Dad Better

She also knows better the man called Dad.

"I see how strong he is with people," she said. "I see how people take him really seriously. I see how he deals with others. I learn a lot from him being at work."

Susie also has learned that the restaurant trade isn't for her. The hours are too long, the work too tiresome, the pay too meager. She'd rather be a model or own a fashion store.

Her father sometimes worries that maybe he's too hard on the kids, especially at work.

"I'm a stickler for time," he said, looking pained. "They have to be on time. They maybe see a side of me they don't see at home. I'm more demanding here. I have to be. It's a business."

Like many of the kids who work with parents, Susie sees Dad as a big contributor, one who gives to a worthy cause.

"A lot of kids I know in school," she said, "don't know how hard their parents work for them. They don't really know that all that getting up and trudging off in the morning is somehow meant for them. If they worked alongside, maybe they'd see it more. I realize how hard my dad works. And I realize he does it for me."

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