Don’t be Like the Dad in Elf

In the movie “Elf,” we get to go on a ridiculous and comical journey with “Buddy” (played by Will Ferrell), as he leaves the North Pole and goes to New York City.

His lack of knowledge about virtually all social norms is over-the-top and ridiculous. He is overly clingy, he eats candy and spaghetti for breakfast, and he even chews on previously chewed gum!

His father, played by James Caan, is incredulous and annoyed by his long-forgotten son. The father had given up his son for adoption years earlier, and the mix-up occurred when “Buddy” crawls into a sack and is accidentally transported to the North Pole.

Now that Buddy finally finds his father, he continues to get in his way at work to the point in which his father’s job is in jeopardy.

During the movie, I keep wanting to yell at the father on the TV screen: “This is your fault he doesn’t know these social norms, because you were never there to teach him.”

The job of a parent, manager, coach, and supervisor is a lot of work. If you don’t do the job well, it will create more headaches and work for you later in life. If you find yourself in any of these roles, and you’re frustrated with someone, take a moment to consider that perhaps that individual was never told that.

Today, I find many people bemoaning the lack of common sense. “Common sense isn’t so common,” I’ve heard others say and found myself saying also. This may be true, but sometimes even common sense has to be taught.

I remember realizing this one time when I scheduled a job interview for a candidate for a position. He probably didn’t realize that if he had just shown up (and passed the drug screen and background check), then he would have probably gotten the job.

He didn’t show.

Then a few days later he called me, told me something “had come up,” and asked to reschedule.

I told him that I would have my reservations about hiring him. I told him that the job interview was a bit of a test. If he showed for the job interview, I would be more likely to trust him to show for work.

“I want you to treat the job interview the way you would treat going to work,” I told him.

His answer surprised me.

“I didn’t know that, sir,” he replied.

I immediately wondered how someone could not know that. I immediately thought back to when I was out of college looking for work. I borrowed books out of the library about searching for work, about resume building, about cover letters, and about interviews. I had received unsolicited advice from friends and family about looking for work.

Perhaps it was the polite and sincere tone of the job candidate that made me be introspective for a moment.

But I wondered if I would have been prepared if I had not had some type of mentoring while I was growing up or looking for my first job out of college years ago.

That incident made me pause a moment and realize that many others have not received the teaching and instruction I did when I was growing up.

That incident made me reflect a little. Instead of becoming frustrated next time someone let me down, I could take a moment to reconsider that the people I speak to may not have benefited from mentoring when they were growing up.

A similar situation later occurred a couple years later to me as a parent. I had been actively trying to teach my children to complete certain tasks rather than having my wife or me do them. (This is often more work if you have small children! It’s often easier just to do the work yourself.)

I remember one evening I was frustrated that one of my daughters had not cleaned up.

“Why didn’t you clean up your dishes?” I asked. Then I paused a moment. Had I ever actually explained to her that she needs to clean up her own dishes? Children don’t magically know these things. They need to be taught.

So I switched gears, and told her that it’s her responsibility to take her cup, plate, and silverware to the sink.

To be fair, she probably did know what she was supposed to do. And parents need to continue to remind their children to do tasks that they are responsible for.

That way, when they grow up, hopefully they can be employed by someone who only has to ask them once to complete a task. (On the flip side, this is not an excuse for anyone to say they can’t complete a job because someone else never trained them. We are all ultimately responsible for our own actions.)

My hope is that I am not like the father in the movie “Elf.” Hopefully I can invest in those around me — my children, my family, my colleagues, and anyone else in my life. And hopefully I can avoid becoming frustrated with their actions if they don’t meet my expectations.

Instead of becoming frustrated, patiently mentor.





















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