CapeWomenOnline - Where Cape Women Shine

Your local venue for the women of Cape Cod to share their ideas, experiences and resources while inspiring each other in their life's journey

Inspire . Encourage . Network . Share

Working Women banner
  • Facebook icon
  • Share

Crony Capitalism - Family Style

by Beverly Ryle

It was relatively cool on the back deck of my son's laboriously restored, brick house in downtown Wallingford, CT, when the family gathered on the first of August to celebrate my granddaughter's birthday. The older generations, grandparents and great grandparent, had assembled ahead of the young families and seated themselves in the shade or where they might catch a breeze.

I had settled in with my mother on a picnic table bench along the wall separating the kitchen from the deck. The location provided a good back rest, easy access to the kitchen, should we be called upon to help, and an unobstructed view of the piecemeal arrival of our children or children's children and their broods.

It also proved to be an excellent vantage point to observe a male-bonding ritual I'd never seen before, when my son-in-law joined the group.

Usually the men greeted each other with an automatic handshake and fleeting question such as, "How ya' been? How's work going?" said in a manner suggesting a one-sentence answer would be sufficient. However, there was nothing perfunctory or passive in their demeanor this day. This was a pep rally!

My father led the cheering by announcing, loud enough to be heard above the clamor of cousins at play in the backyard, that Jack had purchased his own business, a BMW dealership, and that he was supporting him as a major backer.

True to his biblical namesake, Mathew, my father was excited by the second-hand glory of his money-lender status. His passion for the enterprise sparked an electrical charge of "atta boy" energy from the other men about Jack's chutzpa.

Fed by eager questions from the floor, details about what a great opportunity this was to make a lot of money unfolded. Jack would buy luxury cars at auction, sell them for an above-market price and reap the benefits of a wide margin (a strategy the stock broker in the group readily concurred with.)

As the bravado escalated, I watched my son-in-law get caught up in the rapt attention of the onlookers who encircled him, as if they were standing around him at a craps table at Foxwoods just before he rolled the dice. Unshakeable in his belief of a big win, he assured them he had the product, the location and the know-how to "make a killing."

As a sign of their high regard, every one of them enthusiastically patted him on the back or punched him on the arm as he made his way to the cooler.

I, on the other hand, was going out of my skin as I watched their eager regard. Not because I wasn't happy for Jack, but because he was not the first entrepreneur in the family. I'd owned a business for 20 years.

Remaining silent, but trembling with anger, my arm started to shake. My mother felt it and instinctively offered a comforting pat. Turning to face me, she asked with concern, "Are you okay?"

We exchanged the knowing look of two people who share values, but know they're surrounded by the opposite point of view. It was as if we were the only two bleeding heart liberals at a flag, country and gun-rights rally!

Bolting upright I told her I needed a walk, left quickly, and charged up and down the sidewalks of the lower middle class neighborhoods around my son's house until I regained enough composure to return to the party and watch my beloved Julia blow out seven birthday candles.

I started a business in my early forties, out of the necessity of supporting myself. There were no jobs in the classified ads for people with degrees in American History.

My only prior work experience was as a full-time homemaker and part-time teacher at the Barbizon School of Modeling. By a fortuitous chain of events, the latter led to work that I did well: writing resumes for upwardly mobile corporate executives.

From this base, I was able to build a career counseling practice, which not only supported me but gave me a meaningful way to be of service to others.

My first business was launched in the musty back corner of a windowless office I shared with three other people. The location, next to an Interstate highway and between a greasy spoon diner and a feed store, was less than prime.

But in my first year I was able to bank the $10,000 I needed to put a deposit on a condo, which made it possible for me to move both myself and my business back to my hometown of Bethel when I separated from my first husband.

Leaving the courtroom a year later, when the final divorce decree left me with half the value of our last home (our only asset) and virtually no child support, I asked my lawyer if he thought I could make it financially. His response—"you're going to really need to hustle and make a go of your business"—summed up my early years of self-employment.

In an effort to become better known in the community, long hours in the office were often followed by boring business dinners of dry chicken. There were many months when breaking even felt like a victory. I was motivated by a dogged commitment to learn more about my field and how to run a business.

No glory, no excitement, only hard work, exhaustion and a slow slog back to even the semblance of self-confidence.

By the time the scene on the deck took place, I'd established a reputation resulting in an exceptionally high rate of referral. I'd grown the business to a point where my second husband could join me in it, and we enjoyed great satisfaction in contributing to the quality of our clients' lives.

Yet, no one in my family ever referred to the activities I engaged in as a "business." They were as unseen as washing dishes, cleaning house and ironing had been when I was a housewife. Not once at any gathering of the clan had anyone, male or female, ever casually asked, "How's your business doing?"

Within my family, it was acceptable for a woman to work for supplemental income, but a professional woman in her own enterprise was an anomaly.

And I had never noticed it!

I was so accustomed to not being recognized as a player in the world beyond the defined sphere of "a woman's place in the home and family," that I participated in allowing my professional identity to be negated by omission and apathy… until I watched the deference shown to my son-in-law that afternoon.

Jack was the man of the hour, striking out on his own. A rugged individual about to blaze a trail in high-end, automotive finance across the great American dream frontier. He'd mounted a prized stallion on his way to a gold rush as the crowd cheered, while I'd plodded along for years (slow, steady and unnoticed) on a mule!

Jack's horse went lame early on and crumbled beneath him. His backers came after him. My father, principle among them, felt duped. He acted out his disappointment by deducting the money he'd invested in the business from his inheritance to my daughter (Jack's wife) and voicing his displeasure at every opportunity.

I used the same mediation skills I taught clients to try to mitigate the damage to relationships within my own family. I made my professional presence more visible in other ways as well.

I made a point of mentioning a presentation I was making at a Boston university, or a project I'd completed for a name brand corporation. Showing my son our new website when we were on the computer looking at the graduate program he was exploring. Handing each of my children a copy of my book after it was published.

Often the silence on these occasions was deafening. At family gatherings, the pattern of exclusion from the all-male club continued. But I no longer abdicated my professional role.

Sometimes there was a glimmer of hope that someday I might be offered a drink at the bar, like the Isak Dinesen character played by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa, after she'd endured great hardship to establish a coffee plantation in Kenya.

An Invitation to Break Out of the
Pack and Try Something Different!

Ground of Your Own Choosing

Available at
Ground of Your Own Choosing

On one occasion, when my son and his family were visiting in the summer, I'd sent them off for a few hours because I had to work. My son came back for a forgotten item and found me with a client. Startled, he immediately began to apologize and for a split second, he stared at me like he was seeing a completely different person.

It seemed to register for him that his mom actually did something real and substantial. Did he think I'd sustained myself all these years by collecting acorns? What's truly amazing is that since I've stopped hiding my pleasure in my work, it doesn't matter to me what the men in my family think (or don't think) about it.

And that's progress.

Bev Ryle bio

Beverly Ryle is a career counselor and business consultant. She has been helping corporate professionals, business owners, and people-in-transition achieve their full potential through education and empowerment for over twenty-five years.

Her integration of business, counseling and spiritual disciplines has made her a vital resource for clients seeking to grow professionally by overcoming habitual patterns in order to claim greater authenticity in their work and interpersonal relationships.

In her first book, Ground of Your Own Choosing: Winning Strategies for Finding & Creating Work, she focused on ways of achieving self-leadership in your professional life.

In her second book, Standing Alone (now under development), she turns her attention to helping people enhance their potential for leadership within the context of family dysfunction, including rampant, multi-generational addiction and mental illness.

She welcomes comments or questions on the site or by direct email to

Read Beverly's blog at