Kids frequently follow fathers into careers

Hunter Shumate, of The Villages Public Safety Department, followed his father, Dave, into the profession. Now retired, Dave had a 32-year career as a firefighter.

People tell Hunter Shumate he is an exact clone of his father, Dave, who passed down his facial features, body language and reserved demeanor.

Dave also passed down the career to which Hunter devotes 56 hours each week. As a child, Hunter often visited his father at his fire station in Marion County. He grew up hearing stories from his father about saving lives on the job.

Coming out of high school, Hunter’s decision to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining The Villages Public Safety Department as a firefighter was an easy one. And Hunter is not alone in that choice.

Sons of working fathers are 2.7 times more likely to have the same job as their father, and daughters are 1.7 times more likely, according to a New York Times analysis of General Social Survey data collected between 1994 and 2016.


Economic factors

There are four primary factors that lead children to have a career in their fathers’ footsteps, said Kim Weeden, chairwoman for the Department of Sociology at Cornell University, who has analyzed data following the career choices of teenagers through to young adulthood.

One reason, said Weeden, is that parents pass on their economic resources.

Children of parents with high-paying jobs are more likely to make it into highly selective universities and summer internships that can train them for the same jobs, she said.

“Certainly kids who grow up with fathers who are professionals — the doctors, the teachers — these more (high-paying) professions, are more likely to enter those than kids who work in a service industry,” Weeden said.

Mike Belitz grew up above his father’s pharmacy in Long Island. If he wanted to spend time with his father, Morris, who worked 60 hours a week, he had to go downstairs.

Belitz helped restock items and ring up customers at the counter. He also learned how to mix different medicines.

“I observed my father and his staff pharmacist, and when it was slow they would teach me how to mix, not to give to patients but just to learn,” the Village of Calumet Grove resident said. “We made pills, ointments, creams, lotions, capsules, cough syrups, you name it.”

Belitz went on to apply those skills in his own pharmacy for 31 years.

Children may also inherit the family business, which may help ease them into the profession.

“Some of that is tied to the name,” said Weeden. “People come to trust a given name, which makes it easier for the sons or daughters to inherit that business,” she said.

After graduating from barber school, Ron Benton worked at his father’s salon a few blocks from Southern Illinois University.

After 25 years, Benton bought the business from his father, Henry, which he ran for another 20 years under the same name.

“It was very convenient after I went to school to work for him,” the Village of Sunset Pointe resident said. “He said, ‘If you’re going to work for me I’m not going to treat you any different than my other employees.’”

Benton said it helped that they had loyal customers when he took it over.

“It wasn’t a big town; everybody kind of knew everybody,” he said. “My dad set the foundation for a good business and I carried it on.”


Social Factors

Aside from economic factors, children may also gain skills and experience in their parents’ fields by association, Weeden said. Some of the jobs highest up the list, like textile spinner and barber, involve uncommon skills, which may account in part for why they are passed down from parents.

“If your dad is a mechanic, you know more about distributor caps than if your parents are a lawyer, so you learn these skills, and we all tend to want to enter occupations that we’re good at,” she said.

At 19, Ted Abelson went to work for his father, Sy, at his wholesale automotive parts store in Brooklyn where he learned the business for nine years.

“I learned everything from day one, talking to customers, talking to mechanics, and talking to my father,” the Village of Alhambra resident said. “He taught me a lot about business because while I was at that business I was responsible for certain things (like) buying and making decisions with him as to what we should stock. He taught me how to pays bills; he always said ‘you pay your bills on time.’”

They went into business together for another five before Sy retired. Abelson has been in the business since then, working in different stores.

Shirley Keith grew up dancing alongside her father, Hal, in his studio in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

The Village of Gilchrist resident took classes and demonstrated ballroom dance with him from age 5 to 18.

“I had a private session with him weekly and then also he had a class of advanced students that I danced with, a tap dance line as it was called,” Keith said.

It was her father’s passion for dance, but also the skills that she gained which led her to open her own studio in Bloomington, Indiana, where she also taught tap, jazz, ballet, and acrobatics for 25 years.

“Probably one of the main assets it gave me was self confidence because it was something that I was good at, and that’s always an advantage when you’re a child and you can find an area where your talent lies. That’s an important factor,” Keith said. 

Parents also pass on their interests through everyday interactions with their children, like dinner table conversations, said Weeden.

Shumate said he, too had those conversations around the dinner table. His father offered advice to help prepare him for the job, like to take classes to be able to progress within the department. He also told stories about his experiences on the job.

“Every fireman’s favorite, he would always come home and say if there was a fire because that’s the kind of thing we get excited about,” Hunter said. “It’s what we’re trained to do; we go through all that school and training. If there’s somebody trapped we want to be able to do our job and save them and save their property. That’s what gets us excited and that’s what gets us coming to work.”

Those interactions, said Weeden, may also help children adopt a worldview which is consistent with their parents’ professions.

Steve Brinza grew up watching his father, Steve, a police lieutenant, on the job in Cudahy, Wisconsin.

Brinza, of the Village of Hadley, still clearly remembers a few impactful experiences, like one afternoon with his father and sister at a shopping mall when he was eight.

“My dad was with us and he was on duty and bailed out of the car and ended up running after (some) shoplifters. We were so afraid for him; we didn’t realize what a tough guy he was,” Brinza said.

Not all of those experiences shed a positive light on policing; like another afternoon when his father, who rarely drank, walked past him to reach for the liquor cabinet. His father had been working the day shift and had retrieved a disembodied arm which had washed up on the shore of Lake Michigan.

“Unlike some kid that watches TV, and getting hired and thinking it’s like what it is on TV, you know what it’s like and you’re not surprised by the harsh reality,” Brinza said.

Despite that harsh reality, he too became a police lieutenant for 29 years in Greendale, Wisconsin.

Brinza’s son, also named Steve, became a third-generation police officer about four years ago at the same station.

“He’d been interested in it for years,” Brinza said. “I was very proud he got hired; it was very competitive getting a job and it worked out for him.”


Role Model Effect

Fathers aren’t the entire story. Factors influencing children’s career choices are a combination of both parents, said Weeden.

Sheilah Hunter, of the Village of Virginia Trace, said both of her parents played a role in her decision to follow her father into the Navy.

When Hunter couldn’t find any teaching jobs of interest, it was her mother who suggested she apply for Navy Officers Candidate School and eventually drove her to the recruiting center. It was her father who instilled in her a strong work ethic.

“One of the things is, my dad never said ‘girls can’t do that,’” Hunter said.

On acceptance, her father performed her swearing-in ceremony, and upon graduating from the program, he also performed her oath of office, pinning his own ensign bars on her collar.

While both parents play a role, sons are 2.7 times as likely the rest of the population to follow in their father’s footsteps, compared to 2 times as likely to follow in their mother’s, said the New York Times in its analysis. There are a few reasons why fathers tend to be more influential to sons when it comes to career choice, Weeden said.

“We know that fathers are still less likely to take time off or go part-time when their kids are young, so in some sense the father has more continuous work experience,” she said. “Women are more likely to take time off when they have children; that’s changing a little bit but that’s still the case.”

Once they leave the workforce, women may also have a harder time reentering a field in which they previously worked.

The advantage of continuous work experience may lead fathers to have more of a “role modeling effect,” said Weeden.

That effect is evident in both career choice, and sometimes how the job is done.

“A lot of times I would think, ‘How would he handle this?’ And there’s a certain style of policing, the job had to get done, you really don’t back down,” retired police officer Steve Brinza said.

For Shumate, it also lasts after the job is done.

“He’s just that person I’ve looked up to my entire life and I still do,” he said. “I still go to him for advice because most likely he knows. He’s basically my hero. That’s the person I always look up to and I always will.”

Staff Writer Liz Coughlin can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5304, or