Q. There has been a clergyman in each of the last five generations of our family and it is important to continue that tradition. The only male out of 12 children in the upcoming generation (my son) does not want to into my profession. His desires run counter to my own ethics about mission, parental wisdom, and service. Recently, this lad of 23 (who I know is not yet mature) attended one of your seminars and returned reinforced in his desire to be a pilot. You have no business saying anything that could interfere with my will as patriarch of the family!

A. Thank you for taking the time to write and express your views. I have several comments. First, maturity is a somewhat relative term. Typically, myelination of “the lad’s brain” has likely been completed (usually about age 20-21) and development of the prefrontal cortex nearly completed (usually about mid-twenties). If he has always accepted your decisions, rather that learning how to make his own, however, his decision-making skills may be somewhat underdeveloped. If this is true, it may represent a failure to help him develop the skills of decision-making and a reticence to support him in his choices, especially when his decision differs from your preference.

I wonder why you become a clergyman. Was it because you had a vision to help others enhance a spiritual connection with their Higher Power, or did you acquiesce to expectations in your family system? God is all about free choice. Did you have that when you chose your profession? Are you making sure your son has that right?

Ethics can be defined in differing ways based on the brains of the human beings trying to define it. I suggest that one helpful description is that ethics are less about deciding absolute right or wrong (since each brain is as unique as one’s thumbprint and no two brains will ever perceive an issue identically), and more about figuring out the best course of action for a specific individual based on his/her own innate giftedness, mission, vision, values, and belief system. It would be possible for you and your son to have some ethical differences that would each be acceptable based on your own innate giftedness.

How long do you intend to impose your desires on another adult (albeit one who is related to you) on the basis of “head of household” or patriarchy as you put it? Input is one thing. Control is quite another. One danger of patriarchy can be a failure on the part of others in the family to develop their own expertise in decision-making; another can be interfering with their desire to live authentically in line with their own innate giftedness. When you die and are no longer present to insist on compliance, they may be adrift, or worse yet, easily succumb to the influence of another controller.

As a member of the clergy you are no doubt familiar with the biblical admonition to train a child in the way he should go. Although often applied to theology, it has a broader educational application. Our role is to help a child find the way he should go congruent with his own innate gifted-ness, rather than try to make him conform to what another human being (albeit a parent) wants. I appreciate your wish to continue the family tradition of clergy in every generation. If the one male doesn’t feel called to that type of ministry, how about one of the eleven girls? Do any of them have a bent toward ministry, or does your family system limit professional options based on gender?

Finally, I encourage you to present your reasons for believing your son is well suited to spend his life as a minister. If he disagrees, affirm him, accept his choice, and devote your energy to maintaining a thriving relationship between the two of you. Who knows? If he follows through on becoming a pilot he just may fly you and other clergy to your various destinations. That’s a form of ministry, too!