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New Rituals, Strengthened Bonds, Forgiveness: Fathers Of CRE Find New Perspective

Over the last year and then some, fathers across the commercial real estate industry formed new family rituals and bonds, struggled being suddenly thrust into the role of a teacher, and even marveled at how involved their own children became with their little offspring amid the coronavirus pandemic.

For Cedric Bobo, the founder of the real estate social impact training program Project Destined, Father’s Day this Sunday has a deeper meaning: He is finally able to forgive his own father.

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Project Destined founder Cedric Bobo with his sons, Alexander and twins Oliver and Nicholas.

Ever since his parents divorced when Bobo, 46, was in third grade, he said he had a strained and difficult relationship with his father. Growing up in the Deep South during the 1950s and 1960s, Bobo said the prejudice and violence his dad witnessed as a Black man affected how he was as a father.

“My dad saw people being violent, abusive and using dogs on people," Bobo said. "How do you think that shapes what kind of father he should be?” 

But when, during the pandemic, a White police officer killed George Floyd, Bobo said it caused him to reflect on his father and realize why he was so “ill-equipped to be a dad.”

“I became much less judgmental and realized he was born into a tremendous insecurity where someone could act against him and pay no consequence,” Bobo said. “I think some of that anger spewed over to the household. And how could it not? Those demons don't leave easily. As a dad, it caused me to be really forgiving of my father.”

As Father’s Day approaches, the coronavirus recedes in the U.S. and much of American life resumes again, a renewed importance has been imbued onto the roles of husband and father, commercial real estate executives told Bisnow. Those months spent with family in near-isolation have forged new dynamics, strengthened existing bonds or offered an opportunity to teach critical life lessons.

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Dreamscape CEO Eric Birnbaum and his daughter, Emma

“You see how fragile life is and you have such few people, your children and your family, [who] are so meaningful to you and how valuable that is,” said Eric Birnbaum, the CEO of Dreamscape, a New York-based multifamily and hotel investment firm. “I think that the pandemic has, hopefully — certainly for me — reprioritized what's really important. It's your family, at the end of the day.”

Despite the devastation wrought by the pandemic — and the loss of more than 600,000 American lives — experts note that the weeks of lockdown and quarantines in 2020 had a silver lining for many families. Some families reported starting new activities together and spending more quality time with one another than they had before the pandemic, Psychology Today reported.

Ernie Jarvis, a commercial brokerage executive in Washington, D.C., said he challenged his two college-aged sons last April to invest in stocks in the hardest-hit industries to see what would happen. Between the three of them, they bought stock in companies like Delta Air Lines, Marriott International, Southwest Airlines, Expedia Group, The Walt Disney Co., MGM Resorts International and Dave & Buster’s, Jarvis said.

The reason: Jarvis said he wanted to impress upon them that despite being in lockdown, despite the dire financial and global news, the world was not ending.

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Jarvis Real Estate principal Ernie Jarvis and his sons, Jake and E.J.

“We were contrarians. Anything that was travel, entertainment, we bought,” he said. “Right now, we did swimmingly well. I'm not a stock market guy at all. It was just a gut feeling. I said, 'We will get through this. This is not the end of the world. People will start traveling.'”

But he said it also planted in them the seeds for financial responsibility as they form their own lives after college.

“It was the fellowship and the spending time with kids and having them think about investing with a long-term goal,” Jarvis said. “That, to me, is invaluable. They will replicate those activities with their kids. It is establishing long-term financial goals. It is investing.”

Transwestern Executive Managing Director Clark Dean said he found new time to spend with his wife and three kids — Will, 21, John Gregory, 19, and Virginia, 17 — streaming new shows together, a hobby that was harder to do prior to the pandemic. The family gobbled up shows across generations, like White Collar, Gilmore Girls and M*A*S*H.

It has been a habit that has carried on beyond pandemic restrictions. When Will, the eldest, went off to college again, he would call in via Zoom and would watch Castle with the rest of the family, Dean said.

“We’d chat with him just as we chat when we were watching the show,” he said. “Those moments that you spend with your kids, you get to know more about them and they get to know more about you. I'm very blessed that I got the kind of kids that I want to hang out with. We're great friends.”

Some fathers learned things about their children during the pandemic as well.

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Lemor Development Group Managing Member Kenneth Morrison with his wife, Pamela, and son, Maxwell.

When Lemor Development Group principal Kenneth Morrison contracted Covid-19 in March 2020, he was quarantined to his bedroom in Harlem, New York, physically separating himself from his wife and 13-year-old son, Maxwell.

“I pretty much had every symptom except breathing problems,” Morrison said, adding that there were days he barely had the strength to even answer emails.

That forced Morrison, whose firm develops and operates workforce housing, to communicate with his son solely via cellphone. Morrison marveled at his son's resilience, even taking up responsibilities such as cooking for himself when things got busy.

Now recovered, Morrison said he has spent more time with his son than he had in the past, and their relationship changed.

“We had an opportunity to do things that we didn't get to do because he was in school or I was at work. As his parents, we became more good friends,” he said. “After going through what I went through with Covid, you get to recognize the opportunity I get to spend time with family is … much more important now.”

Birnbaum also said he saw resilience in his three children — Emma, 12, Ava, 8, and Max, 7 — as they juggled home schooling during the pandemic.

“The way they dived right into remote learning and sat in front of a computer for God knows how many hours a day and made the best of a pretty unprecedented circumstance, they complained a lot less than us adults of having to go through this,” he said.

The switch to remote learning has been a notorious stressor on families as parents continued to juggle work with having to monitor and mentor their children, especially when the transition doesn’t go smoothly. A daily diary study found that 25% of parents reported that school or childcare arrangements didn't go as planned at times during the pandemic, adding to their stress, according to Psychology Today.

“My son is really good at this, but he struggles at that. And now I have to be the bridge-builder,” Bobo said. “I'm now educating kids from home, and I don't know when it's going to end. So I'm doing it and I'm struggling with it and I'm getting used to all these new apps that you have to execute.”

But even educational stress had a positive impact on his kids, 14-year-old Alexander and 10-year-old twins Oliver and Nicholas. They got to see a side of their father and how “extraordinarily self-critical” he can be at times, Bobo said.

“I want to be great at everything I do. I have that desire to get everything right. They can see my insecurities around being able to make all this work, and that is powerful,” he said. “I'm getting to know them a lot better. By the same token, they're getting to know me a lot better.”

Increased involvement in children’s day-to-day lives may be one of the long-lasting positive effects of the pandemic. Ric Campo, the CEO of publicly traded apartment developer Camden Property Trust, said he believes that as millennials return to the office, they will take with them more expectations of being able to balance work and home.

“I think that my sons-in-law, for example, who are right in the heart of millennials … are going to demand more flexibility in their work so they can be around their families more,” Campo, 66, said. “I think that they have a better connection with their kids today. And I think that the new world, post-pandemic, is going to require more flexibility for families.”

Bobo said he is planning to make a change in his work habits as the world returns to a sense of normalcy by traveling less for work.

“I think I was already a dad who was engaged. But any time you work for something, the harder you work, the more meaningful it is to you. I work harder today at being a dad than I did before the pandemic,” he said. “Now I can see the results in the closeness of the relationship with my kids.”