The entrepreneur Ben Horowitz was coached for many years by the legendary Bill Campbell. Campbell—the so-called Trillion Dollar Coach for his work with Larry Page, Steve Jobs, and Sheryl Sandberg—was famous for his patience, his understanding and his empathy. These are rare skills not just in the Silicon Valley, but for parents and people everywhere.
In a eulogy he wrote for Campbell, Horowitz told the story of one of the toughest things he had gone through as a dad and how Campbell helped him through it:
My oldest child Jules concluded he was transgender and was going to change his gender by taking testosterone and having surgery. It’s impossible to fully describe how one feels as a parent in a situation like that, but mostly all I felt was worry — worry that he wouldn’t be accepted, worry that his health would fail, worry that the surgery would not go well, worry that he would be killed by some intolerant group. I was so filled with worry that I could barely function. When I told people about it, they would have various reactions, but the one thing that was clear was that nobody really understood the depth of the issues or the worry that I had. So, I decided to tell Bill. When I told him, I could see the tears well up in his eyes and he said: “that’s going to be really hard.” Then he immediately wanted to see Jules. And Bill made sure that he embraced Jules and let him know that he was not alone and would always have a friend in Bill. Bill understood.
Gender and sexuality are very complicated, very personal issues. But they are besides the point here. This wonderful public moment, about a private struggle, shared in honor of a personal mentor speaks to the heart of what every child needs to hear from their father, no matter what they’re going through.
That’s going to be very hard. You’re not alone. I’ll always be your friend.
That care and compassion and understanding shouldn’t just be reserved for our children, either. Because it’s what every spouse needs to hear too, whatever they’re going through. It’s what every dad and friend you have needs to hear as well, no matter what they are going through.
You may not be able to solve any of these struggles, but you can be a calming voice and an understanding ear. That’s what you can do.