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When the Student Becomes the Teacher: Reflections on Fatherhood with My Daughter

Sitting down with my daughter, Ali, it’s clear to see the resemblance. We have the same big laugh and sense of humor; the banter never stops. In fact, the minute I called her up for this interview, the jokes were flying. But spend more than five minutes with us, and you see how much of a carbon-copy she really is (her words, not mine!). She’s got this passion for maniacal results (again, her words…you’re really getting insight into her childhood here) and no topic is off the table – literally. When my girls were growing up, it was standard dinner table conversation to talk current events and politics in between sorting out logistics for softball practices and checking homework.

Mark King

As the years have passed and I become more reflective on their childhood, it’s become apparent that somewhere along the line, the student became the teacher. I now learn from Ali more than I ever could have imagined. She’s helped open my world view and really shown me that success isn’t just about my work, but about making the world a better place through my work.

I’ve come to realize that there is this amazing cycle of learning and teaching that is constantly taking place between generations. It’s restless, and you guessed it, it’s at the root of creativity.

When views from people of all ages collide, teachers have an opportunity to become students once again — if they’re open minded. That’s where there’s magic to be made. And it means asking our children to challenge us, and for us to challenge them, to think through new approaches and ways of being.

Mark King In honor of Father’s Day, I wanted to give you a peek inside our life. Like I said, these types of reflective conversations are typical dinner time banter for us; I recognize that many people do not have this same relationship, but wow am I thankful for ours. I hope this inspires us all to have more meaningful reflections on how we can all listen to others’ perspectives to spark fresh thinking and bold ideas.

Ali: My fondest childhood memories I have with you involve softball. I played from 12 to 18 years old, and there was one point you were traveling for my games every weekend.

Mark: I remember you asked me how to improve after seeing some other teams play, then you came out of your room with this entire performance chart packed with numbers and KPIs. I guess my working in a business capacity for most of your life kinda rubbed off on you from the start. Maybe it had to do with the song we played every day when I dropped you off at school?

Ali: “Dream Big.”

Mark: “Dream Big” by the Rubber Band Band!

Ali: I love that you shaped almost two versions of me: one that’s competitive and constantly chasing goals, but also one that values relationships over everything. I wanted so badly to chart my own path, but I’ve grown to realize that I’ve become the spitting image of you in so many ways.

Mark: I’d say we’re both bold, loud and opinionated, with a sometimes maniacal focus on hitting our goals thanks to relentless work ethic.

Ali: Yes but that work ethic definitely manifests itself differently. You’re a Baby Boomer where you’ve always worked to provide, but as a Millenial, I’ve been more passion-driven. This is a generalization, but older generations tend to believe in a true meritocracy and a specific type of American dream. The reality is that the world has changed. Millennials and Gen Z have redefined what that dream can look like.

Mark: I think we’ve both realized more recently that work is work, and there is still life to be lived outside of work. I used to be pretty intense and work-obsessed. You’ve helped me understand that not everything has to be extraordinary, but it must be just. Not to be too cheesy, but seeing your evolution as a human has helped me broaden my lens on the world.

Ali: You’re a softie now! As much as I’m grateful for my childhood, leaving the cocoon of a privileged upbringing completely shifted the way I interact with the world...and with you.

Mark: Honestly Ali, you’ve had this amazing drive to make the world a better place since you were like 14. That’s just evolved over time. And that’s something I can really say I’ve learned from you: your compassion, your acceptance, your vision of a just society.

Ali: I’ve been quite proud of your development and understanding of diversity and inclusion ever since you joined Taco Bell. You’ve had to lead a massive amount of people while learning and navigating implications of social issues in the business space. Now I sound like the parent, but your professional and personal growth has been remarkable.

Mark:Mark King You’ve inspired me and kept me in check, but so have so many others. An old friend once told me that you have to be totally immersed in what you’re doing, totally intentional. That’s when you’re able to fully put aside your own biases and truly listen and be inspired.

Ali: Well the interesting thing is now I’m seeing myself as the “old” generation. It’s so fascinating to see such a rapid evolution of culture right in the palm of my hand even though I grew up on social media.

Mark: Well since you’re so “old” and wise, tell me. What’s the best Taco Bell order?

Ali: Keep it simple! A Bean & Cheese Burrito, hold the onions, with Diablo sauce. Such a classic.

We went on and on, but I’ll spare you all the fun banter. Maybe now you see how our chats often go a bit further than niceties or talking about the weather. These types of “deep” reflections birth progression and innovation, feeding into the cycles of learning, teaching and living.