I knew the day would come when I’d have to explain the Burger King merger with Tim Hortons to my daughter. I just didn’t know it would be this soon.
“Daddy, what does ‘merger’ mean?”
I looked up to see the sweet face of my six year-old Lisa gazing at me from the doorway, her eyes confused but curious, a CNN Money program faintly audible from the playroom behind her.
My fault for letting her stay up to watch past her bedtime, I thought to myself. They don’t give you a manual when you become a single father. But nothing to be done about it now. It was time for The Talk.
“Come here, sweetheart,” I said as I took a seat at the kitchen table, gesturing for Lisa to come sit on my lap. “Where did you hear that word?”
“The man on the TV said that Burger King and Tim Hortons are having a merger.” She said the word slowly, still unsure how she felt about it. She wrapped her tiny arms around me and buried her head into my chest. “Oh daddy, what does it mean?”
Where was I to begin? It was moments like these that made being a single father such a hard job, but also what made it so worthwhile.
“Well, sweetheart, when two companies love each other very much, and they think they’d be able to make more together than they would apart, sometimes they decide to merge into one company. That’s a merger.”
“Only one company? Does it make one of the companies go bye-bye?” she asked with great concern in her eyes. I couldn’t help but laugh at her worry, my heart swelling with love for her innocence.
“Oh no sweetheart. It makes one big company that has all of the assets of both companies combined!”
“Oh.” I watched as the gears turned in her mind as she considered this new data, brain synapses firing, synthesizing the new information with her existing worldview. She put a finger to her chin, tilted her head back, and continued with her questions.
“But whose name do they take?”
“Well, sometimes more progressive companies might hyphenate their names to form a big long new name, but usually the name of the bigger company is what both companies start going by.”
“Isn’t that confusing for people who used to shop at the smaller company?”
“It can be! But everybody figures it out.”
“Wait, daddy, Tim Hortons will be called Burger King? But they sell coffee, not burgers!” she said smiling, clearly enjoying grilling her old man.
“Good point, my darling. Sometimes the smaller company will keep its existing name, and the changes will just be in terms of things like ownership and where that company pays taxes. This is sort of like a ‘green card merger’ I guess you could say.”
“But why would Burger King want to buy a coffee store chain?”
“Because of, well…” I debated if I should introduce the term. Sometimes answering the questions of children felt like putting out a fire with gasoline; explaining one term only led to a burst of new questions. “Well,” I continued on, “because of something called ‘tax inversion.’”
“Taxinversion?” she said the term with all of the incredulity her diminutive frame could muster, and I again couldn’t help but laugh. Noticing my laughter, she played up her disgust, puffing up her cheeks and rolling her eyes around, making me laugh more.
“That’s right, sweetheart. Tax inversion. Burger King is moving their headquarters to Ontario to avoid US corporate taxes.”
“Oh.” She grabbed the bottom of her shirt and seemed to consider if her curiosity had been satiated. “But isn’t it an American company? Is Burger King a bad guy for doing…tax inversion?”
I hesitated. Lisa loved Burger King. And I loved taking her there after her morning tae-kwon-do classes every Saturday. It certainly felt American, eating my Whopper while I watched Lisa run around the play area, occasionally running back to our table to grab a fry, dipping it in our shared chocolate frosty shake before running back to scream and laugh with the other children. Did I dare risk demystifying something so good and pure? But of course, she’d hear it eventually, and better from me than from some schoolyard bully attempting to be cool by passing on information an older sibling had taunted him with. I took a deep breath in and proceeded. There would be no turning back, but then again, there never is. Kids just keep growing up.
“Many companies we think of as American are actually international conglomerates,” I started, holding her trusting gaze as I went, “and Burger King, well, it has been owned for years by 3G Capital, a Brazilian investment firm.”
“International con-gwomerate?” she said, closing her eyes and covering her face with her hands. She adopted a silly voice imitating one of her favorite cartoons, a capybara detective, as she added, “And what the heck is an investment firm?”
I narrowed my eyes at her use of ‘heck’ but decided to pick my battles, choosing instead to answer her question. “Well, investment firms are companies that get really happy when they can make other companies happy by helping them to merge. 3G Capital is really great at this. They helped Anhesuer-Busch, the company that makes daddy’s beer,” I gestured with the Budwesier can in my hand to the several empty cans on the kitchen table, “merge in 2008 with a company called InBev, which itself was a merger of the Brazilian company AmBev and the Belgian company Interbrew. Investment firms help companies become international conglomerates, so a daddy in Europe can drink the same great tasting Bud that your daddy can drink here. Pretty neat, huh?” I took a sip for emphasis.
“Yeah, that’s neat,” Lisa said, but her attention was drifting. Perhaps I was unloading too much information on her at once. But on the other hand, I had made a promise with myself to always be completely honest with her. Any question she asked, I would answer. No matter what. It’s what Ruth would have wanted.
I could tell her little brain was still thinking, coming up with more to ask. She seemed to be working especially hard on what was troubling her now. She sat up straight and looked me square in the eyes.
“Daddy, why do some people think that some corporations shouldn’t be allowed to merge with the corporation they want to merge with?”
Involuntarily I let out a gasp. I knew that The Talk would be hard, but didn’t expect that we’d have to address this aspect of things at the same time. She was so young. Couldn’t the world just let kids be kids?
“Who told you that, my darling?”
“This kid at school Ryan. Ryan said his parents said that Comcast wanted to merge with Time Warner Cable but that they shouldn’t be allowed. He said that their merger was evil.”
I took this all in, wanting to be sure of my words before I replied. Was growing up always this hard? It seemed like I’d grown up in a simpler time, but I imagine men having to answer difficult questions from their daughters had felt that way for many generations back.
“That wasn’t a very nice thing of his parents to say. In this house, we believe that any company should be able to be with any other company it wants.”
“That’s what the free market is all about, right daddy?”
I beamed. For the first time in my life, I truly beamed. I was bound to make some mistakes as a father. Lots of them. But every once in a while, you get a moment like this, and you know that you’re doing at least something right.
“That’s right, sweetheart. That’s what the free market is all about.”
She smiled, happy with herself for getting this last bit right all on her own. She extended her hand out in front of her, making circles in the air. She began to hum a song to herself, her mind apparently at ease, moving away from all questions of “mergers.” Thankfully she was watching CNN and not HBO, then I would have had to answer questions about acquisitions, which I am happy to put off as long as possible.
Not wanting the moment to end, but also wanted to make sure that she was completely content, I asked, “Anything else on your mind, my dear?”
She crossed her arms and pouted her lips, playing up the theatricality of pondering if she had any more questions. At last, her eyes widened as a light bulb went off.
“I do have one more question, daddy.”
“What is it?”
“Can we go to Burger King after tae-kwon-do on Saturday?”
And with that, satisfied, she grabbed my face and kissed my cheek as she slipped off my lap to the floor, singing an impromptu song to herself about burgers and fries as she scampered back into the playroom.
I let out a sigh of relief. Hearing my daughter giggle like that, I couldn’t help but think to myself that maybe I wasn’t so bad at this single father thing after all.