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Working With Dad Makes Every Day Father's Day : Throughout the county, sons and daughters forge family partnerships in fields as diverse as shoemaking, law and ranching.

June 17, 1993|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Our mobile society has undermined the extended family's ability to live and work in close proximity. The result will no doubt be seen Sunday when many adult children and their parents will observe Father's Day with chatty long-distance phone calls.

But for county residents who work with their dads in family partnerships, every day is Father's Day.

When Victor Carmelo Pagano, 76, sees his six children and 14 grandchildren at Sunday's Italian Catholic Federation picnic, there will be no tearful farewells. They all live locally. And Pagano knows the next morning that he and his firstborn, 48-year-old Victor Pagano, will don their red European-style aprons and work side by side in Thousand Oaks at Pagano's Shoe Repair and Leather Goods as they have done for the past 25 years.

"I've been in business 55 years in this country and seven or eight years in Italy," said Pagano, standing beneath autographed photographs of celebrity clients. "I semi-retired 14 years ago. But I still come into the shop at least once a week to help out. Now I do it for a hobby," added Pagano, whose accent betrays his Sicilian birthplace.

The senior Pagano began his shoemaking apprenticeship in Italy at age 12. And he came to this country when he was 20.

"This symbolizes the business to me," said his son, as he gently picked up a hammer whose hickory wood handle is inscribed, "1939 Carmelo Pagano."

"This is my dad's first hammer in the United States. I had him autograph this for me."

Victor Pagano is the only one of the six children to carry on his father's craft.

"Whatever he knows he learned from me. He was a 12-year-old kid. And after school he used to come to the shop to help," the elder Pagano said.

"I had five boys and a girl. They are all successful and I never had a problem. All the boys used to come to work in the shop in Granada Hills after school so they never had time to go wild or mess around. I'm proud of all my kids."

Citrus and avocado rancher J. (Link) Leavens of Ventura remembers going to work with his dad at an even earlier age than Victor Pagano.

"It was special to me. I remember sitting on a tractor fender when I was 4 years old. And I remember trying to reach across the irrigation ditches with three steps to one of his long-legged strides," recalled the 42-year old Leavens, smiling at his father sitting beside him.

"Being a rancher is something I wanted to do from the get-go. By the time I was 14 I could handle almost all the equipment in the operation," Link Leavens said.

"It was ingrained," said Paul Leavens, 62. "He had at least a 10-year advantage. But growing up in town, in Santa Paula, I had to learn it all."

This has been a family operation, said Paul Leavens, since around the turn of the century when his grandfather and father started the first farm. But according to the senior Leavens, his own father, a Presbyterian minister and businessman, was not active on the farm.

Link Leavens has worked with his father for over 20 years since completing his agricultural studies at college. And his own 17-year-old son, Justin, has also grown up on several ranches that have made up the family operation since 1954. "It's a father-son operation. But all the family--23 owners--enters in the decision-making process," said Link Leavens in his rambling ranch-style house surrounded by orchards.

The Leavens agree on what can be the downside of such family partnerships. "We've seen some father-sons in the county where the patriarch can't let go," said the senior Leavens. "So the son leaves the farm and it generally goes down the tubes or gets sold."

"But," said Link Leavens, "Dad's had the wisdom to back off and let me learn by my own mistakes."

In the case of the Thousand Oaks law partnership "Hatfield, Hatfield, and Hatfield," 59-year-olG. (Pete) Hatfield had to learn from his daughters, Kelly, 34, and Jill, 30.

"Everybody thinks it's real cute that we followed in our father's footsteps," said Kelly Hatfield. "But we actually became lawyers before he did."

According to Jill Hatfield, the two sisters, who have retained their maiden names, were between marriages and seeking new careers when they began law school together in 1985. They also took and passed the bar exam together.

Before becoming an attorney, "Pete," who has a degree in chemical engineering and experience in the computer industry, was director of legal services for an El Segundo firm.

"Even though I was not a licensed attorney, I handled all the contracts, lease sales and coordinated with outside counsel," he said.

"The girls were working for different attorneys in Conejo and Simi valleys . . . And we decided after I passed the bar we'd form a law partnership," said Pete Hatfield, whose wife works as their receptionist.

"Usually attorneys get paid on the basis of billable hours and bonuses," he said. "But when we formed the partnership we decided everyone was to make the same amount of money. That would eliminate fighting over clients and would promote cooperation when one of us has a schedule conflict," he added.

"We're really close," said Jill.

From her dad: "People tell us they selected us because we are a family firm."

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