With my younger brother, David, Dad is the
Lone Ranger and Buzz Lightyear all rolled up into one superhero.
Dad comes racing to the rescue whenever David needs money.
My brother rarely hears the word, “No.”
With me, it’s a different story. Don’t
get me wrong: Dad is an exceedingly generous and doting
father to me, too. I would not hold my present wealth if
not for his vision and continued generosity through annual
gifts and allowances. But with David, Dad has great difficulty
setting financial limits, whereas with me, he sets appropriate
boundaries. Most of the time, it feels as if there is no
end to my brother’s open line of credit at The Great
Bank of Daddy. This difference in how my father treats the
two of us has created considerable tension in my relationship
with my brother.
The tension began shortly after David’s
trust matured when he reached age 30. (The terms of the
trusts and the amounts gifted to our trusts were completely
equal. Today, we are both in our forties.) For me, learning
to manage my money became a passion. Meanwhile, my brother
blew his entire inheritance within a few years. Dad elected
to completely subsidize David (for reasons he feels are
valid), and he continues to do so.
I could nitpick with examples of my brother
receiving more than I, but the real story is how I’ve
made peace with the differences.
Here is how I did it: I befriended my brother.
I simply grew to understand that it is not his fault that
he is spoiled and overindulged. How can I fault him for
having no boundaries with Dad when Dad has few boundaries
with him? It has been that way since childhood. When David
had a bad day, he would ride his bike to the toy store and
say, “Charge it” in grand style. Dad always
blew his top when the bill came in, but he never sent the
toys back. Like most wealthy children, David and I both
had too many toys, but occasionally Dad made me work for
a special one. For instance, I bought my first bike at age
six with five dollars saved from my weekly allowance of
35 cents. I have no idea if my brother was ever encouraged
to play by these same rules . The main thing I remember
is that my allowance stayed in my Snoopy piggy bank and
sat on my desk. Meanwhile, my brother was deemed fiscally
irresponsible by age six or seven, and his allowance stayed
locked in Dad’s desk. He had to ask for “withdrawals.”
I believe this set co-dependency in motion.
Befriending my brother as an adult has been
easier because I have discove red that being the “good
kid” comes with fringe benefits. I have my father’s
respect. Dad is leaving no strings attached to my portion
of his estate. I will not be mired down in a trust. I have
also been designated to have limited, durable power-of-attorney
over his estate. In contrast, Dad has chosen to keep my
brother’s portion of his future inheritance in trust
until he sees fiscal responsibility from his son.
Not long ago, I freed myself from anger
toward Dad by asking for a very modest “raise”
in his will. At first, this was a shock to the entire family
system. Dad ranted and yelled and, in general, blew his
top. I cried and felt devastated. It was not about the money—it
was that, once again, I felt as if there were no reward
for being good. But I was wrong. After a few weeks, Dad
changed his mind and agreed to my request.
I also asked Dad to create an estate planning
document, listing our individual annual gifts should he
become incapacitated. As his limited, durable power-of-attorney,
I need Dad to clearly state exactly how much money I am
supposed to dole out to my brother each year.
I have also set my own boundaries. I’ve
made it clear that I will encourage my younger sibling in
any way possible, but The Mid-Sized Bank of Natalie is not
open and will not be opened. I have also declined requests
to become my brother’s future trustee.
Ironically, my younger brother is becoming
my advocate. He is beginning to voice his belief that this
inequality in current giving is not fair to me. I have no
idea what will become of my brother’s attempt to advocate
on my behalf, but it touches my heart to know that he cares.
© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved