Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dead Carolyn: My brother was the Golden Boy. He got my father’s attention, affection, love and money. My sisters and I got significantly less growing up. My father had high hopes for my brother.
Unfortunately, none of my father’s hopes and dreams ever came true. My brother did about average in life, drastically disproportionate to what was invested, and my father has disinherited him. Brother doesn’t know, and none of us are inclined to tell him much in the same way he never shared much of what he got when he was younger. (No objections on the favoritism from him either!)
My sisters and I have agreed to take what we get and keep it for ourselves as a way to make up for the favoritism, yet my youngest sister insists we have to give some money to my brother. She hasn’t told him he has been cut out, because she doesn’t want to risk being disinherited too, but she’s horrified we won’t give him a dime.
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I personally don’t care what she does with her share, but I’m outraged that she has the audacity to dictate what I do with mine and everyone else’s.
I’ve seen the will. Provided that stays the same, are the three of us jerks if we don’t give our brother anything?
Of course no one gets to tell you what to do with your share, but take the insisting out of it and I’m with the youngest here: Your brother also suffered from his status as Golden Boy, as most goldens do. Your father’s selfishness and cruelty pretty much guaranteed that the life your brother led would never be fully his own.
Plus, your father’s last act is an ambush he'll never have to answer to. It doesn’t get more cowardly than that.
Plus, you’re angry at the man your brother is now for something a boy long ago didn’t do — and quite possibly didn’t understand. Part of why favoritism is so insidious is that it puts the person playing favorites at the center of all perceptions. You see your brother through your dad’s eyes. Your brother sees his sisters through his dad’s eyes. You all see yourselves with the echoes of Dad’s words in your heads.
Seems to me the best way to exorcise Father Dearest, when the time comes, is to take him, his wishes and his emotional legacy out of this and work together as siblings — with the help of a skilled estate attorney — to execute the will as an instrument of healing.
Even if you reject my logic here, “My sisters and I have agreed to … keep it for ourselves as a way to make up for the favoritism” is a fine way to fatten your wallet and shrink your heart, no? In fact, it sounds like the kind of punitive emotional engineering your father himself would come up with. To find outrage in your youngest sister’s generosity sounds like shouting down your own conscience to me.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.