The Adverse Effects of the 'Golden Child'
By Jolene Brown
Submitted by email from R.B.:
I’ve had it with my oldest brother, Dad’s Golden Child. I’ve been doing the work and managing most aspects of our large grain farm for the past 12 years. Dad does help at planting and harvest. My wife teaches, does the farm books, and many other jobs on the farm.
Two years ago, my dad announced that my older brother needed to come back to the farm because he couldn’t find a “good-paying” job. My brother and his free-spending wife believe they shouldn’t have to work too hard (so they don’t), and they take frequent vacations. My workload has grown, as I have to cover for him and increase the farm income to cover their draw from the farm.
This past week, Dad shared that he is giving my brother “money on the side,” bringing his income to almost twice as much as mine. Dad said, “Your brother’s older, has a lot of personal debt, and the farm is his only source of family income because his wife doesn’t work."
The final straw came when Dad shared his nonnegotiable farm estate plan with my brother and me. He said, “All farm assets will be divided equally between you two sons, and if one doesn’t like working together and decides to leave, the one who stays behind gets it all.” It was the smirk on my brother’s face that hit me smack in my face. I have now met the Golden Child. There is no way I could be equal partners with him.
What do you think I should do?
Your question came in the form of a long email story. Because of space, I edited out a lot of justifications for your frustration. There are many differences between you and your brother: education, ag work experience on and off the farm, work ethic, spousal support, financial savvy, character, and values. If what you say is true, then my answer is pretty short.
You have clearly identified the puppeteer (Dad), and you are the puppet. If I were in your shoes, I’d cut the strings and leave – now.
I believe you’ve been a very good puppet. For many years you danced well for your father, the farm, and, recently, your brother. Your brother’s strings are not as equitably pulled, nor do I believe they ever will be. That’s clear by your dad’s gifting, your brother’s behaviors, and his response as your father intends to manage your future from the grave.
Just because you may not have control of your father’s assets or his actions toward the Golden Child, you and your wife are not powerless.
The first step is to get your Plan B under way. Answer this question: If I wasn’t working here, what would I do? Seek a better place to work where you might earn the right of respect, leadership, and ownership.
The second step is to have one final and clear conversation with your father. Document your contributions. State your wishes for you and your family’s future on the farm, which would exclude any joint ownership with your brother. If there is no change in your father’s position, follow through with Plan B.
Easy? No, but you’re not starting at the bottom of the employee ladder. You have tested results and grit to bring to your next endeavor. By cutting the strings, you will stand taller, reduce your stress, and receive the recognition you deserve.
Your transition team members
Jolene Brown is a professional speaker, author, farmer, and family business consultant. She shares her passion, experience, and fun-filled spirit with farmers and ranchers across North America. Her tested business tools provide leadership and management solutions for the people who feed, clothe, and fuel the world. jolenebrown.com
Myron Friesen is co-owner of Farm Financial Strategies in Osage, Iowa. During the past 15 years, he has worked exclusively with farm families across the Midwest to develop farm transition strategies. farmestate.com