When it comes to passing on the wealth, every so-called expert has an opinion. Why hasn't anyone asked the kids?
Let's find out what it's like being the child of a wealthy company owner. Are these kids different from other rich kids? What do they feel about their inheritances? Their parents? And what about their parents' concerns? By giving too much too soon, are they depriving their kids of the chance to make their own way in the world? Of the opportunity to follow in their footsteps? Maybe we'll find that money isn't the issue. -- E. W.
As a child, Peter Kalmus enjoyed the best that life had to offer -- a fine home in New York City, top schools, a maid to clean his room, and busy but loving parents who anticipated his every need. "I always had a car and driver on call, even in grade school," he remembers, chuckling with some embarrassment. "So whenever I didn't want to eat cafeteria food, I'd call Nat and tell him to go to Nathan's Famous and bring in franks for me and my friends. Pretty nervy, wasn't I?"
Doing odd jobs and saving pennies were not much a part of Kalmus's coming of age. He had an allowance, and his parents insisted on covering the big-ticket items -- a car, his college expenses, and when the time came, his law-school tuition.
But Kalmus found a less accommodating world waiting beyond his doorstep. His first job in an accounting firm ended like a bad marriage, with misunderstanding and regret. "I couldn't get used to being told what to do," he recalls. "Their definition of paying dues was different from mine." Yet as disenchanted as he was with the rigidity he found in that job, he couldn't bring himself to turn his back on the security of his J.D. degree and pursue the career in psychology that beckoned.
"For a long time I was a kind of wealth junkie," Kalmus explains, sounding glad to have the monkey off his back. "Money had the same effect on me as a drug would on a drug addict. I wanted it. I spent most of my time thinking either about how to get it or how to hang onto it. I became panicked every time I thought of trying to do without it, because I'd never had to, and I wasn't really sure I could. My self-worth seemed completely tied to my net worth." Which was ironic, he acknowledges, because his parents' focus was on work and family, not money. "My mother and father had an idyllic marriage built on love for each other and for their commercial furniture business," Kalmus says admiringly. "Money was the last thing on their minds. All they ever prayed for was their health, the family's togetherness, and the happiness of their children."
It was happiness and togetherness, in fact, that underpinned their generosity. "My parents figured, 'Hey, someday all of this will go to the two boys anyway, so why wait? We don't want our whole relationship to revolve around money, do we?' Of course they didn't. So they gave my brother and me everything they either didn't have as kids or couldn't find time to enjoy as adults." Kalmus sighs ruefully at his own words. "Sounds wonderful, but it ain't.
"When you always get what you want, just by asking," he continues, "that important step in the middle of having to wait for it or work for it is missing. And that's the part that turns dreams into realities. So it hit me pretty hard when I got out into the world and realized, my God, there isn't any magic. I've got to work for what I want." He pauses. "I would never criticize my parents for anything they did, because they gave me a wonderful childhood. But, frankly, I wish I hadn't grown up feeling so . . . well, free, I guess. I wish my parents had concentrated a little less on keeping me happy and a little more on building my character."
Today at age 33, Kalmus has left the law -- but psychology remains a fascination, not a vocation. In January, following the death of his father, Kalmus joined his mother in the management of the family business. He is working harder than ever before and enjoying the challenge of entrepreneurship more than he thought possible. Money still matters, but it no longer rules him. Time, experience, and plenty of serious self-evaluation have left Kalmus with a more well-rounded philosophy of life. Still, like many rich kids, he will always consider wealth "full of booby traps."
Wealth is no less problematic for entrepreneurial parents. They wonder, Will an inheritance ruin their children's lives? Could it be that the family's affluence is already preventing their kids from developing independence and ambition? And is there anything that they, as parents and businesspeople, can do about it, short of taking their own oath of poverty?
A southern financier's dilemma is typical. He could easily afford to establish some six-figure trust funds for his kids in the not-too-distant future. But he's not at all sure he'd be doing them a favor, and a little informal networking has convinced him he's not alone in his concern. "I think it's something that everybody who's successful in business faces sooner or later," he says. "How do you cash in on and share what you've built in the business without destroying that other big investment -- the one you've made in your children?"
These are timely questions. Financial planners and family-business counselors say at least half their clientele consists of rich parents, mere millionaires to near billionaires, seeking advice on what they call wealth-related issues. "It's like sex education was 20 years ago," says Minneapolis family-business consultant Tom Hubler, co-founder of the Hubler/Swartz division of McGladrey & Pullen. Whether they're inclined to set their kids up for life or leave them without a dime, "people are becoming very thoughtful and purposeful about handling wealth," he says. "It's a new frontier for family life."
It's especially so for entrepreneurial parents -- most of whom did not grow up in wealthy homes. The fact is, families with new money face problems unknown to those with generations of wealth behind them. Take time, for instance. "Old money has time to spend with the kids, but new money either doesn't have it or won't take it," explains John Levy, an inherited-wealth counselor in San Francisco.
If time is a major concern, issues of control are no less so for children of entrepreneurs. "Old money tends to have less control over the trust and, therefore, is less controlling with the children," says San Francisco psychotherapist Judy Barber, many of whose clients are unhappy inheritors. Also, old-money people have seen that money alone won't send a child into a life of crime, but "the entrepreneur, being less experienced, has more concerns about the impact, what it will do," as Barber puts it. "He or she tends to be more controlling not only of the money, but also of the children's lives."
Have there been missed opportunities in Peter Kalmus's life? His soft laugh answers the question. "If you only knew how many times people have said to me, 'Peter, follow your dreams. Do the things you really want to do.' And I'd think, 'Yeah, well, sure, you can say that because you don't have anything to lose, do you?' I grew up knowing I had this standard of living to protect."
Kalmus says that even though he has yet to receive his inheritance, his wealthy background has probably left him with more fear of risk than a child of a less affluent household might have, simply because he has had little experience with making leaps of faith or judgment.
"As a child, I didn't know what it was like to be hungry for anything," Kalmus says. "When you're not hungry, you're not aggressive. And when you're not aggressive, despite what may be enormous innate abilities, you just don't implement them or test them in the way that someone who's hungry will. So, over here you have this overachiever who makes it by dint of his own efforts. And here you are, never having had to expend the energy or test yourself in any way. By the time you're both in your thirties, the guy who's tested himself knows what he can do. He knows that if everything goes to hell, he can build it up again. But you haven't had that experience. You don't have that psychological security. You cling more to what you have."
Bravery, the experts say, is one of the few things that affluent children lack. "Kids of wealth often have no idea what their primary strengths and abilities are," says Minneapolis inheritor-turned-personal-management-consultant Rob Stevenson. "They don't know what they can do, because they've never had to find out."
In that sense, Peter Kalmus can't help but feel that a key component of his inheritance has been denied him. "My father was very careful not to throw down the gauntlet, not to brag about his achievements in a way that would make me feel there was something I had to do or had to live up to, and I'm glad for that," Kalmus says. "But there were so many times that I wanted so much for him to share his knowledge, to give me advice, to challenge my thinking. He just wouldn't do it. He made decisions all day long, but with his own kid, he was reluctant to even offer an opinion."
There was a lot that Kalmus felt he needed to know in the years before his father died. Should he continue practicing law? Should he go into the family business?
Now, circumstances have put Kalmus in his father's chair relatively unprepared. He has only his own experiences to guide his decision making. In the face of a dilemma, he can only guess what Dad would have done. Kalmus is on his own, and no matter how wealthy he is now or may be in the future, he can't help but feel he'd have been richer for having the one asset his father withheld, however well intentioned he was. "I've got his job, I've got his power, and someday I'll have his money," the younger Kalmus says, "but where business is concerned, I won't ever have his voice in my head to listen to, to argue with, or to base judgments on."
Like many parents, Kalmus's father kept him in the dark about the family's finances. He earned the family nickname "the D.A." for the prosecutorial zeal with which he attempted to ferret out his father's net worth. "One day, while I was still in high school, I sat my father down and demanded to know how much he made. 'Thirty thousand a year,' he told me. I said, 'C'mon, look at everything we've got. Thirty's way too low.' 'OK,' he said, 'forty.' I was incredulous. I said, 'This family has never wanted for anything, and you're trying to tell me you pull down forty?' 'Well, your mother makes another forty,' he said, 'and we've got savings.' "
To his dying day, Peter Kalmus's father refused to see himself as a millionaire. "Anybody could see what was there," says the son, "but for whatever reason, he didn't want to."
Consultants say it's amazing how many children's wealth hang-ups are based on what should have been easy to address -- namely, not understanding where the money came from or what it ought to represent in their lives. To the extreme frustration of their children, many entrepreneurs persist in believing they're doing them a favor by refusing to provide the information.
"Rachel," a West Coast film producer with a "six-figure" trust fund from her family's business, says she is attempting to do a better job of communicating with her child than her parents did with her. "There was a patriarchal situation -- I was told I didn't have to worry," she recalls, "but I was never told what the real situation was." With her preteen daughter, Rachel says, "I try to talk about every decision I make. I want to do everything in my power not to pass on the denial system, this we-have-it-but-we-can't-talk-about-it thing that I grew up with. I want to make money less important in her life. And most of all, I want to avoid letting her think she's not capable of understanding it."
Parents often teach their daughters less about money than they do their sons; they don't answer as many questions about money; and they don't offer as many opportunities to either make money or gain experience. Daughters thus come away with more discomfort and more guilt.
Rachel remembers coming home from her first baby-sitting job, triumphantly waving her earnings -- only to be told she was wrong to have accepted payment. "You know you don't need that," she was scolded. "Now go give it back." Looking at the incident through adult eyes, she can see that perhaps it stemmed from long-standing guilt within her family that so much of its wealth was earned on the backs of others, by buying up cheap stock at the height of the Depression. Still, Rachel says she can't help but wonder if this incident doesn't explain her tendency to underbid her film projects. "Whether they knew it or not, my family was telling me my work didn't deserve to be rewarded."
How the money was made," explains John Messervey, director of the National Family Business Council, in Northbrook, Ill., "will tell you a lot about how it will be spent. Families who truly believe they created their wealth from hard work will usually continue to create wealth of hard work, while parents who for one reason or another feel undeserving of their riches will tend to raise kids who will also feel undeserving."
"The message we got," a 36-year-old New Yorker we'll call "Cathie" says, "was that we could be independent and nobody would have to take care of us -- except my father." Instead of congratulating her for her frugality when as a youngster she saved up enough money to buy a camera, her father, co-owner of a wholesale food operation, became furious. "He had wanted to buy it for me," she remembers. "Love and power and money were all blurred and mixed up in our family. Dad would buy us things when he couldn't spend time with us. That -- and yelling at us -- was his way of showing love. Maybe it was the only way he knew how."
Cathie suspects her father was motivated by his insecurities, both as a father and a business executive. "He never really felt successful," she says. But she also sees a power motive behind many of his actions. "There were always strings attached to the things my father did, emotional strings that required people to continue doing things as he wanted them done."
He probably was not an exception. "Entrepreneurs may not be conformists," wealth consultant Levy says, "but they seem to want to make their kids that way. They're often quite willing to dictate what everybody in the family should do, how they should vote, where they should live."
No matter how well intentioned, using money as the solution to every problem poses a direct threat to a child's self-esteem. "It's hard to recognize your own talents and goodness when you've grown up in a privileged way," Cathie says. "You tend to assume good things come to you because you went to Yale, never stopping to ask yourself if everybody who went to Yale can do the things you can. I'm constantly having to remind myself that there are things that set me apart and make me a person of value."
"While it's very much OK to make money in this culture," explains Anne Lieberman, a financial planner in Larkspur, Calif., who is working on a book about inherited wealth, "it's not OK merely to have it, as many children of wealthy entrepreneurs do. Self-esteem is essentially about what's yours. Yet for many of these people, there's nothing that's really theirs. Everything they have and everything they are seems -- to them, anyway -- to have come from the money."
In an attempt to mitigate society's effect on both themselves and their children, some parents go to great lengths to hide their wealth from the rest of the world. "I've seen a number of circumstances, particularly in small towns, where self-made people live extremely frugally in the hope that no one will figure out that they're wealthy," says psychotherapist Barber. "The kids often follow the example of their parents. They lie about how they live, where they go on vacation, and what they buy. It becomes of utmost importance that they look just like anyone else."
"Whatever the motivation, it's absolutely hypocritical for parents to pretend they're poor," says Ed Stanley, an international compensation expert based in Portland, Ore., who has studied inheritors of entrepreneurial wealth for the past several years. "Not only are the kids smarter than that, it tends to overvalue money. Money is merely a means by which things are accomplished, and that's how it ought to be portrayed."
Cathie's family maintained a modest lifestyle. "We lived in a lower-class area in a G.I. Bill house, our parents sent us to public schools, and instead of doing artsy stuff, we went bowling or to the racetrack. I remember my father joking that we might have money, but we sure didn't have class."
"It took the kids in town to tell me I was rich," says 32-year-old "Karen," whose family manufactures building-construction materials in a tiny community in the upper Midwest. One day in grade school an older boy accosted her and demanded her money as she got off the school bus. "He said my family had more money than it needed, and I remember feeling so confused," she says. "I mean, my parents didn't give us any money that we didn't earn through hard work, so what did I have in my pocket, a quarter maybe?"
Karen's mother, too, chose to defuse the issue by deflecting it. "Children are mean," she told Karen, "and if it weren't your dad's business, they'd find something else to pick on you for." She termed the school-bus incident "rude" and said it was an example of the kinds of things "nice people just don't do." Still, the incident left its mark on Karen. From that time forward, she avoided doing or saying anything that might cause schoolmates to label her a rich kid. Karen's mother even had a hard time getting her to wear new clothes.
At the age of 11, Karen took a job in the family manufacturing plant answering phones. Today she is working alongside her father and brothers in the family business. She already knows there'll be no inherited windfall for her -- not in a lump sum of cash, anyway. All of the family money is tied up in the company, and her father has no plans to cut it loose. She can sell stock whenever she wants money, but she's actually invested more. "It's as good an investment as any other available to me," she says. "The company's prosperous, it's growing, and because I work for the company, I have control over it. Really, I can't imagine a better situation. If I didn't have this one, I'd go looking for one just like it."
John Katzman, the 29-year-old founder of The Princeton Review, a franchised college and graduate-school entrance-exam coaching program and a 1988 Inc. 500 company, isn't counting on an inheritance either. His family owns Kaz Inc., the New York City company that invented the electric vaporizer. It ought to be impressed on every rich kid, he says, that parental wealth is just that -- parental wealth. "My parents made it pretty clear that I didn't have money; they had money." He admits he had "trouble with the distinction" from time to time. But "the wall came up," he says, whenever he began to think of his family's wealth as a birthright, and he's glad it did.
What does Katzman think of growing up wealthy? "I like it, I like it," he says with a laugh. "Living well, eating well, attending good schools -- it's like starting life on the 30-yard line." Unlike Peter Kalmus, Katzman believes the wealth in his background made him all the more venturesome. "It's not clear to me that I would have taken the chances I've taken with The Princeton Review if the downside would have been having nothing in the world.
"My parents have got my proxies," he continues, "and they can give the whole nest egg to charity, as far as I'm concerned [although he'd prefer that they didn't]. As I said, I started life on the 30-yard line. Do I really need somebody to kick it into the end zone for me?"
Many children, however, develop an ever-increasing appetite for Mom and Dad's money. "You find yourself fantasizing about the accidents your brothers and sisters could have," says one heir, only half joking. "You want more and more money, hoping that someday you'll get enough to fill up all those holes inside you, but knowing you won't."
"There are a lot of pained young people out there who want the money and want it now," consultant John Messervey agrees. He's seen a significant number of family-business heirs, maybe a third of the ones he's met, demand advances on their inheritances in recent years. "In many cases," he says, "the kid has been bought off his whole life for the Boy Scout meetings and the Little League games that his parents missed. Over and over again he's heard his father assuage his own guilt by saying, 'I'm doing this all for you. Someday all of this will be yours.' " Asking for the money, Messervey says, "is simply the child's way of accepting the bargain and collecting on the debt."
What Roger and Sybil Ferguson want for their five children is what most entrepreneurial parents want for their kids: a challenging yet fulfilling life, with at least a taste of the satisfaction they've known in building something from the ground up. But they can't help but think they failed their children and threatened that dream four years ago, when the Rexburg, Idaho, pair -- founders of Diet Center Inc., the international chain of weight-loss centers -- decided to use the proceeds of a private placement and a public offering to establish multimillion-dollar trusts for each of their kids. At the time the move made them feel generous. (It also reduced the company's taxes and provided expansion cash that otherwise would have had to have been borrowed.)
"There's no doubt it was great for the company, but the kids, well, you look back and you think maybe you ought to have done things differently," says Roger Ferguson.
Not that the Fergusons didn't raise good kids; they did. Some are more gainfully employed than others, and some are more grateful for the inheritance than others, but "they're fine citizens, all five of them," Roger says. Still, he broods, "Sybil and I just wonder if they're really happy having gotten all this money before the age of 30 . . ."
"Whether they'll ever know the thrill of achievement we had," Sybil interjects, "in watching our dreams come true."
"And whether they know what it takes to survive," Roger emphasizes.
"Maybe they'll never need to find out," Sybil points out.
"Maybe not," Roger agrees. "But you've got to wonder if our kids could maintain this lifestyle -- or even make a living -- if the money quit coming.
"We think we might have been better off giving a little less and waiting a little longer," he adds. "Some of our kids were barely 21 at the time, and it might have been wiser to wait till age 30 or 35." Like other entrepreneurial parents, the Fergusons have also wondered whether it might have been wisest to simply take the kids off the dole and watch them make their own way in the world.
"Too often inheritors get the power before they've got the smarts to use it," says Stevenson, the Minneapolis inheritor and career consultant. He recalls being a 21-year-old millionaire who suddenly felt his career concerns were irrelevant. "In this culture the main standard for success is how much money you make, so at the time I thought if I already had what seemed to be all the money in the world, why should I start at the bottom and work my way up the ranks? I was already making more off my trust fund per year than I could in the first few years of a career." Had he been older, he might have had a ready benchmark for success to substitute for the money that had dropped into his pocket. As things stood, he struggled for a while until finally deciding to start his own business.
Stevenson didn't know ahead of time that he was going to inherit the money, which, he says, allowed him to lead a normal life. But most experts think there is a point at which children should know their parents' intentions. "I know of plenty of kids who turned 35, even 45, and still couldn't get an answer," says psychologist Barber. "They had been responsibly supporting themselves for years, but when they needed to know what to expect so they could do their own financial planning, the response was 'Don't worry, you'll have enough money.' "
No matter how much their childhood affluence would seem to have prepared them for it, most inheritors say actually accepting the check with all the zeros changed their lives. Wade Ferguson, the number-two son of Roger and Sybil, speaks of his inheritance quite rapturously. "All of a sudden I could buy what I wanted, spend all kinds of money, and not worry," Wade says, delighted by the memory. "My wife and I went to town pretty good, and sure, we blew the interest for the first year or two." They traveled the world, they bought a Mercedes, and they showered relatives and friends with gifts. If Wade's parents disapproved, he certainly didn't know anything about it. "I remember their saying they wanted us to have a good time."
By all accounts, spending sprees are common among new inheritors. They are so common, in fact, that most experts say parents should quit worrying about them and start accepting them as part of the experience -- "so long as there isn't some deeper emotional need spurring it on," says Tracy Geary, cofounder of the San Francisco Women's Foundation, which offers a program for women inheritors. Rather than evidence of moral turpitude, a fling may simply mean the child has grown up with enough self-confidence to express himself or herself, and experiment with lifestyles.
It is at least as common, although probably not as psychologically healthy, to see new inheritors immobilized. Sometimes it stems from feelings of guilt attached to their newfound wealth; other times it's simply the result of discovering that their inheritance has removed one of the biggest motivations anybody has for doing anything: making money. Either way, it's a painful experience.
Cathie, for example, had trouble embracing the $500,000 windfall that resulted from her father's company being sold in 1978. "The buyers kicked him out right afterward, and it really left him a broken man," she says. How could she enjoy something that had caused her father such grief and disillusionment?
"For a long time I tried to pretend the money wasn't there," Cathie says. She didn't keep track of her investments because she didn't wholly understand them, and she procrastinated on self-made promises to become more informed. Like many other new inheritors who fail to come to terms with the changes in their lives, she had a tendency -- now curbed -- to let envelopes of bank and brokerage statements pile up in a corner, unopened.
"I mean, how do you define yourself," Cathie continues, "if you've got money and don't need to work for a living? I've had that concern myself, and I've seen it in other inheritors." It doesn't stop with the first generation, Cathie notes with humor. "The typical dilemma for inheritors who are also mothers," she says, "is this: if your kid's selling Girl Scout cookies, do you drive her around and help her sell them, or do you just buy the whole lot of them?"
Rachel, the film producer, felt similarly immobilized -- not by guilt but by opportunity. "Inheriting, for me, was a mixture of positives and negatives," she says. "The positives were the number of options that suddenly opened up to me and the immediate lack of financial pressure." And the negatives? "Only the options and the lack of pressure," she says wryly. Just as someone who's wearing two watches is never quite sure what time it is, the child of inherited wealth is often paralyzed by choice.
Not surprisingly, many inheritors assume a low profile, revealing their wealth only to their own, monied kind. "Half the time they're worried about being kidnapped, and the rest of the time they want people to think they've earned the money on their own," career consultant Stevenson quips.
For Rachel, the decision to stop letting people know about her six-figure inheritance was a fairly recent one. It just took too much out of her in terms of energy and self-esteem, she says, to continue being open about it. "People rarely mentioned the money to me directly," she says, "but I could see the resentment under the surface, particularly in some of the men in my life." Most of her friends, also self-employed, were jealous, she thinks, of the safety net her inheritance provided her.
Whether they get $5 million from their parents or scarcely a nickel, it's self-esteem that separates the happy from the unhappy wealthy, kids and experts alike agree. "Where the emotional system is good in the family and people have a sense of identity and fulfillment, money just doesn't become a problem," consultant Hubler says with a shrug. "People who have good feelings about themselves will do just fine with wealth."
Cameron Burr, the 27-year-old son of People Express founder Donald Burr, says be doesn't know when he'll receive an inheritance, if ever. But thanks to the time he's had to establish himself in his chosen field -- investment banking, at Hambrecht & Quist -- "I've got my own reasons for getting up in the morning," he says. "I don't live day by day worrying about what my father will do with his money.
"Granted," he adds, "my dad's shadow is always going to be there for me. I mean, it's awesome growing up seeing your father on the covers of national magazines. I can't change the fact that I'm Don Burr's kid. But I've already set out to make my own identity, in a positive way, and I've learned for myself what he always said was true: that if I worked hard, I'd be successful."
Cameron Burr has a hard time recalling a time when his father pressured him to do -- or not do -- anything. "My dad really believes people vote with their feet if you try to box them in, and he practiced that with us as kids. We had tremendous freedom." But that freedom was accompanied by what the experts say is important in raising healthy-minded kids of wealth: a sense of limits and consequences.
Like many kids of wealth who survive and thrive, Burr was taught early that money was to be earned. He never received much of an allowance. He bought his own used car and took part-time jobs throughout high school and college.
"I was at the University of Texas, in Austin, at the height of the oil boom, and it was amazing how much money some kids had," says Burr. While he continued to drive his secondhand Granada, many of his friends' oil-rich parents sent them to school in sports cars costing $25,000 or more. While he occupied a fraternity-house room, they took up residence in $100,000 condominiums. "It wasn't unusual," Burr says, "to see somebody's parents charter a plane to send a whole bunch of kids up to Las Vegas for the weekend." What did his father think? "I never told him about it. That's the kind of stuff he didn't even want to hear about."
Burr may not have had the cars or the condos, but he enjoyed what his compatriots largely did not -- his father's time, attention, and guidance. Father and son spent weekends together in Park City, Utah, so that Cameron could hone his ski-racing skills. "To this day," says Burr, "I don't see how Dad found the time." As long as he remained committed to skiing, his father subsidized some of his costs and provided extra rewards from time to time. But all that ended when Burr decided that a racing career was no longer his goal. "When the discipline went," he sighs, "so did the perks."
Among kids of wealth, Burr counts himself one of the lucky exceptions. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm living my inheritance," he says, boasting of an average of seven or eight telephone conversations with his father per day. "Having him as a father -- and an adviser and an associate -- that's more exciting than any million-dollar trust fund he could give me. Heck, fifty million couldn't buy what I get from him."
In sum, if children of wealth could deliver one message to their parents, it would probably be to pay less attention to their monetary assets and a little more to the many other kinds of assets they have to offer -- such as their knowledge, their experience, their judgment, and their wisdom. In other words, they'd like to see parents consider inherited wealth as just one part of a larger and longer-lasting legacy.
At the least, Peter Kalmus says, it would prepare children for dealing with the real world. "Kids of entrepreneurial wealth often feel born to be in authority and entitled to the best in everything," Kalmus says. "In their minds, they always start at the top, because they aren't accustomed to seeing their parents as anything but bosses."
Searching for an example, he somewhat reluctantly tells of an encounter he had with a neighborhood storekeeper at the tender age of six. "I walked into this store, picked out some candy and cupcakes -- you know, stuff kids like." But instead of paying for it, young Kalmus smiled sweetly at the grocer, told him to "put it on my bill," and headed for the door. "Well, the guy just looked at me," Kalmus recalls, "so I said, 'Don't you know who I am? I'm Peter Kalmus! My family has perfect credit. Put it on my bill!" His laugh comes out like a groan. "Honestly, I wasn't trying to be a brat. That's just how sheltered I was. When you're young and you're dealing with maids and nurses and drivers and all kinds of people who are there expressly to cater to your every whim, you begin to think the world's your oyster -- that everything revolves around you."