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The Little Tycoon
By J. Conrad Schulze

I'm jealous of a six-year-old girl. And the fact that she's my daughter doesn't help. Every time we play Monopoly, Julie kicks my butt. And I don't just mean she wins, she literally kicks my butt. She has a competitive drive like Tiger Woods. She's buying houses and hotels as I struggle to stay out of jail. And if I do manage to stay out of the pokey, she hits me with exorbitant rent. I know it's just a game, but I'm the one with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration. I've also taken several real estate investment classes, bought a real house, and have managed our family investments for the last ten years. But I'm thinking about letting my daughter take over these duties.

A couple of Christmases ago my brother-in-law sent me a book, Rich Kid Smart Kid. Neither my daughter nor myself have read it, and I don't think Julie needs to, but I'm thinking it couldn't do me any harm. As a parent I want the best for my children, to see them do better than me. But when they do, especially at six, I can't help but feel…ashamed? Embarrassed at least.

I should be happy, pleased that she has an innate sense of timing and a ruthlessness that would make Donald Trump proud. But there is a part of me that wishes she was more interested in learning how to play guitar or piano. I had this funny vision of me in my 50s playing rock and roll in a band with my daughters. Some guys dream about playing baseball with their sons, I dream about playing music with my daughters. It's not so strange.

But all she's interested in is Monopoly. She skips around the house singing "Come on let's play Monopoly / Cash, fun, and ritzy property." And then she asks, "What's ritzy mean?"

What's really odd about her prowess is that half the time she doesn't even know how much money she has. I'm sitting there calculating how much money I need to keep on hand to get through the gauntlet of houses, hotels, railroads, and utilities she has amassed, and she decides to buy or build without any concern for the amount of cash she has. I tried to caution her against mortgaging her properties to finance her building and buying sprees, but she ignored my advice. And then she kicked my butt. Now I keep my mouth shut while I try to figure out how she does it.

One theory I have is that she always picks the car as her token. And of course it is common knowledge that the car is the best token -- only to be rivaled by the bag of money. She's a little girl. So when she says, "Daddy, I want to be the car." What can I do?

"Sure, honey. You can be the car, and I'll be the shoe." I figure I'm getting walked all over, I may as well pick an appropriate token.

I played Monopoly with my brother and sister when I was growing up. I attributed my losing back then to my siblings' advanced skills, and possibly that suspiciously hidden $500 bill that made an appearance at just the right moment. And my older brother would always claim the car at the outset of the game. Much like he would call "shotgun" whenever the front passenger seat was available in the family car. But since Julie and I started playing, I'm starting to wonder what it is I'm missing. What fiscal skill, what monetary manipulation, what pecuniary aptitude do I lack?

Maybe I'm allergic to money. I do, however, despite my envy, feel good that my affliction was not passed down to my daughter. Perhaps it's not hereditary, maybe it is. My father is quite financially successful, and he ended up in a happy marriage on his third try. But I wonder if there has to be a trade-off. Because Julie is financially savvy, does that mean she will be emotionally vulnerable in the romance department? When I ask these questions, I remind myself, she's only six!

It seems that there's always a struggle for identity between a child and a parent. I wanted to be a rock and roll star, and every time I brought up music as a career, my father would tell me how much students graduating with an engineering degree were averaging in their first job. The numbers didn't mean anything to me; they were abstract figures with no physical correlation. If it happened once or twice, I probably would not have remembered my father's propensity for focusing on remuneration. But it was an annual event. Invariably around the New Year, some commonplace conversation would turn to how much engineers were making that year. I didn't even know what an engineer was, or what they did to earn their money. I knew an engineer drove trains, but I also knew my father wasn't that type of engineer. He didn't like to wear hats; he wore a suit and tie and was home for dinner most nights.

I guess it's natural for a father to want his child to be somewhat like himself -- I have no idea if mothers feel this way. I don't really hold the whole engineer thing against my father; he just wanted the best for me. Who can blame a parent for that desire?

There is one thing he did that made me feel worthless, unloved, and most of all, insufficient. I was the youngest child, doing poorly in school, before, during, and after my parents' divorce. My sister, who was four years older than I, was in college and changed her major so she could graduate a year early and marry her boyfriend. She would have married him sooner, but my father threatened severance of her financial support if she married before graduation. Despite her strong academic record in high school, you could say she went to college to get her Mrs. My brother, who was six years older than I, was working as an auto mechanic. A grease monkey, my father called it. Less than two years after he divorced my mother, he married Betty. She was a self-made woman who had risen up through the ranks at a major national pharmaceutical firm, and she had five kids. The oldest was in medical school. The next to oldest was the president of her senior class. The only son, who had the same name as me, was an Olympic quality equestrian rider who specialized in cross country. The youngest daughter was dancing the lead in The Nutcracker Suite with the Texas Ballet Theatre. She was nine, I think. There was another daughter, the underachiever out of the brood, and I don't recall her special skill. But I'm sure she had one.

When my father married Betty, I felt like he finally got all the things that he wanted from his own kids, but that we were unable, or unwilling, to give him. The divergence between who I was and my father's expectations for me had never been more apparent.

But the world has a way of righting itself. Even though my father got the other John into Princeton, his alma mater, his marriage to Betty was over before her son graduated. His "perfect" family crumbled. And although I was sad that he was now twice-divorced, a part of me felt it was probably because he wasn't good enough for them.

The next time my daughter beats me at Monopoly, I simply have to suck it up, and be a man. My daughter will be who she was born to be. As a parent I will give her anything that will help her to that end, and I'll try my damnedest not to make her into something she's not. If she is to be a real estate tycoon, fine. She can buy her mother and me a nice condo in Florida when we retire. If she wants to rock out in the garage with her old man, that's fine, too. What I want most for Julie is for her to know that she is loved, regardless of what she does for a living or who she marries. Maybe if I make this promise to her, she'll let me be the car sometime.

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