This special edition is part of our Guest Prudie series, where we ask smart, thoughtful people to step in as Prudie for the day and give you advice.
Today’s columnist is David Rasche, well known for his role as Karl Muller in HBO’s hit series Succession. Rasche is also known for starring in the sitcom Sledge Hammer! and his numerous, recurring appearances in shows like The West Wing and Veep.
We asked Rasche to weigh in on inheriting companies, failed retirements, and overzealous friends—and Karl answered.
My dad built his own company over many decades and is about to retire and I think he’s about to screw it up by putting the wrong sister in charge. And before you think this is a fake letter and I’m about to describe the plot of Succession, I promise you that we are billions of dollars poorer and this is a real situation, though yes, I can’t help but think about the show either.
My dad is a good man who has built a successful company, but he got very lucky in building his business. Think: He started with a bad idea and then the world came to him and he was in a good spot to capitalize. It’s still a small company—a couple of hundred employees—and he’s always had modest ambitions, so our family is well off but not trying to get filthy rich. And though I know my dad to be a good manager who cares about his employees, it really doesn’t seem like he has the best instincts. I’m the middle child and I worked for the family business for a couple of years but then pursued another career and I’ve been happy to be free of it. (I’m season one Shiv, if you will, though I’m a man.)
My older sister has worked there her whole career. I love her, but she’s lazy and entitled, and I know from my time at the company that she’s not well-respected internally. There’s no way she’d be a senior leader anywhere if she wasn’t the boss’s daughter. My younger sister is the opposite—she’s not perfect, but she’s bright, a hard worker, and has developed a passion for the industry. The problem for her is that, in addition to being years younger, she also spent the first decade-plus of her career doing something unrelated. I think that’s a strength, but it means she’s been less senior for more of her time at the company and isn’t seen as the obvious choice to take charge. In a just world, my dad would probably name someone outside the family to run the company or sell it, but he believes it’s a family business and intends to put my older sister in charge. I’m afraid she’s going to ruin things. I know he values my opinions. Should I try to talk to him about it?
Dear Wannabe Shiv,
Karl says: First of all, don’t say “filthy rich.” I find that offensive. But more importantly, throwing your sister under the bus can really be fun. You just can’t let your dad know you’re doing it. Do it like in Shakespeare, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Except you will say, I come to praise my sister, not to bury her, although the opposite is true. Get how this works?
You say, “Dad, I love my sister and I forgive her for all her faults, and there are many…” Give him a long list. Set her up and then knock her down, but get him on your side. Then say, “But please, please don’t choose my younger sister” because that will make him want to do it. Reverse psychology always works. Once you’ve set him up, the wise thing to do would be to go to your younger sister and tell her you have assassinated the older one’s character so she can become director, but there will be a price. Ask for millions. I’ve consulted with some CEO friends of mine, and they all agree this is how they would do it. Have fun, cover your tracks, don’t leave a paper trail, and deny everything. Ready? Set?
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My wife and I have been married for 40 years and have three wonderful children together. My wife chose to leave the workforce after our second child was born to stay at home because as she said she “loved being with the kids more than work.” She is a wonderful mother and wife, and having her as a partner made it possible for me to have a successful career and a great relationship with my children. We are a close family and two of our three children are now married with children of their own and the third has just become engaged.
About seven years ago, we bought our retirement home in a coastal town and started spending more time there. One by one our children moved closer to that city. When I officially retired three years ago, we sold our house and moved into our retirement home. We have always talked about traveling more once I retired and even had a list of things we wanted to do, such as cruises and spending months in a location. However, our post-retirement life has not looked at all like we planned and instead seems to be an extension of our lives when I was working. We spend a ton of time with our children—we see all three of them multiple times a week. We also separately spend time with our five grandchildren doing fun things with them as well as attending numerous sporting events. One Saturday we just went from the soccer field to the baseball field and back to the soccer field. Whenever I bring up going on a trip, my wife brings out the calendar and I have to go through mental gymnastics to try to plan it around whatever the kids and grandkids have going on. While they don’t rely on us for regular everyday childcare, they do rely on us for occasional care, which typically turns out to be us taking care of grandchildren several times a month. Recently, my wife nixed a trip because it fell during a weekend when our son and his wife wanted to take a childless vacation.
I am frustrated. I love my children and I love my grandchildren but I want these decades with my wife, doing the things we both enjoy and not letting our children’s schedules dictate whether we spend three months in Europe or not. I’ve tried to talk to her about this but she doesn’t think it is a big deal and says, “The grandchildren will only be little once.” I find myself becoming more and more irritated every time I am told about a dinner or game or event I am expected to be at, just thinking about all the things I would rather be doing. I have developed some hobbies and started focusing on those and am thinking of just planning some trips, and telling my wife she is welcome to join me or not. Should I try to talk to her about it one more time or just go forward with doing what makes me happy? What can I say to her so that we can have a good balance of being people separate from our children and grandchildren? Am I being unreasonable?
—Retired and Frustrated
Dear Retired and Frustrated,
Karl says: Hmmm. You are in a spot, aren’t you? You have done about as good a job at raising your children as Logan Roy. You have turned them into insensitive, entitled, selfish, parasitic mooches. And you have a married a woman who apparently can’t read, or at least she can’t read the handwriting on the wall. Because yes, you have written all over the wall quite legibly. Talk to her one last time, although don’t start with, “I never loved you.” I’ve tried that before and, well, just take my advice on this one. Tell her, yes, the grandchildren are only young once, but you are only old once and it won’t be for long if she keeps stealing your years. Fake a doctor’s report warning that overexposure to grandchildren can be fatal. Then go. Leave. Take a trip to the lands of your dreams, but make it a game, like a treasure hunt. Leave little clues about your next location in each major city for her, and tell her to try and find you. This is a very charming way to escape the madness you have created for yourself. And if she doesn’t find you, maybe that is fate stepping in.
Since my best friend got married, her husband is all she ever talks about, and the only person she does anything with. She’s watching all the films on our watchlist with him, going to all the places we talked about going, and even asking me for recommendations for things she can do… with him! I’ll ask her if she wants to get drinks or go to a concert, and she’ll either bring him or go with him instead! I’m single and in my mid-twenties and have no other close friends who are married yet, so I don’t know if I’m overreacting. Our mutual friends told me that they felt neglected by her as well, but also bafflingly assured me that this was very normal with friends who get married; after all, friends are different from spouses, who’re the people you chose to spend your life with (but I’ve known her much longer than he has!). Is this really normal and I’m just overreacting, or should I bring this up with her?
Karl says: No, dear, no, you are NOT overreacting. Your best friend got married and now she wants to do things with her husband and not with you. That is so wrong and insensitive of her. I don’t think her behavior is normal at all, it’s very abnormal. Most married people I know would rather do things with almost anyone other than their spouses—including sex. (Mainly sex.) If you have known her longer than he has, absolutely bring that up…put that right to her. Tell her, “Hey, who are you married to, him or me?”
OK, OK, you know I’ve been ribbing you, right? It’s going to be an adjustment, but if you want to keep her as your friend, you will have to wish her well and understand that, yes, friends are different from spouses, who are the people they have chosen to spend their lives with. Make that extra effort to get to know her new husband. And who knows, you might even seduce him, and then who’s the fool, right? Or find another friend with whom you can spend time with. And if she ditches you, too, well, you’ve got a different problem.
When Stewy From Succession Was Prudie
Should I help my uncle slash my family’s inheritance? My uncle inherited all of my grandmother’s estate about 20 years ago. (Grandma cut my mother out entirely—we’ve always suspected that my uncle pressed his advantage while Grandma’s mind was going.) Since then, he has lived solely off the estate’s dividends. Even though the estate is now worth several million, he’s chosen to live EXTREMELY frugally.