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Silver Spoon Kids

May 9, 2009 | by

Money, kids and the sudden discovery of being Jewish. An interview with the authors of "Silver Spoon Kids."

Eileen and Jon Gallo are the authors of "Silver Spoon Kids: How Successful Parents Raise Responsible Children," featured in last week's Time magazine.Together they travel around the country giving seminars on teaching children about money. Eileen is a psychotherapist with a practice specializing in psychological issues related to wealth. She is a regular contributor to the Journal of Financial Planning. Jon is an estate-planning attorney. Together with his wife he founded the American Bar Association Committee on the Emotional and Psychological Issues of Estate and Financial Planning. They live in Los Angeles and are the parents of three adult children. interviewed them in Jon's office in Century City, LA. What was your childhood like?

Eileen Gallo: Only one other person has actually asked me that question. My family was fairly well off, until I was about ten years of age and my father, who was 50 at the time, lost his job. In those days you were old at 50 and it was hard to find anything else. So we had an economic reversal. My mother could no longer stay home. She had been a buyer in New York and she went back to work. There were four of us, and I remember that time as being a turning point in my life. I felt like I had lost my mom.

There was subsequently a lot of anxiety around money. Did we have enough? We sold off a lot of the property that my parents had owned, and there was a gradual economic decline. Do think that the seeds of your book were planted then?

Eileen Gallo: I think that was a seed, definitely, because I saw the impact that it had on my family when my father lost his job and my mother had to go back to work. It was very difficult. So I don't spend a lot of money. I also developed a paradigm about how people get money, how they acquire it, use it, and manage it. I think that my early history has certainly impacted my relationship with money. You don't spend a lot of money out of fear?

Eileen Gallo: There's been a lot of anxiety. When Jon and I first got married 16 years ago, we came home from our honeymoon and we talked about money for two days in the living room. I had been a single parent, I was a teacher, I had a retirement plan, and I owned a home. I was sort of captain of my own financial ship and he came in and he was a captain, too. So we had a couple of interesting conversations about it.

Jon Gallo: Well, I guess my story is a little bit more complicated. My mother was of German-Jewish extraction. Her side of the family came over from Germany in 1840’s and settled in Texas. My maternal grandfather was very, very successful economically, and they had four children of whom my mother was the youngest.

In one of the great miracles of Christianity, my parents, Philip and Josephine Goldman, turned into Italian Catholics by the name of Gallo.

She was a college graduate back in the 1920s, which was rather unusual for a woman. She had a degree in psychology, but the best you could do was to get a job in a psychologist's office as a secretary because you certainly did not have women psychologists back then. My father's side of the family was extremely poor; Russian Jews who immigrated to Canada in 1898. They eventually settled in St. Louis where my grandparents ran the hard goods department of the Okay Grocery Store in University City.

They had eight children, none of whom were college graduates. Apparently my maternal grandparents split up, which was very unusual at that time, and my grandmother moved in with my mother.

They were quite affluent in St. Louis and had a very nice brownstone apartment and a full-time maid. My mother ran a dance school, a ballet school and met my father when he showed up there one day to pick up his younger sister. Apparently it was love at first sight. They got married shortly thereafter. She talked my father into leaving the grocery store and going to work for Anaconda Copper.

He soon hit the Jewish glass ceiling there and could not get promoted. We don't know all the details, but we do know that my mother did not get along with my father's side of the family, apparently due to economic reasons. And in 1939 or 1940, in one of the great miracles of Christianity, my parents, Philip and Josephine Goldman, and my older brother, Philip, who was then five years old, moved from St. Louis to California and during the five-day cross-country trip, turned into Italian Catholics by the name of Gallo.

I was born in Santa Monica in 1942, John Goldman. My name was legally changed to John Gallo at nine months and I was raised as an Italian Catholic. When did you find this out?

Jon Gallo: Five years ago. When my mother was terminally ill, my cousin Joni, on my mother's side came out to visit, to say goodbye to my mother. We took her out to dinner and she told me she had a secret that she couldn't tell me until my mother had died. I said, 'Are you going to tell me there's some Jewish blood on my mother's side? I already know that.' (I had done a small genealogical study, so I knew I had distant Jewish relatives.)

'No, not distant Jewish relatives. Your mother is Jewish. And, oh, your father's Jewish too.'

We discovered from an old family tree that my father had a middle name "Goldman." I had asked my mother about the name and I was told that my father's father had died when he was quite young in an industrial accident and my father's mother had remarried a man with the name of Goldman. So my father used that name in his honor for a number of years. And then my brother insisted that he remembered an Aunt Gussie from his childhood.

So I hired a genealogist in St. Louis and asked him to find Gussie Goldman, or anything about a Gussie Goldman. He called back two weeks later and said, 'I found this elderly lady by the name of Gussie Goldman and she wants to talk to you. But she's very suspicious.' So she got on the phone and after a lengthy conversation I determined that this really was my aunt, and that my father was the third of eight children. Eileen and I were on an airplane to visit them about two weeks later. So, I’m a child of two Jews who changed their identity in the 1930’s. Do you have any idea why they wanted that change?

I feel that I am not who I was supposed to be, that I was deprived of many experiences that should have been part of my cultural and religious heritage.

Jon Gallo: I think it was a combination of things. St. Louis was the headquarters of the German American Bund, the German American Nazi Party. It was also a major city for the Ku Klux Klan. My aunt has told me about the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan marching down the Main Street of University City, the Jewish section of St. Louis. It is also clear that my mother was very driven for my father to be an economic success, and that he was getting nowhere in St. Louis. We do know that by the time the '60s came around, keeping the secret was more important than the secret itself. They did not want to be humiliated, so they took it with them to their graves. How did this discovery affect the way you view yourself?

Jon Gallo: I have mixed emotions. My first reaction was that it made sense out of my life. For example, the food we ate certainly wasn’t Italian -- unless sour cream and herring has become an Italian specialty! My next reaction was -- and still is -- that although I am still who I am and my accomplishments are still my own, I feel that I am not who I was supposed to be, that I was deprived of many experiences that should have been part of my cultural and religious heritage. How does it make you feel about your parents?

Jon Gallo: Again, a mixed bag. I love them for wanting to protect me from what they must have viewed as runaway anti-Semitism, and I’m angry with them for robbing me of contact with my family and my history. What does it mean to you to be Jewish?

Jon Gallo: It just feels right. I wish I could be more articulate on this point but that’s really how I feel. How did it change your view of Judaism and the Jewish people? Did it spark an interest in exploring your Jewish heritage?

Jon Gallo: I don’t think it changed my views. After all, I suppose was the first non-Jew hired by Greenberg Glusker in 1967 and I basically grew up as a lawyer in a firm in which all of my mentors were Jewish. But I have been reading voraciously about Judaism and talking to many rabbis. Kids being brought up Jewish get “it” (whatever “it” is) as part of their environment. I find myself having to find “it” through a combination of intellectual activity and spiritual quest. How did your childhood impact your views on wealth?

Jon Gallo: I got my first job a when I was 11 years old, sweeping floors in a camera shop because I was interested in photography. And I have worked ever since. The message I got about money from my mother was that I had an obligation to be more successful than my father. I have dealt with that in therapy for many a year.

My father was basically an absentee father. He just worked, and my mother and my grandmother raised me. Their entire pressure on me was to be successful and never be satisfied with what you have. And I went on to college and law school and joined the law firm and became a partner... But I'm getting better. I'm slowly climbing that mountain. It's helpful to be married to a psychotherapist, especially when you find out you have been lied to by your parents all your life. But I've always been driven to be successful, and that has always translated into making a lot of money and then acquiring things with it. So, I have been towards the acquisition side of the spectrum and Eileen has been towards the savings side of the spectrum. Does that cause tension?

Eileen Gallo: He does the managing, too, so it works, for us. We question each other about spending, and I question more than he does.

Jon Gallo: Basically, the rocks in Eileen's head fit the holes in mine. So, it’s a good match for the two of us. Then we began working together, started writing together just a few years after getting married. Writing on estate planning, children and economic issues has really helped us learn to talk to each other and decide how to handle money. Why is it that people are so reluctant to talk about money?

Eileen Gallo: I think there are two reasons. One is that probably, they've grown up in families where it wasn't talked about. I heard my parents talking about it and I felt the anxiety. But they weren't actively educating us about money. Another reason is that people nowadays want to be able to talk about money, but they don't know what to say.

One man at the seminar last night said, 'My child asks me these questions, and I'm not sure what to say to her. Are you rich? Are we rich? How much money do you make?' Those questions weren't asked before, or if they were asked, they weren't answered. What do you tell them?

Eileen Gallo: It depends on why the kid is asking. Ask, try to explore and ask more questions. What is it that the child wants to know? Maybe they've just seen a homeless person and they're wondering if their family could be homeless someday.

Jon Gallo: An 8-year-old doesn't quite understand $1,000,000 from $100, but they can understand 'Am I safe?' Do think this is a unique time in history with respect to money?

Eileen Gallo: It is a uniquely affluent world right now where people have issues with money they didn't have in the past. I think there are new kinds of things we never dealt with or thought of before.

The media's message is: your money is not something that you have, but your money is something that you are.

Jon Gallo: We think it's the confluence of several things. We do have a more affluent society, a more successful society than probably ever before in the human history. You've got the huge increase of credit so people who are not truly affluent can get themselves into debt pretending they are affluent and therefore give their kids a lot of things. And, I think, what makes this different is the combination of the affluence coupled with the media that has become so sophisticated it's able to give a message to our children and to everybody. That message is: your money is not something that you have, but your money is something that you are. You rate yourself by your possessions. If you have another Barbie doll, you will be cuter and you will have more friends. If you smoke Marlboros, horses and girls will love you. People who overindulge their children are frequently using money as a substitute for love, and it doesn’t work.

Last night watching television, we saw an advertisement for Chrysler that says 'drive equals love.' That's what we're dealing with. Our kids are subjected to the most sophisticated media that ever existed and that media is teaching them that they are their money, as opposed to their money being something they have. I think a lot of parents are seeing that this has the potential for producing extraordinarily materialistic children and they are wondering what they can do about it. During our presentations one of the things I say to the audience is that money has never harmed a child. Money without values causes incredible harm.

But that affluence by itself is neutral to positive. It allows you to do wonderful things.

Money is not the root of all evil -- just money without values. How do you reconcile the idea of a material world and a spiritual world?

Jon Gallo: You need to clarify what are your values. Once you know what your values are, you can use money in a manner that is congruent with them. But there are going to be some people with terrible values. There will be people out there to whom money is a scorecard, and a way of buying and controlling people. I don't see myself as an ethical teacher out there trying to convince those people that they're wrong. What I do see us doing is speaking to the vast majority of parents who resonate with the concept that there is a word in English language called 'enough.'

What you want to do is raise children who understand that concept. On the west side of Los Angeles we are living on the upper one hundredth of one percent of the wealth of the United States and our kids think this is normal. Our book has three parts, with the first part about understanding our own relationship with money, the second part on learning how to talk about money in the context of your values -- clarifying and articulating what your values are -- and the last part third is about applying this to specific situations, everything from allowances to family philanthropy to family vacations to credit cards for little children. What are the most common mistakes people make when it comes to instilling proper attitudes about money in children?

Eileen Gallo: Not talking about it. I think that's the biggest thing.

Jon Gallo: If you're reasonably affluent, then talking to other people who are reasonably affluent about your money is pretty gauche and talking to people who have less than you do is really unfeeling. So, if you are comfortably well off, the process of having money is to ignore it. It becomes something you don't talk about. The overall message becomes: we don't talk about money in our family, and we don't talk about the fact that we don't talk about money. In some ways you can have a completely open conversation with children about money because they don't quite understand.

Eileen Gallo: You need to make it the age appropriate. My son once said, 'You don't need money. Just use that card in your wallet.' Don't just let it pass over. Take that opportunity to explain how checks and credit cards work and where you get the money to write checks.

Jon Gallo: You need to figure out what it the child really wants to know, or what the child needs to know. There is the very famous old joke about the 7-year-old who says, 'Mommy, where did I come from?' And she gives him a class in sex education, and then she says, 'Now does that answer your question?' And he says, 'Well that's very interesting, but where did I come from -- Cincinnati or San Diego?' What is the most important message they you want to convey?

Jon Gallo: One of them is that money is neutral. Money doesn't hurt people, but money without values causes incalculable problems. You solve those problems by connecting your money with your values, and that the only way that you do that is by talking about it. You have to be able to talk about your money and your values . . .

Eileen Gallo: And live and model those values.
For more information, go to Click here to purchase "Silver Spoon Kids."

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