One legacy my father left to me was the Book of Family Rules. Since his death in 1990, the important role of Keeper has fallen squarely upon my shoulders.
This isn’t a book which can be read and followed as, say, a cook book or the instructions for assembling a bicycle. To the uninitiated, the Book would seem a hodgepodge of family stories and remembrances, assembled for mild-mannered entertainment on a rainy day and without thought to cohesiveness or purpose. On the contrary! This sacred Book has instructed my family in proper living for generations. So potent are its formulas that they must be hidden in plain sight.
A few of the rules are pretty straightforward and discernible, even to the untrained eye—A Lie is a Spank and Food is Love, for example. For the most part, however, a proper exegesis requires the Decoder Ring, which, I am sorry to report, was not among my father’s personal effects or in his safety deposit box. As a result, I am required to spend untold hours hunched over the brittle pages of this text, extracting what I can.
I wouldn’t be surprised if my younger sister, Gwen, has hidden or destroyed the ring. She won’t say. Gwen never has cooperated. She never did like the Rules, and she refused to follow them no matter how many times my father spanked or pinched her. But then again, she is one of those annoying people who speaks of therapy as a positive thing and uses words like “dysfunctional,” “enmeshment,” and “abuse.”
All that is by way of background.
What I want to share with you today is my most recent discovery. I found another Rule, and it wasn’t even buried! I had suspected I’d find this one if I just kept reading, and I did. Days like this are so exciting that they give me the strength I need to keep coaxing the Book to give up its secrets. I must not lose courage! How will my future generations live if the code is lost?
When we were small, my father took the time to translate certain Rules from the Book. He had hired a German tutor to prepared me and Gwen for our move overseas, so we were familiar with the concept.
Danke = Thank You
Junge = Boy
I’m sorry = I’ll never do it again
“I’m sorry” is actually a promise. And promises cannot be broken.
I took this Rule very seriously. I did. I tried to be a good girl. But this law was absolute, and I was a repeat offender. I became skilled at hiding my guilt from others—and myself.
Don’t. Tell. Gwen. I’m having an inkling of doubt about this Rule. I haven’t yet made up my mind. I’m not in any hurry to add the title Heretic or Dumbbell to Recidivist on my resume.
But here’s the thing….My father rarely apologized for anything. He seemed to prefer his own rule: Do as I say, not as I do.
This post belongs in the thread Family Rules. You can find the prior installment here. Earlier essays can be found under the Family Rules tab.