In my family, secrets are king. Currently, I am in possession of three major family secrets. Two were told to me by a family member, and one, I discovered unwittingly. One of them, I thought was an open secret in that I thought my extended family knew about it (it’s not a secret concerning my nuclear family, but a cousin of mine), but I recently found out I was wrong. It’s a full-blown secret, except, there are some family members who know about it (excluding me, obviously), but they just don’t talk about it. This is common in my family, and growing up, I just took it as normal. There are open secrets that you don’t mention, but you know everyone else knows about them. Even as adults, my brother and I don’t talk about them. I mentioned one of them in an oblique way several years ago, and we exchanged knowing glances. That was it, and we moved on to another subject.
Not only do we have major secrets, but my father is very big on saving face. He can’t abide appearing foolish or lesser than in anyone’s eyes, which meant that he was constantly on the lookout for any perceived improprieties. The one that sticks out in my mind the most is when he and my mom were out playing tennis with some friends. Another friend of theirs called and asked to speak to him. I said he was out playing tennis. No big deal, right? When my parents came home and I told my father about the call, he flipped out. He was pissed that I had told the second friend he was out playing tennis with other friends because he thought she would be upset that she wasn’t invited. Never mind that she didn’t live in our city or that you don’t have to invite all your friends to every activity you plan. In my father’s eyes, I had committed a grave sin, and I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned that day: Don’t tell anyone anything. I know it sounds ridiculous, but his overreaction to my action wasn’t just a one time thing.
He always thought he was right, and what’s more, he couldn’t fathom another way of thinking. I learned at a very early age that my mother’s life at home revolved around making sure my father wasn’t upset. That meant not telling him anything she thought he couldn’t handle. Again, it was hard to tell what would upset him and what wouldn’t. Simply asking him to finish up his bath (he takes up to an hour-long baths. He falls asleep in the bathtub) could elicit the silent treatment. We had a decades-long battle in which he would tell me to put on a sweater or coat because he was cold. He did not take kindly to my response of, “But I’m not cold.” He thought because he was cold, I had to be cold, too. He took it as a personal offense when I refused to put on a sweater or a coat. Side note: I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease when I was fourteen, which means I had an overactive thyroid. One of the symptoms is never feeling cold. In other words, I had a medical reason to back up my non-coldness, not that it would have satisfied my father.