Michael I. Bennett photo credit: Suzanne Camarata / Sarah Bennett photo credit: Mona Bennett
Obviously, ours is a close-knit family with many of the typical trappings of a tight clan, along with some atypical ones, like a father-daughter professional partnership that recently produced a book of unsentimental relationship advice called F*ck Love
. It's not that we have daily gab sessions about our relationship problems — if anything, our whole family has more respect for boundaries than most and are as interested in sharing secrets as we are in sharing a bathroom — but sharing a sense of humor and set of basic values always makes it easier to discuss big issues without taking anything personally or too seriously, whether you're related or not.
On a basic level, discussing big topics is made easier by our family's conversational shorthand, which consists of private jokes and stories and the resulting punchlines that become family catchphrases and expressions. A couple Bennett family phrases, like "There's Someone for Everyone!" and "She's an Amber," have made it into our latest book, F*ck Love
. But for whatever reason, one of our most commonly used Bennett family expressions has never made it into print even though it's especially useful when discussing problematic relationships. Thankfully, Powell's has so graciously given us this opportunity to share this one particularly useful phrase/piece of family lore and wisdom.
As such, here is a quick explanation for "Nazi on the Beach."
Not too many years ago, the two Bennett offspring, Sarah and Rebecca, went with some friends and their kids to Dunes National Park, a large public beach on Lake Michigan, to swim on a hot summer day. The Dunes is close to Chicago, so it draws a large urban crowd, which is to say a far more racially and ethnically diverse crowd than most people would expect to see in Indiana where the beach is located. And that's why Sarah was so startled when she looked over from their group and saw a family on a blanket not-so-far away in which the presumed father, a shirtless Caucasian man with a shaved head, who was lovingly applying sun screen to his three very young, very blonde sons, appeared to have a Nazi SS tattoo on his chest right above his heart.
"Hey guys," Sarah said to her party, "I don't want to freak you guys out, but just a heads up, I'm pretty sure that guy over there is a Nazi."
She pointed out the tattoo and shaved head as proof, but her brother-in-law, Aaron, reasoned that maybe the man was just an idiot. A hand surgeon, Aaron had once had a patient with an SS tattoo who, when confronted by a nurse, claimed he didn't even know what Nazis were and thought the tattoo was just lightning bolts. And since this guy became Aaron's patient by blowing a bunch of his fingers off with fireworks, Aaron believed he wasn't just playing dumb.
Satisfied by this explanation, the group went back to enjoying the beach until, again, Sarah looked over at the man with the SS tattoo and noticed that on his left hand, the same hand that was so carefully building a sandcastle with his kids, displayed a tattoo of a swastika.
"Hey guys," she said again to her party, "I don't want to freak you guys out, but just a heads up, I'm pretty sure that guy over there with the two Nazi tattoos is a Nazi."
She pointed out the swastika, but her friend Maysan presented an alternative theory. As it happens, Sarah and Maysan were big fans of the old HBO prison drama/soap opera without women and with full-frontal nudity, Oz
. So, given their Oz
knowledge, Maysan suggested that this guy only got the Nazi tattoos when he was in prison for murdering the man who was raping his sister and had to join the Aryans for protection. After all, it was better for him to get a well-done Swastika tattoo on his hand than a crude one sliced into his butt by the guy from Whiplash
Satisfied again by this explanation, the Bennett sisters and their friends resumed their beach activities, staying until the smell of charred meats in the air and the exhausted voices of parents calling their kids signaled that evening had begun. And of course, that's when Sarah noticed that Mr. Aryan-for-convenience putting his T-shirt back on as his family was also getting ready to go, and that said T-shirt featured a picture of the grim reaper giving a "Heil Hitler" salute.
"Hey guys," she said again to her party, but this time, they were one step ahead of her. Almost in unison, they interrupted by saying things like, "Fine, he's a Nazi, I admit it, he's a Nazi, Uncle, he's a Nazi," etc.
From that point on, "Nazi on the Beach" became a family expression for an unpleasant situation that you're making complicated excuses for in order to avoid the simpler, uglier truth, like an emotion-based Occam's Razor. And, while we don't all find ourselves forced to share a beautiful summer day with a father of three young kids who also believes in exterminating most of the people around him, we do all make excuses in order to protect ourselves from having to face certain truths and choices that seem too unpleasant and painful to accept. And one of the toughest truths for anyone to face is that the problems with their relationship can't be explained away and they have no choice but to be heartbroken.
So even though we've never used the expression itself in our books, so much of our advice, especially as it applies to finding an ideal partner, addresses these very situations — how to stop "Nazi on the Beach"-ing your unreliable boyfriend and your dreams for reforming him, or your drinking and how it inevitably poisons all of your relationships, or your self-destructive girlfriend and your desire to save her from her past, and face that some people are flawed and, no matter how much you love them or how obvious the flaws/tattoos, you don't have the power to fix them and achieve your ideal.
The subtitle for our new book, F*ck Love
, is One Shrink’s Sensible Advice for Finding a Lasting Relationship
, but it could easily be How to Start Getting Serious About Relationships and Stop Falling for Nazis on the Beach
. Now, thanks to Powell's, enough non-Bennetts may know what "Nazi on the Beach" means for such a subtitle to make sense. Hopefully, readers will spread the word, not just about the meaning of "Nazi on the Beach," but the valuable, universal, not-Midwestern-Nazi-specific lesson behind it.
÷ ÷ ÷
Dr. Michael Bennett
and Sarah Bennett
are the father/daughter, shrink/comedy writer duo behind the New York Times
bestselling advice book F*ck Feelings: One Shrink's Practical Advice for Managing All Life's Impossible Problems
. Their new book is F*ck Love: One Shrink’s Sensible Advice for Finding a Lasting Relationship